The St. Louis Cardinals need only to look in a mirror to know what to expect from the San Francisco Giants in the National League Championship Series.
The Giants are a team that, like the Cardinals, doesn't have an obvious superstar slugger among its starting eight players. But they have several guys who know how to handle a bat who could hurt you at any given moment.
Both team are led between the lines by an elite defensive catcher who can change the course of a game with a key throw or by guiding a pitcher safely through troubling times.
The Cardinals and Giants both have very deep starting pitching that can make runs difficult to come by.
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In short, the Giants aren't as flashy as the Dodgers. But they're just as dangerous as evidenced by the facts that 1) They kept the heat on LA for the National League West Division title until the last week of the season and 2) They knocked off the best team in baseball. the Washington Nationals, in the first round of the playoffs after defeating a red hot Pittsburgh Pirates club in the wild card play-in game.
If the Redbirds are the thorn in the Dodgers' side, the Giants have been St. Louis' post season bane, beating the Cardinals in the 2012 and 2002 NLCS. The latter was the most frustrating after St. Louis built a 3-1 lead in the series only to lost Game 5 at home and then games six and seven in San Francisco. But the Cardinals have some positive history against the Giants in the NLCS, too, beating them in an extremely contentious seven games in 1987.
Like the Birds, the top Giants sluggers maxed out in the low 20s range in home runs. Catcher Buster Posey hit 22 to go along with his .311 batting average while right fielder and generally annoying player Hunter Pence hit 20 homers with a .277 batting average. Their Cardinals counterparts are shortstop Jhonny Peralta who hit 22 over the boards with a .263 average and Matt Holliday who hit 20 homers with a .272 BA.
Both teams count on stringing together timely hits to score runs -- and for hefty contributions to come from beyond their core group of sluggers.
The rotations will be anchored on both sides by veteran hurlers with a ton of post season experience.
The Cardinals will send Adam Wainwright to the hill for Game 1 (if his tender elbow allows) and he's got 19 playoff appearances under his belt with a 3.13 ERA to show for it. Lance Lynn will pitch Game 2. Four years into his career, he's pitched in 22 playoff games compiling a 4.57 ERA. Much of that came early in his career as a reliever. But his best playoff performance came in his solid NLDS start against the Dodgers in which he struck out eight and walk two. John Lackey, who won the deciding games of the 2002 and 2013 World Series with the Anaheim Angels and Boston Red Sox, will take the ball for Game 3. Lackey has pitched in 20 post season games with 17 starts. He's 7-5 with a 2.92 ERA.
For the Giants, their ace is Madison Bumgarner who was 18-10 with a 2.98 ERA during the regular season. He's made eight October starts and is 4-3 with a 2.96 ERA. Veteran hurler Tim Hudson, who has made 10 playoff starts, nine with the Oakland Athletics and Atlanta Braves, is 1-3 with a 3.19 ERA in October. Like Lackey, the Giants' third-best pitcher is a trade deadline import, former San Diego Padres, Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox hurler Jake Peavy. Peavy, whose Padres were defeated by the Cardinals in the playoffs in 2005 and 2006, is having something of a career renaissance in San Francisco. He was 6-4 with a 2.17 ERA after the trade deadline following a 1-9 start with a 4.72 ERA as Lackey's teammate in Boston. The post season has never been Peavy's strong suit. He's 1-4 with a 7.39 ERA in October.
While Pence's style of play is perplexing, he's an excellent defensive outfielder, which is something that comes into play in the tough right field at the Giants' home park. The Cardinals might have had issues with Allen Craig covering that turf if he was still in St. Louis Red. But it's a big boost to have strong and speedy outfielder Randal Grichuk covering that area, mitigating what could have been a major defensive advantage for the Giants.
Another common thread between the Cardinals and Giants is that each team has a closer suffering through a sub-par year.
While he's put up big save numbers, Trevor Rosenthal has done a good job of keeping St. Louis fans on their toes in the ninth inning of close games. While he succeeds in salting away the win the vast majority of his appearances, he walks far too many hitters and seems like he's not ready to go until his back is up against the wall with the tying or go-ahead runs on base. When he's on, Rosenthal still features a 100 mph fastball and an effective change of speed as evidenced by his 87 strikeouts in 70 1/3 innings of work. But he has to throw strikes more consistently and force baserunners to earn their way aboard.
For the Giants, Sergio Romo, who inherited the closer job when Brian Wilson was injured a couple of years ago, lost the role with a shaky start to the season. He finished the season with 23 saves and a 3.72 ERA. Santiago Casilla eventually emerged as the full time closer as part of a committee used to replace Romo. He saved 19 with a 1.70 ERA.
With similar talent and philosophy, the NLCS will likely come down to which of its two entrants make fewer mistakes.