NLCS preview: Why I picked the Cards and why they’ll probably lose
As I said in a recent video previewing the National League Championship Series, I’m picking the Cardinals in seven, which probably means the Giants will win in four.
Seriously, my playoff picks have been predictably horrendous, and my previous “standard” already was — to quote the great John Schulian — lower than the fungus on the locker-room floor.
According to this “insider,” this “expert” or whatever the heck FOX calls me, it should have been Athletics-Tigers in the ALCS and Nationals-Dodgers in the NLCS.
What? None of them made it?
Hey, I’ve been distracted by the flurry of personnel moves by disappointed clubs, particularly the firings of hitting coaches. I mean, we all know hitting coaches are to blame for the industry-wide decline in offense. Not the ban on performance-enhancing drugs. Not the increased number of defensive shifts. Not the proliferation of relievers who come out of the womb throwing 95 mph.
Anyway, I guess I should explain why I like the Cardinals.
Two reasons, really:
— The superior stuff of the Cardinals’ starting pitchers (excepting Madison Bumgarner, the Giants’ brilliant lefty).
— The seeming awakening of the Cardinals’ offense, relatively speaking, in their Division Series upset of the Dodgers.
Start with the rotations.
I’ll give San Francisco’s Bumgarner a slight edge over St. Louis right-hander Adam Wainwright in Game 1, even if Wainwright is healthy; Wainwright said Friday that concern about his elbow is “way overblown,” adding that he had “no doubts” going into his start.
After that, though, the Cardinals possess an edge — at least in power.
Now, we all know velocity isn’t everything. We know that the Giants’ Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong all pitched well in the DS — and that Vogelsong’s fastball actually jumped from an average of 91.1 mph to 93.2. Heck, we even know that the difference in strikeout rates between the Cardinals’ 2-3-4 starters and the Giants’ isn’t terribly great.
Still, Lance Lynn, 27, and Shelby Miller, 24, boast terrific stuff, and John Lackey, 35, throws harder than any of the Giants’ older starters. Peavy and Hudson are personal favorites, but would I bet on Peavy over Lynn right now? Hudson over Lackey? Vogelsong over Miller?
With all due respect, no.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy declined on Friday to name his rotation beyond Bumgarner and Peavy, but don’t count on Bumgarner pitching on three days’ rest in Game 4 and, if necessary, Game 7. Bochy prefers his pitchers to work on normal rest. And Bumgarner never has gone on short rest in the regular season or postseason.
The other part of my hunch about the Cardinals — and believe me, that’s all it is — is my growing confidence in their offense. The Giants ranked fifth in the NL with 665 runs during the regular season, while the Cardinals tied for ninth at 619. But in the DS, the Cardinals twice rallied to defeat Clayton Kershaw and hit seven home runs — three by Matt Carpenter — in four games.
Small sample size from a team that was last in the NL in homers during the regular season? Yes. A trend capable of reversing in the NLCS? Absolutely. But after Kershaw, Zack Grienke and even Hyun-Jin Ryu, the Giants’ rotation beyond Bumgarner surely looks less imposing to the Cardinals. The Giants’ offense, meanwhile, remains in a compromised state.
Center fielder Angel Pagan is out after undergoing back surgery. Left fielder Michael Morse missed most of September with a strained left oblique, and is likely to start the series on the bench. True, first baseman Brandon Belt is back after appearing in only 61 games during the regular season. But it’s fair to ask whether the Giants, who scored only nine runs in four games against the pitching-rich Nationals, are sufficiently deep.
Giants fans should not take offense with any of this — for all I know, Peavy and Co. will out-savvy the Cardinals, Morse will turn into this year’s Marco Scutaro and the Giants’ terrific bullpen, under Bochy’s shrewd, aggressive management, will dominate the series.
I’ve got the Cardinals in seven, which could only mean one thing.
Giants in four.