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2012 NLCS Preview
St. Louis Cardinals vs. San Francisco Giants

by Richard Van Zandt,
October 14, 2012

In what has become a postseason of incredible comebacks, the 2012 National League Championship Series features two teams that by all rights should not be there. The San Francisco Giants became the first team in National League history to come back from a 2-0 deficit in a five game postseason series and win, beating the Reds three straight times to advance to the NLCS. Making their feat even more impressive is the fact that they won all three games in Cincinnati, in the process keeping the Big Red Machine winless at home in the postseason over the past 17 years.

Meanwhile, the defending World Champion St. Louis Cardinals pulled off perhaps an even more stunning comeback in Game 5 of their NLDS with the Washington Nationals when they erased an early 6-0 Nationals lead, scoring four times in the top of the ninth inning, all with 2 outs, to win 9-7. Five times Nats closer Drew Storen delivered a pitch with Washington just one strike away from advancing, and all five times Storen threw a ball. The result of these two remarkable comeback stories is a matchup of the past two World Series champions.

The Cardinals are one of the better hitting teams in all of baseball, ranking 2nd in the NL in batting average, 1st in on-base percentage, 4th in slugging, and 3rd in team OPS, while scoring more runs than all but the Milwaukee Brewers. They are also deep in pitching with veteran starters Kyle Lohse, Adam Wainwright, and Chris Carpenter leading the charge, plus closer Jason Motte anchoring the bullpen. And yet somehow with all their talent they won only 88 games during the regular season, making the playoffs only as the newly added second Wild Card. But as the Nationals, who recorded the most wins in the big leagues this year, and the Braves before them were quick to discover, these Cardinals are not a team to be overlooked, despite their modest win total.

San Francisco, meanwhile, has consistently overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles in their quest for a second World Series trophy in the last three years: losing closer Brian Wilson just two appearances into the season, losing second baseman Freddy Sanchez for the season with shoulder and back injuries, and losing All-Star MVP Melky Cabrera during the heat of the pennant race to a 50-game drug suspension, all while division rival Los Angeles added All-Star after All-Star to their roster in one deal after another. They are a team with heart and no quit, led by their MVP catcher Buster Posey, who helped the Giants complete their remarkable comeback with a game changing fifth inning grand slam that gave the Orange and Black a 6-0 lead. It was a lead they were able to hold on to thanks in part to his own laser strike to third base in the bottom of the sixth that nailed Jay Bruce to complete a huge strike-em-out-throw-em-out double play with the Reds threatening.

Positional Edge


St. Louis – Yadier Molina (NLDS: .118/.348/.118)
San Francisco – Buster Posey (NLDS: .211/.318/.526)

Not only does this rank as a matchup of two of baseball’s best catchers, but it’s also a battle between two front running candidates for the Most Valuable Player award. Molina not only bounced back from a sub-par (for him) defensive year in ’11 to put himself in position win a fifth straight Gold Glove award, but also put up career numbers at the plate. The youngest of the catching Molina brothers had a slash line of .315/.373/.501 with 22 home runs and 76 RBI, translating into a 137 OPS+, all of which were career high’s.

Posey, on the other hand, bounced back from a devastating, season ending ankle injury in 2011 to lead the majors in batting at .336, while clubbing 24 home runs, despite playing half his games at AT&T Park where home runs go to die, and becoming the first Giant since Barry Bonds in 2004 to drive in over 100 runs. The 2010 Rookie of the Year is not only a lock to win the Comeback Player of the Year honors, but should also take home the MVP trophy as well.

Edge: Giants

First Base

St. Louis – Allen Craig (NLDS: .316/.435/.579)
San Francisco – Brandon Belt (NLDS: .077/.200/.077)

The 27-year old Craig had a very nice season, replacing the injured Lance Berkman at first base and helping to easy the loss of Albert Pujols. Craig clubbed 22 home runs during the regular season and drove in 92 in only 119 games, and followed that up with a strong showing at the plate in the NLDS, which included a 3-for-5 night with a double and a solo home run in Game 2. Defensively, however, he’s below average (UZR: -1.5, +/-: -6).

Belt, playing in his first full season, had an up and down year, but finished on an upward climb. He struggled badly in the NLDS, however, striking out seven times in 15 plate appearances, and collecting just one hit. His glove, though, is of golden caliber, raising his value and keeping him in the lineup.

