While the ALCS emanates a fresh vibe, the NLCS features two familiar, borderline-stale opponents. Either the Cardinals or Giants has appeared in each of the past four World Series, a streak that will extend to five regardless of the victor. These powerhouses have so ruled the postseason that they've combined to go 15-1 in postseason series against other teams, according to Tom Verducci. (That one? Last year's World Series.) With two World Series appearances apiece, which team will break the tie and earn their third crack at the championship in five years? Let's find out.
CF-L Gregor Blanco (.260/.333/.374/.272, 2.2)
2B-L Joe Panik (.305/.343/.368//259, 0.5)
C-R Buster Posey (.311/.364/.490/.316, 5.9)
3B-S Pablo Sandoval (.279/.324/.415/.284, 3.1)
RF-R Hunter Pence (.277/.332/.445/.289, 3.9)
1B-L Brandon Belt (.243/.306/.449/.278, 1.6)
SS-L Brandon Crawford (.246/.324/.389/.269, 3.9)
LF-L Travis Ishikawa (.274/.333/.397/.273, 0.4)
Comparatively, the Giants have the better offense. San Francisco scored 46 more runs and owned an eight-point advantage in True Average over St. Louis during the regular season. That advantage holds true even when it came to hitting with men on base, an area where the Cardinals excelled last year. Not so in '14, as St. Louis finished near the bottom of the league; the Giants, meanwhile, were a middle-of-the-pack team. Worth noting: The Giants could improve their offense by replacing Ishikawa with Michael Morse, though his rust could leave him in a lesser role for the time being.
3B-L Matt Carpenter (.272/.375/.375/.289, 3.8)
CF-L Jon Jay (.303/.372/.378/.279, 1.5)
LF-R Matt Holliday (.272/.370/.441/.293, 2.9)
1B-L Matt Adams (.288/.321/.457/.282, 1.3)
SS-R Jhonny Peralta (.262/.336/.443/.286, 4.5)
C-R Yadier Molina (.282/.333/.386/.258, 1.9)
RF-R Randal Grichuk (.245/.278/.400/.245, 0.1)
2B-L Kolten Wong (.249/.292/.388/.242, 0.6)
Everyone mocks the Royals for their no-pop ways, yet the Cardinals were right there with them and the Padres in ISO. Not good. Further complicating offensive matters is how St. Louis finished as a well-below-average baserunning team (though San Francisco owns no great advantage there). If the Cardinals can brag about something, it's a higher on-base percentage than the Giants despite a lower batting average. The key? A majors-leading 86 hit batsmen, including Jay and Holliday, each of whom was struck by more than 15 pitches during the season.
Neither team is a threat to steal bases.
OF-R Michael Morse (.279/.336/.475/.296, 1.90)
C-R Andrew Susac (.273/.326/.466/.291, 0.79)
OF-R Juan Perez (.170/.224/.270/.186, -0.51)
IF-R Joaquin Arias (.254/.281/.301/.217, 0.07)
OF-R Gary Brown (.429/.429/.429/.325, 0.14)
Morse is the big X factor here, as he returns from tightness in his side. If he's right, he gives Bruce Bochy a fearsome pinch-hitting option. On the opposite side of the spectrum sits Perez, otherwise known as the guy who'll check in to left field late in games for defensive purposes. Brown could be left off the roster for another pinch-hitter type, in Matt Duffy. Beyond that, the rest of the bench will go mostly unused, with Arias and Susac around just in case of emergency.
INF-R Pete Kozma (.304/.385/.435/.298, 0.3)
INF-L Daniel Descalso (.242/.333/.311/.245, 0.1)
OF-L Oscar Taveras (.239/.278/.312/.218, -1.2)
OF-R Peter Bourjos (.231/.294/.348/.243, 1.2)
C-R Tony Cruz (.200/.270/.259/.191, -0.7)
Kozma started against Clayton Kershaw once and came off the bench the second time, so he may or may not get the nod at second base against Madison Bumgarner. Taveras received a plate appearance in each of the Dodgers games as a pinch-hitter, he figures to reprise that role here. Bourjos is similar to Perez, in that he could average fewer than a plate appearance per game played. The other two won't play. Descalso received one plate appearance in the previous series; Cruz has one plate appearance in his postseason career—that came in 2012.
