The thing I liked most about the NLCS match-up between the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants was that it was a duel between the two previous World Series winners. To win a championship is hard. To defend that championship is even harder. You want to raise the level of difficulty? How about doing so with several injuries to key players? How about doing so by losing your best player to free agency? The Cardinals should be commended for getting back to the NLCS amidst the difficulty. In a sense, their season was much like the Giants 2011 season, though they had a second wild card to play for while the Giants didn’t. But much like the Cardinals losing Albert Pujols, the 2011 Giants lost Buster Posey to a season ending injury. The team still won 86 games and battled for the wild card down to the end.
The 2012 Giants opened the season feeling like they were ripped off in 2011. They felt like Scott Cousins’ ruthless football tackle ruined their chances to repeat and defend their championship. And it’s not like they weren’t without their own problems. They lost closer Brian Wilson to an elbow injury very early in the season. Their best hitter Melky Cabrera was lost for the season on a medicine test failure. And Tim Lincecum was abducted by aliens and replaced by an anorexic Sidney Ponson. Okay, maybe that didn’t happen but it felt like it did.
The reason why both the Cardinals and Giants should be celebrated is because throughout uncontrollable and bad luck that hurt their chances to go far in the playoffs, they persevered and outlasted everyone else in the National League. They outlasted the gluttonous Dodgers, the offensively explosive Reds, and the 98-win Nationals. They fought harder and had to work through more issues than most playoff teams. That’s sweat equity.
But in the end, there could only be one winner. The Cardinals staked out a 3-1 lead before #RallyZito, #RallyEnchiladas, and #RallyCain took over and absolutely dominated Cardinals hitters. In the last three games of the series, the Giants outscored the Cardinals 20-1 and they did it by hitting only two homeruns. You want to come back from a 3-1 deficit? That’s how you do it. You just obliterate their bats and take advantage of scoring opportunities.
Game 7 had a weird tempo to it early on. Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro led off the Giants’ half of the first with singles. Pablo Sandoval hit a chopper that starting pitcher Kyle Lohse fielded cleanly. Angel Pagan got a bad jump, but still broke for the plate. Instead of trying for the lead runner, Lohse hesitated and decided to get the easier out at first base and allowed Pagan to score. While the Giants wouldn’t tack on more in that first inning, the momentum seemed to be with the Giants immediately. That first run in this series has been so important.
In the second, Matt Cain nearly gave the run back. The Cardinals put two runners on immediately via a single by Yadier Molina and a walk to David Freese. Brandon Belt fell to his knees to turn Daniel Descalso’s hard ground ball into a force out at second base. Pete Kozma, who was the defensive goat, then struck out leaving it in the hands of pitcher Kyle Lohse. Cain gave in to Lohse who hit a liner that Brandon Crawford snatched out of the air for the third out. It was a break that could’ve been ugly for the Giants, but for whatever reason, the ball was hit only as high as Crawford could jump.
The Giants would tack on another run in the second after a Matt Cain single that scored Gregor Blanco. It was basically the same situation that Lohse was in, except Cain’s fell in. They broke the game open in the third inning. Marco Scutaro singled to start the inning and Pablo Sandoval laced a double down the left field line. Posey was walked and Mike Matheny took out Lohse and inserted Joe Kelly. And in the weirdest play of the series, Kelly ran a ball in on Hunter Pence’s hands and broke his bat, yet Pence still put a good enough swing on it to hit a hard ball to shortstop. Kozma broke to his right to field it, yet missed it by several feet. Replays would show that Pence triple hit the ball on his swing. After the ball broke his bat, it tapped it again during his swing and once more before he finished the swing. It gave the ball some weird English on it and Kozma was either reacting to the bat splintering or Pence’s wild swing and simply broke the wrong way for the ball. John Jay had trouble picking it up cleanly in center and Pence’s triple-hit-double cleared the bases. Two fielder’s choices scored two more runs and the Giants were up 7-0, effectively putting the game out of reach. The Giants would score twice more late in the game, including a solo homer by Brandon Belt.
Matt Cain was effective, but not sharp. He pitched from behind and failed to make the big pitches that were the staple of his regular season. But when staked out to a big lead, he didn’t need to be perfect and he loosened up. In Bruce Bochy-like fashion, the Giants used five pitchers to complete the shutout. Adding to the weirdness of the game, in the bottom of the 9th inning, a torrential down pouring of rain happened. Javier Lopez got two outs in the ninth, but Bochy summoned in his closer Sergio Romo to get the final out and the Giants up nine runs. Of course, that final out would be Matt Holliday who became public enemy number one after his hard takeout slide of Marco Scutaro in game two of the series. Holliday received a payback of sorts in the top of the sixth inning when Cain drilled him. Holliday popped up a slider to none other than Marco Scutaro who secured the final out of the series. Scutaro was named NLCS MVP after hitting .500 in the seven games.
The Giants will now face a very rested Detroit Tigers team on a roll after sweeping the New York Yankees in the ALCS. Justin Verlander will start game one, probably against Barry Zito on Wednesday. The Tigers have pop up and down the lineup and are led by AL MVP candidate and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and first year Tiger Prince Fielder. But they had four more players (and six in all) who had double digit homeruns (compared to just three Giants players overall). Max Scherzer finally came into his own as a starting pitcher, having a better K/9 than Verlander by more than two strikeouts.
The Giants will have their work cut out for them for sure. The key will be game one. If they somehow can beat Justin Verlander, that would take all the momentum (and confidence) away from the Tigers. The Giants may have trouble with their own starting rotation though. Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti will have to decide whether or not to throw Tim Lincecum in game two, or push Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain up one day, leaving them one less day of usual rest between starts. Also, if Matt Cain starts game four, it means he’ll only start one game in the World Series.
The Giants have one day of rest before having to get back out there and for this team, that’s probably a good team. But, if they run with the narrative of 2012, they’ll let the Tigers stake out a huge lead before coming back. The problem is, these Tigers might hit too well to be caught. I don’t see it happening again. The Giants have to keep the series close and hope they can pull it out thanks to the home field advantage gained in an All-Star game win that their players helped heavily in. Yes, even Melky Cabrera helped in that one. Sometimes, even when those breaks don’t go your way, they do.