Before I break it down, a couple of thoughts:
- Based on the results it sure looks like the Cardinals are a superior team to the Dodgers. Also, the Giants and Dodgers played each other straight up all year (10-9 in favor of the Dodgers to be fair), so, sure the Giants could have beat them in a seven game series. But man, if it doesn’t feel like the Giants caught a huge break in getting the Cardinals instead. The Giants have always struggled against Clayton Kershaw (apparently the Cardinals have no such issues), and Zach Grienke really had their number this year. Having to face those guys four times in a week was going to be a tall order. Plus there’s the whole rivalry distraction, the Puig/Bumgarner silliness, and the specter of Brian Wilson that no one has to think about now. Somehow, this series feels much more open and winnable.
- Heading into the 2012 postseason the Giants were platooning X Nady and Gregor Blanco in left field. And then the Giants never faced a left-handed starter in any of their 16 playoff games, which means that Blanco’s glove (and bat) got a lot of time (really all of the time) during the championship run. Imagine if they had to play the Phillies (with Lee and Hammels) or any team with a left-handed starter. Either we’d mention Nady in the pantheon of heroes, or we might not be talking about the potential for a 3rd World Championship right now. I mention that because the Cardinals have nothing but right-handed starters. The Giants have a lefty heavy lineup. Relatively subtle things like this seem to end up playing a large role in the Giants’ success. Blanco (as well as Joe Panik and Brandon Belt) will need to come up big in this series.
- Along those same lines, it appears that Mike Morse will be available and play in this series. Which raises the question: start him or save him on the bench? Bochy loves to go with what-is-working-right-now in the postseason. Travis Ishikawa hasn’t been setting the world on fire, but it’s worked so far. Morse is unknown at the moment, and having to get your timing back against Adam Wainwright is kind of cruel. BUT, the Giants will need to hit some home runs to win this series. So, do you keep starting Travis because it’s working, he is left-handed, he plays better defense than Morse, and because when Matheny brings in a lefty to mow down the bottom part of the Giants order it would be nice to have Morse around to pinch hit? Or, do you gamble that Morse won’t kill you in the field and can get a hold of one at a key spot? Three run home runs are going to be extremely valuable in this series. Watch carefully how this plays itself out.
- The only player on the Giants’ roster to not make an appearance in the NLDS was Tim Lincecum. He didn’t even get the call in the 18 inning game. Something tells me, though, that he could play a role in this series. Look for Lincecum to have a Barry Zito moment before this one is done. (UPDATE: Grant thinks it’s a bad idea to have Tim on the roster).
- Finally, as if you didn’t have enough reason to root wholeheartedly for the Giants, the Cardinals will feature two of Giants’ fans least favorite players: John Lackey and A.J. Pierzynski. Also, Matt Holiday. Good grief.
- Game 1: Wainwright vs. Bumgarner. If I were a fan of some other team, say the Mets, I’d still love to watch this game. There’s been a lot written about “not-the-Cardinals-not-the-Giants-again,” but this kind of pitching matchup is what makes baseball awesome. Watch and enjoy world. As I see it playing out, unless Wainwright really is broken, game 1 and game 5 are coin-flips. It really could go either way, and it will probably be something weird that changes the game. I think the Giants will win game 1 because Bumgarner seems to do better on the road, but lose the rematch at home (see below). I’ll say Giants 3-2.
- Game 2: Lynn vs. Peavy. My guess is that the Cardinals really wanted Peavy at the trade deadline, but the Giants beat them to it and the Cards had to settle for Lackey. That makes me smile. The Giants have destroyed Lance Lynn in each of the five times he’s pitched against them (including 2 starts in the 2012 NLCS). However, this year’s version of Lance Lynn is better than previous versions. Again, I see this being a coin-flip. This time the Cardinals will prevail to even the series as it heads to the Bay. Cardinals 5-3.
- Game 3: In the NLDS preview I wrote that the Giants MUST win every Bumgarner start. In this series I actually believe that does not apply. The reason for that comes down to the crucial games 3 and 4 matchups. First, the Giants haven’t announced who is starting yet (well-played Boch). So some of this is a shot in the dark. Second, both teams had surprisingly successful starts in the first round from the likely starters in these games. My tendency is to trust the Giants’ results more than the Cardinals. I think Tim Hudson is more likely to repeat his performance than John Lackey, and Ryan Vogelsong than Shelby Miller. Third, I think Bochy will not start Petit (or Lincecum, ha ha) in these games and have a very short leash with the starters and bring one (or both) of them in if needed. I do think Lincecum could have a moment here, at home, saving the day in a big game. I see Game 3 being Lackey vs. Hudson, with Huddy out pitching the other old dog and the Giants getting a modicum of revenge for the 2002 World Series. Giants 6-3.
- Game 4: Miller vs. Vogelsong. With the Giants up 2-1 I see Bochy turning to Vogey who certainly earned the right to get another shot with his Game 4 performance in the LDS. Again, though, with a short leash and a call to the ‘pen as soon as trouble starts. I think both starters will be solid the first time through the order, and so who can manage round 2 will be critical. I think Vogelsong will adjust, but Miller will struggle. The bullpens will be called earlier than usual, and the Giants will fight and hang on in a close, tense game. Giants 4-3.
- Game 5: As I said before, Bumgarner vs. Wainwright, assuming Wainwright is healthy, is a coin-flip. For some reason Bumgarner struggles more at home. Plus, I just don’t see the Cardinals going down in 5. In a very close, low scoring game, the Cardinals prevail and send it back to St. Loius. Cardinals 1-0.
- Game 6: Lynn vs. Peavy, round 2. Much like the 2010 NLCS, the Giants will miss a chance to clinch at home and have to go on the road to finish it off. Much like 2010, they won’t mess around with a game 7 and they will get it done here. I see Peavy pitching the game of his life, spitting and yelling, and the Giants good mojo against Lance Lynn will once gain prevail. Giants 4-2 (for the 4-2 series win).
One final thought: despite what I just wrote, I see this series being much more fluid than the last round. There will be a million twists and turns. Unlike last time I don’t see any “must-win” matchups for the Giants. I think they have a fairly good chance in every game (no Jordan Zimmerman’s here). Undoubtedly this will be a wild ride, I hope we are happy with the result on the other end!