If Bumgarner isn't the most decorated young postseason pitcher going, then he's at least in the discussion. The kicker? He remains the youngest pitcher on San Francisco's postseason roster. After the young Bumgarner, the Giants will turn to a trio of graybeards: 33-year-old Peavy, 39-year-old Hudson, and 37-year-old Vogelsong. Each except for Hudson has been this deep in the postseason before, so he's your guy if you're looking for a ring-free veteran to cheer on.
Wainwright's status for LDS Game Five was questionable due to off and on arm woes. He remains in line for the Game One start nonetheless, but would likely be replaced by Lynn if he can't go. Either way, Lackey and Miller bring up the tail end. Lackey wasn't as good with the Cardinals during the regular season as they might've hoped, yet he turned in a quality outing against the Dodgers. Miller, on the other hand, made his first postseason start against L.A. and was lifted before the sixth.
Bullpen (IP, ERA, FIP)
RHP Santiago Casilla (58.3, 1.70, 3.15)
RHP Sergio Romo (58.0, 3.72, 4.50)
RHP Hunter Strickland (7.0 0.00, 0.53)
RHP Jean Machi (66.3, 2.58, 3.40)
LHP Jeremy Affeldt (55.3, 2.28. 2.83)
LHP Javier Lopez (37.7, 3.11, 4.30)
RHP Yusmerio Petit (117.0, 3.69, 2.65)
RHP Tim Lincecum (155.7, 4.74, 5.09)
Over the last few years Casilla and Romo have traded the ninth inning back and forth. Both are a little better against righties than lefties, but they get the job done. When not giving up home runs to Bryce Harper, Strickland is a power arm who could finish the month with more innings thrown in the postseason than the regular season. Machi will face mostly righties, Lopez mostly lefties. Petit gives the Giants length if necessary. Lincecum hasn't pitched this postseason. If he does appear, the game will be either deep into extras or in boat race territory.
RHP Trevor Rosenthal (70.1, 3.20, 2.96)
RHP Seth Maness (80.1, 2.91, 3.35)
RHP Pat Neshek (67.1, 1.87, 2.35)
RHP Carlos Martinez (89.1, 4.03, 3.15)
LHP Randy Choate (36, 4.50, 3.55)
RHP Michael Wacha (107, 3.20, 3.14)
LHP Sam Freeman (38, 2.61, 3.76)
LHP Marco Gonzales (34.2, 4.15, 4.72)
Rosenthal is the nastiest reliever in the series, though Martinez probably gives him his toughest in-house competition. A southpaw with typical splits, Choate yielded a homer to the only batter he faced during the Dodgers series. A southpaw with reverse splits, Freeman walked the only two batters he face during the Dodgers series. Wacha hasn't appeared yet, but gives Mike Matheny a wild card to play as he wishes. Another starter in the bullpen, Gonzales, was used, albeit as a B-unit middle reliever.
Two good, evenly matched defenses. The Giants finished the regular season with a .718 defensive efficiency and 1.57 PADE, as compared to the Cardinals' .714 and 1.55 marks. Each club features a strong defensive catcher, but there are some differences here. The Giants finished as the second-best team in the majors at turning groundballs into outs; whereas the Cardinals finished second-best in turning fly balls into outs. Both were quality at catching line drives.
From the Wild Card preview: “Two World Series titles for Bruce Bochy has something to do with that, but there’s more to Bochy’s reputation than his shiny rings. Bochy seems to maximize the contributions from his veterans and does an excellent job juggling his lineup when it is called for. Bochy is hardly a number cruncher, but he also avoids the tendency to over manage in key situations. He seems to have found that impossible balance between pulling the plug on a player too soon and waiting too long for a player to fail. The Romo/Casilla closer decision is a prime example of this, but Bochy’s roster management in general is a definite strength.”
From the Divisional Series preview (though still applicable): "Matheny will make his money this series in his bullpen usage. There are few enough decisions of consequence to be made with the lineup, that any of these will mostly be narrative rather than real advantages gained or lost, and while pinch-running may play a role, this is a team horribly built for small-ball."
The closest baseball can get to a "Freddy Versus Jason" series pits the Cardinals and their magical ways against the Giants, who seem incapable of losing an elimination game. We'll take the Giants in six, based on the strength of their lineup and Wainwright's uncertain status. Here's hoping the series is better than the movie was.