The NLCS begins today with two teams, the San Francisco Giants and St Louis Cardinals, who are no strangers to playing for a pennant (8:05 PM EST on FOX).
The Cardinals have been here before as recently as last year when they won the National League title but fell short against the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. The Giants have also been to the series as recently as two years ago when they won both the pennant and the world championship. Needless to say, this is the NLCS that most had been hoping for.
When it comes to the National League, the Cardinals and the Giants have been the gold standard.
One of the most decorated and successful franchises in MLB history, the Cardinals lead the National League with 11 World Series championships, the most recent of which came in 2011. St. Louis’ 19 titles is second of all MLB teams, the first of course being the 27 won by the New York Yankees.
The Cardinals have also won 19 National League pennants and 12 division titles. They have reached the postseason in 11 of the last 15 years, have gone to the World Series four times and have won it all twice in that span.
With seven world series championships, the Giants rank second in the National League behind only the Cardinals. That total is also fifth out of all major league teams. San Francisco leads the National League with 22 pennants. They have won their division eight times.
The Giants have reached the playoffs six times in the last 15 years, winning three pennants and two world series championships in that time. As the world series winners in two of the last four years, the Giants have won seven consecutive playoff series including one against the Cardinals.
Starting Pitching Game One: (SF) Madison Bumgarner vs (STL) Adam Wainwright
Pitching the Giants into the NLDS was the 25-year-old lefty, Madison Bumgarner. Picking up right where he left off in the 2012 postseason, Bumgarner threw a complete game shutout against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the wildcard game, striking out 10 and allowing just four hits. In his second start against the NL East division-winning Washington Nationals, Bumgarner was just as good. He pitched seven, six-hit innings, giving up just two runs and walking just one with six strikeouts.
Adam Wainwright (pictured), the hero of the 2013 NL world series run, faced off against Clayton Kershaw and the LA Dodgers in his only postseason start of 2014. With the two Cy Young frontrunners on the bump, no one expected the game to end in a score of 10-9. Wainwright pitched just 4.1 innings and gave up six runs on 11 hits, a far cry from his season’s 2.38 ERA.
When looking at the last five years, no Cardinal hitter has had more than 20 at bats against Bumgarner. Matt Holliday is the only Cardinal over 15 at bats and he has not had success against the Giants’ ace. Holliday is hitting just .125 against Bumgarner with zero home runs or RBI.
In Bumgarner’s only postseason start against St Louis, he lasted just 3.2 innings and gave up six runs on eight hits. Adding to this, in the last three years, Bumgarner has a 4.78 ERA against the Cardinals in four starts and 26.1 innings pitched.
Over the past five years for the veteran Wainwright, he too hasn’t really had too much experience facing the San Francisco hitters. Only Hunter Pence has over 20 at bats and he is hitting .286 in that span. Both Brandon Crawford and Pablo Sandoval are second with 13 at bats. Both are hitting over .300 and have four RBI between them in those 26 at bats.
And while the Giants did defeat the Cardinals in the 2012 NLCS, Wainwright pitched a gem. He went seven innings and allowed just one run on four hits, giving St Louis a 3-1 lead in the series. This was no surprise because in the last three years, Wainwright has been lights out against the Giants with a 1.88 ERA in four starts and 28.2 innings pitched.
Behind Bumgarner is a Giants rotation that has given up just four earned runs in 34.2 innings pitched. As a team, the rotation has been at its best in this series just as it had been the last time San Francisco won the World Series. Both teams have the experience and both have talented arms. But that said, the slight pitching advantage belongs to the Giants.
The Best Defense is a Good Offense
It is no surprise that the two teams that have made it this far have done it with great pitching and solid, consistent hitting as well.
The Giants finished the season as somewhat average in the top hitting categories. But in the postseason, their bats have come alive. This is a lineup that has threats almost throughout and that toppled several excellent Nationals starters. Additionally, both Crawford and Brandon Belt are tied for second best in the playoffs with five RBI each and Buster Posey leads with nine hits.
St Louis too had a sub-standard hitting year but have also come alive in the postseason. The lineup went off for an improbable eight runs in the seventh inning against Kershaw who in his entire career had never lost a game when staked to a six-run lead. Leading the way was Matt Carpenter who paces all hitters this postseason with seven RBI, three doubles and three home runs. Jon Jay, leads the remaining NL postseason players with a .455 average.
Carpenter can’t do it alone and with the level that the Giants have been clicking it is going to be tough for any pitcher to stop that offense. Once again, the advantage here belongs to the Giants.
San Francisco Giants vs St Louis Cardinals Betting Picks
This is certainly going to be a series for the ages. There is so much history on the line and both of these teams have talent from the top to the bottom.
- The Game One opening lines have the St Louis Cardinals and Wainwright the favorites by 1.5 runs. The Giants can keep this a one run game, so bet on San Francisco +1.5 runs @ -210 with 5Dimes Sportsbook. It is -220 with BetOnline and -225 with Bovada.
- As for the total runs, the over/under set at 6.5. The way the scoring has gone, this should be an easy pick on the over 6.5 total runs @ +105 with all three of the above named online sportsbooks.
- If you are looking for a series prediction, my money is on San Francisco in six. With both the pitching and offense that has gotten them this far and the fact that they have reached the world series twice in the last four years, stick with the Giants to once again get there in 2014. You can get best odds of +115 about the Giants for the series win with 5Dimes Sportsbook.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.