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October 14, 2012

Playoff Prospectus

NLCS Game One Preview: Cardinals at Giants

by Daniel Rathman

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The Giants clung to a 6-0 lead to win their Division Series with the Reds. The Cardinals overcame a 6-0 deficit to knock off the Nationals. Now, those two teams prepare to tangle in the NLCS, which begins tonight at AT&T Park. Here are the PECOTA odds and projected starting lineups for Game One:

Cardinals (Lance Lynn) vs. Giants (Madison Bumgarner) – 8:00 p.m. ET

PECOTA Odds of Winning: Giants 62.9 percent, Cardinals 37.1 percent

Projected Starting Lineups:

Cardinals vs. Bumgarner (L)

Giants vs. Lynn (R)

Jon Jay, CF (L)

Angel Pagan, CF (S)

Carlos Beltran, RF (S)

Marco Scutaro, 2B (R)

Matt Holliday, LF (R)

Pablo Sandoval, 3B (S)

Allen Craig, 1B (R)

Buster Posey, C (R)

Yadier Molina, C (R)

Hunter Pence, RF (R)

David Freese, 3B (R)

Brandon Belt, 1B (L)

Daniel Descalso, 2B (L)

Gregor Blanco, LF (L)

Pete Kozma, SS (R)

Brandon Crawford, SS (L)

Lance Lynn, P (R)

Madison Bumgarner, P (R)

In a battle between the senior circuit’s last two pennant winners, PECOTA likes the 2010 champions to emerge with a 1-0 edge. The margin, nearly 2-to-1 in favor of the Giants, is surprisingly large, but the system takes a holistic approach to forecasting games, a method that in this case may prove fallible. Lynn outperformed his 2012 PECOTA projection in a breakout campaign, and while Bumgarner met its expectations on the whole, he has struggled in recent starts. Both of those factors suggest that PECOTA may be inflating the gap between the Game One pitchers, and thus that the outcome of the contest could be closer to a coin flip.

The Cardinals’ righty-heavy lineup makes them a challenging opponent for Bumgarner and for the Giants pitching staff as a whole. Bumgarner is one of the NL’s most effective starting pitchers against left-handed hitters (he held them to a .208/.247/.311 triple-slash line during the regular season), but his relatively low arm angle makes him more susceptible to righties, who collected 55 extra-base hits against him this year. And with the 23-year-old’s fastball velocity trending downward—from a 92-mph average earlier in the year to below 90 in his Division Series start—perhaps due to fatigue, Mike Matheny’s hitters couldn’t be blamed for being optimistic.

St. Louis’ middle-of-the-order sluggers have had mixed results in their limited meetings with Bumgarner. Beltran, who will bat second, is 1-for-3 with a home run, but Holliday is just 2-for-12. Craig is only 3-for-13 with two doubles, and Molina is a pedestrian 2-for-7, but Freese—last year’s World Series hero—is 2-for-5 with a big fly of his own.

The Matchup of the Game, though, is Jay versus Bumgarner, because the left-handed hitter’s ability to get on will dictate the danger the Giants’ starter faces when Beltran, Holliday, and company take their turns. The Cardinals center fielder is 4-for-6 lifetime with two doubles against Bumgarner, and he was a thorn in the Giants’ sides when the teams squared off in the regular season, going 10-for-15 in the four games he started. He reached in all three plate appearances when the teams last met at Busch Stadium on Aug. 9, going 2-for-2 with a single, a double, and a walk—a rarity considering Bumgarner’s success when facing like-handed batters.

Bumgarner isn’t the only starting pitcher in this game with platoon woes: Lynn has his fair share of them, too. Amid a strong overall campaign, during which he made 29 starts and six relief appearances and amassed 2.4 WARP, the 25-year-old northpaw allowed left-handed hitters to reach base at a .384 clip. He logged an extraordinary 111-to-11 K:BB versus opposing righties, but issued 53 walks and recorded only 69 strikeouts against lefties in a virtually equal number of plate appearances.

Like the Cardinals and Bumgarner, the Giants’ lineup is poised to expose that weakness. Five of San Francisco’s eight non-pitcher starters will bat left-handed, and one of the others, Posey, took Lynn deep at Busch Stadium on Aug. 7. 

Meanwhile, Lynn will be looking to bounce back from a rough Division Series, during which he made three trips to the mound, tossed 3 1/3 innings, and served up three home runs. He has struck out more than a batter per inning in three of his past four starts, and he fanned six Giants in as many innings when they locked horns two months ago. 

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

Related Content:  Playoffs,  Giants,  Lance Lynn,  Cardinals

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