October 14, 2012
NLCS Preview: Cardinals and Giants
The two most recent World Series champions face each other for the chance to throw a second parade. Considering the Phillies’ decline to an aging, expensive .500 team this year, one might argue that the Giants and Cardinals are the league’s two best organizations: The Cardinals have won 89 games per year (and a World Series) over the past four seasons, and the Giants have won 90 per year (and a World Series). In a postseason that has been dominated by pitching, expect these seven games to produce plenty of offense.
The Cardinals’ lineup produced the best TAv in the National League this year, though their potency is somewhat camouflaged by the famous first basemen (Pujols, Berkman) who are missing. What they do: get on base, via a satisfying mix of high-contact batting averages and better-than-average walk rates. Craig is playing full-time for the first time in his career at age 27, and came within a point of matching Matt Holliday’s OPS. Jay, too, is a bit of a late bloomer, but his .373 OBP puts him well ahead of the leaguewide .319 OBP in the top spot. Jay is also the most likely Cardinal to steal a base, but overall this is as far from the 1980s Cardinals as you can get. With Kozma, a career .236/.308/.344 hitter in the minors, torching the National League at the moment, the Cardinals can count on the offensive advantage—though not as big an advantage as you’d think.
The Giants’ lineup produced the second-best TAv in the National League this year, though their potency is somewhat camouflaged by brutal home-park statistics and the fewest home runs in the National League. What they do: avoid strikeouts, and hit plenty of gaps, with the most triples in the league and the second-most non-homer extra-base hits. Buster Posey finished with the second-highest OPS+ ever for a backstop and hit .385/.454/.646 in the second half, but the Giants struggled to put runners on for him in the NLDS. The top three batters had a combined .254 OBP, and the Giants' offense as a whole hit .194/.266/.339. Marco Scutaro’s outburst has been unusual, as the infielder walked just 13 times in a half-season as a Giant, after walking 90 times in a year not long ago. His 3-for-20 NLDS lowers his seasonal OBP to .342, just a tick better than his career .340, to put that batting average as a Giant into perspective. Brandon Belt is probably the third-best hitter in the lineup, but it can be frustrating to watch him refuse to compromise his vision of the strike zone with two strikes. Seems like he’s always a 1-for-13 away from losing Bruce Bochy’s confidence. /checks. Belt went 1-for-13 in the NLDS.