Edge: Cardinals

Second Base

St. Louis – Daniel Descalso (NLDS: .313/.333/.684)
San Francisco – Marco Scutaro (NLDS: .150/.227/.200)

Despite batting only .227 during the regular season, Descalso, born and raised 25 miles south of San Francisco in San Carlos, was a hero in the Cards’ division series win over Washington, going 3-for-5 in the finale, with a double and an 8th inning home run in addition to his game tying hit off of Ian Desmond’s glove in the ninth.

Scutaro, on the other hand, batted .362 for San Francisco after his acquisition from Colorado in July, but struggled in the playoffs. He was hitless in the first two games of the series with Cincinnati after finishing the year riding a 20-game hitting streak, but managed a hit in each of the final three games. It is just the veteran’s second trip to the postseason in an 11-year big league career, so nerves could have been a first round issue. He’s a crafty hitter, however, and one thing he’ll always give you is a professional at bat.

Edge: Giants


St. Louis – Pete Kozma (NLDS: .250/.455/.500)
San Francisco – Brandon Crawford (NLDS: .182/.357/.364)

Kozma has been quite a find for the Cardinals, coming up in late August, when Rafael Furcal was lost to a season ending elbow injury, and batting .333 in 26 regular games, including .452 over his last 10. He also had the 9th inning hit that put the Cardinals on top in that stunning Game 5 comeback. All this came, however, after hitting just .232/.292/.355 in 131 games for the Redbirds Triple-A affiliate in Louisville.

Crawford, like Belt, struggled early on but finished the season on a high note offensively, batting .298 from August 7 onward. He struggled in the NLDS before his fifth inning triple off Mat Latos in Game 5 got the Giants on the board first, and helped set up Posey’s momentous slam. A gold glove caliber defender, he also made a key diving stop in the 8th inning to help preserve the lead.

Edge: Giants

Third Base

St. Louis – David Freese (NLDS: .421/.500/.579)
San Francisco – Pablo Sandoval (NLDS: .333/.318/.571)

Freese, the MVP of the 2011 World Series, hit .293 with a .839 OPS in his first full season of play, belting 20 home runs and driving in 79. He was strong in the Washington series and is now a.393 hitter in the postseason in 96 career plate appearances.

The portly Panda was slowed by hand (hamate bone) and leg (hamstring) injuries in’12, but finished the year strong, batting .333 and slugging .627 over his final 16 games. That carried over into the series with the Reds, where he was 5-for-8 in the final two games of their amazing comeback.

Edge: Cardinals


St. Louis – Matt Holliday (NLDS: .190/.292/.238), Jon Jay (NLDS: .200/.261/.300), Carlos Beltran (NLDS: .444/.542/.944)
San Francisco – Gregor Blanco (NLDS: .286/.375/.571), Angel Pagan (NLDS: .150/.217/.350), Hunter Pence (NLDS: .200/.200/.200)


"Get in here, everyone get in here... Look into each other eyes… now! Look into each other's eyes, I want one more day with you, it's the most fun, the best team I have ever been on” said the Reverend Hunter Pence. "And no matter what happens, we must not give in. We owe it to each other, play for each other. I need one more day with you guys. I need to see what Theriot will wear tomorrow. I want to play defense behind Vogelsong because he's never been to the playoffs... Play for each other, not yourself, win each moment, win each inning.  It's all we have left"


The Cardinals had one of baseball’s best outfields in 2012, with Beltran (32 home runs, 97 RBI) going a long way towards making up for the production lost when Pujols signed with the Angels. He also had a typical NLDS against the Nationals, which included two home runs in a 12-4 Game 2 win, raising his career postseason batting average to .375 in 129 plate appearances. His appearance in San Francisco, however, is sure to be met with boos, after the key in-season pickup from 2011 left the Giants this past winter

Hunter Pence’s biggest contribution to the Giants thus far didn’t even come on the field, but rather in an inspirational pre-game speech prior to Game 3. A Giant for just over two months, Pence pulled his teammates together in the dugout before the game and implored them to play for each other. In the 10th inning of that game, Pence delivered a key base hit, despite suffering a cramp in his calf during the at bat, and helped put the Giants into position to win the game on Scott Rolen’s two-out error.

