St. Louis Cardinals vs. San Francisco Giants NLCS Preview


For the third time since 2002, the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants will meet in the National League Championship Series. At this point, it is difficult to argue that any organization other than the Cardinals or Giants is the best in the National League; the two teams have rotated appearances in the World Series dating back to 2010.

On top of that, the two organizations has been able to endure significant turnover and still maintain the same level of excellence. Just going back to the last time the two teams met in the NLCS in 2012, the Cardinals only have three of the same players in their regular starting lineup, while the Giants have six. Only two of the Cardinals’ four starters from the series—Lance Lynn and Adam Wainwright—still remain, while Ryan Vogelsong and Madison Bumgarner are the only two of the five starters the Giants used during that series who still remain in the starting rotation.

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We’ve seen both teams overcome major adversity to advance to this point. The Giants lost a multitude of key contributors: center fielder Angel Pagan, starting pitcher Matt Cain, second baseman Marco Scutaro, and backup catcher Hector Sanchez, as well as left fielder Michael Morse, who missed most of September and the NLDS but is expected to return for this series. That doesn’t even include former starter Tim Lincecum, who’s making $17.5 million this year but has been reduced to an emergency long reliever role and didn’t make an appearance during the NLDS.

In addition to playing a large chunk of the season without the heart and soul of their lineup, Yadier Molina, and a key starter, Michael Wacha, the Cardinals have also emerged stronger from debilitating events such as a season-ending injury to starter Jaime Garcia, the trades of longtime contributors Allen Craig and Joe Kelly, and underwhelming performances from guys who were expected to be more steady contributors, including offseason acquisitions Peter Bourjos and Mark Ellis and top prospect Oscar Taveras.

Now we’ll get to see what these two impressive organizations can do against each other. They’re relatively similar clubs who occasionally deal with sporadic offensive production but have relied on steady starting pitcher and a nice, healthy dose of momentum to get themselves to this point.

Here are a few key storylines to focus in on in preparation for the series:

How Does Wainwright Perform?- After the six earned runs that he gave up over 4.1 innings in Game 1 of the Dodgers series, there was some concerns that ace Adam Wainwright might be dealing with a heightening of the elbow pain that has plagued him for a large chunk of the season. Apparently it won’t be enough of an issue to keep him from starting Game 1 of the series on Saturday, but it’s still worth monitoring his performance. The Cardinals are going to need Wainwright to be on the top of his game in order to give themselves the best chance at succeeding.

Can the Cardinals Get to Bumgarner Like They Got to Kershaw?- Dodgers lefthander Clayton Kershaw certainly had his fair share of positive moments in this year’s postseason, namely the one-hitter he was throwing before the seventh inning of Tuesday’s game. Still, it’s fair to say that the Cardinals, who struggled to find consistency against lefties during the regular season, hit Kershaw well, as he ended with a 7.82 ERA and 1.105 WHIP for this year’s postseason.

The Cards will be looking to make that same sort of impact against Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner, who has been the Giants’ most consistent starter throughout the year and has shown the ability to shut teams down in the postseason, throwing a complete game shutout in the Giants’ wild card matchup with the Pittsburgh Pirates. If the Cardinals can hit Bumgarner, who is expected to start Game 1, it would greatly aid them in pushing the momentum towards their side to open the series.

What Impact (If Any) Does Morse Make?- The Giants trudged through the NLCS while employing a left field platoon of longtime first baseman Travis Ishikawa, who had logged 29 career innings and three starts in left prior to the start of the series, and Juan Perez, who is a fantastic defensive outfielder but hit .170 (17-for-100) during the regular season.

Michael Morse, who hit .279 with 16 homers in 131 games this year, is expected to be back in left to start the series on Saturday night. With that said, Morse has only played in one game since September 1, and it’s debatable how much of an impact he will be able to make. If Morse can even approach the offensive production that he put together at times this season, he’ll be an upgrade over Ishikawa and Perez at the plate.

But there’s also the issue of the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Morse playing left field. Even before Morse suffered an oblique injury, he was much more of a defensive liability than Perez, and despite Ishikawa’s inexperience, Morse is almost certainly more risky at the position despite the vastly greater time and effort that he’s put in to become proficient there. It will be interesting to see how the Giants approach using him in the NLCS.

Just like any series between these two outstanding teams, this Giants-Cardinals NLCS should be an intensely competitive one. No matter the outcome, one organization is going to continue a fantastic track record of postseason success.