Edge: Cardinals

Starting Pitching

St. Louis – Lance Lynn (NLDS: 1-1, 8.10), Chris Carpenter (NLDS: 1-0, 0.00), Kyle Lohse (NLDS: 0-0, 1.29), Adam Wainwright (NLDS: 0-0, 7.88)
San Francisco – Madison Bumgarner (NLDS: 0-1, 8.31), Ryan Vogelsong (NLDS: 0-0, 1.80), Matt Cain (NLDS: 1-1, 5.06), Barry Zito (NLDS: 0-0, 6.75), Tim Lincecum (NLDS: 1-0, 1.42)

Ranking 3rd (Cardinals) and 5th (Giants) among starters in the NL in ERA, these two teams had two of the better rotations in the league. St. Louis’ Game 1 starter Lynn spent the NLDS in the bullpen, despite winning 18 games during the regular season, but returns to the rotation with the injury to Jaime Garcia taking him out of the picture. Carpenter made only 3 starts during the regular season after undergoing surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, but the wily veteran scattered 7 hits over 5.2 scoreless innings against Washington in the Cards’ 8-0 Game 3 win. Loshe allowed just 2 hits in 7 innings against the Nats in Game 4, but ended up with the no-decision as Jayson Werth pushed the series to five games, while Wainwright looks to bounce back from a shaky performance in that Game 5 (2.1 IP, 7H, 6 R).

Lynn will be opposed in Game 1 by the 23-year old Bumgarner, who struggled in Game 2 of the NLDS, but showed his mettle in Game 4 of the 2010 World Series when he delivered 8 shutout, 3-hit innings against the Rangers in Texas. Vogelsong gets the call in Game 2 after putting up five strong innings against the Reds, including the last four in hitless fashion. Matt Cain will go in Game 3, but the starter for Game 4 will depend on whether or not Lincecum will be needed once again to save the club out of the bullpen. If Bumgarner and Vogelsong are up to the task, then Lincecum likely gets the call after Cain. But he will be available in the bullpen should either of them falter, with Barry Zito set to go in Game 4 instead, if he is used.

Edge: Even

Relief Pitching

St. Louis – Jason Motte (NLDS: 1-0, 3.00, 0 SV), Mitchell Boggs (NLDS: 0-1, 0.00, 4 G), Fernando Salas (NLDS: 0-0, 0.00, 1 G), Marc Rzepczynski (NLDS: 0-0, 0.00, 1 G), Edward Mujica (NLDS: 0-0, 3.00, 3 G), Trevor Rosenthal (NLDS: 0-0, 0.00, 3 G), Joe Kelly (NLDS: 0-0, 0.00, 3 G)
San Francisco – Sergio Romo (NLDS: 1-0, 2.08, 1 SV), Santiago Casilla (NLDS: 0-0, 2.70, 5 G), Javier Lopez (NLDS: 0-0, 0.00, 2 G), Jeremy Affeldt (NLDS: 0-0, 0.00, 3 G), Jose Mijares (NLDS: 0-0, 81.00, 2 G), George Kontos (NLDS: 0-0, 0.00, 4 G), Guillermo Mota (NLDS: 0-0, 18.00, 2 G)

The two club’s bullpens ranked 8th (Giants) and 9th (Cardinals) respectively in ERA, but the Giants mark of 3.56 was nearly half a run better than the 3.90 mark registered by the Redbirds’ collective. St. Louis’ relievers were up to the task in the Washington series, as was the Giants bullpen versus the Reds, but securing those final few outs will be huge in this series and it could well come down to which manager ends up pulling the right strings most often. I was a huge Mike Matheny fan when he was a player, and I’m sure he’s going to have a very long and successful career as a manager, but nobody can manipulate a bullpen better than Bruce Bochy.

Edge: Giants


This is going to be a World Championship caliber dogfight between two teams that don’t know the word quit. Both teams have proven their ability to come from behind, and know how to win the close games. This series may well come down to which team makes the fewest mistakes. And although the Giants lost twice against the Reds at AT&T Park, home field advantage may also play a big factor in the series, with St. Louis going just 38-43 away from Busch Stadium this year, while the Giants on the road were 46-35 and the highest scoring team in the league.

Prediction: Giants in Six

Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Richard resides in San Francisco, California and can be reached at

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