The St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants have quietly become dominant forces in the National League.
Quietly only because neither has been a consensus preseason World Series pick the past five years but they still manage to find themselves playing deep into October with regularity.
The two clubs have won three of the previous four World Series. Last year, the Cardinals lost to the Red Sox in six games. The Giants won titles in 2010 and 2012, the year they rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat St. Louis in the NLCS before sweeping Detroit for the title. The Cards won their last title in 2011. This will be the fourth time they’ve met the Giants in the NLCS.
Two years ago, the Giants had the home-field advantage, which helped them pull off their comeback. In 2014, the Cardinals have home-field advantage, beginning with Game 1 at 7 p.m. Saturday at Busch Stadium.
San Francisco (88-74 in the regular season) has won 10 of its past 11 playoff games, including a wild-card win at Pittsburgh before beating the Nationals in four games in the NLDS. The Cardinals (90-72) took down the heavily favored Dodgers in four games.
On the mound
The Giants have an edge in pitching, led by Madison Bumgarner, who has a 1.13 ERA in 16 postseason innings.
Jake Peavy, who is likely to start Game 1 against the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright, joined the team after being traded from the Red Sox on July 26.
Peavy held the Nationals to two hits and no runs in 5 2/3 innings in his only postseason start. Reliever Yusmeiro Petit held the Nationals scoreless on one hit over six innings in the Giants’ 18-inning win in Game 2 of the NLDS. Veteran Tim Hudson was also solid in his lone postseason outing, holding the Nationals to one run in 7 1/3 innings.
The Cardinals will use the same rotation as they did in the NLDS, following Wainwright with Lance Lynn, John Lackey and 2009 Brownwood High grad Shelby Miller. All three pitched well against the Dodgers, including the veteran Lackey, who allowed a run in seven innings in his lone start.
Both team have a former postseason ace that have been moved to the bullpen.
The Giants’ Tim Lincecum, who helped San Francisco win titles in ’10 and ’12, was moved to the bullpen late in the regular season after struggling with a 5.00 ERA.
Michael Wacha was the 2013 NLCS MVP after helping St. Louis reach the World Series, but after missing three months with a stress reaction in his right shoulder, did not get in a game in the NLDS.
St. Louis closer Trevor Rosenthal (45) leads a bullpen that leads the majors with 55 saves. Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla combined for 42 saves and a 9-7 record during the regular season for the Giants and each threw three scoreless innings in the NLDS.
At the plate
The Cardinals have two of the hottest hitters in the postseason in John Jay and TCU alumnus Matt Carpenter.
Both are hitting over .375 and Carpenter leads all sluggers in the postseason with seven RBIs and is tied with the Nationals’ Bryce Harper for the lead with three homers. St. Louis, which hit the second-fewest homers in the regular season (105), leads the postseason with seven.
Brandon Belt and Buster Posey, who’s hitting a team-high .391 in the postseason, are swinging the hottest bats for the Giants.
The rest of their lineup doesn’t have similarly flashy postseason numbers, but what they do have is a deep lineup of veterans that have come through with clutch hits when needed, such as UT Arlington and Arlington High ex Hunter Pence, Joe Panik and Brandon Crawford.
The depth of the Giants’ lineup is their strength, and runs can come from anywhere.
It may get deeper, too, if outfielder/first baseman Michael Morse, who missed most of September with a strained left oblique, returns to the roster as has been reported.
The Cardinals have won 11 World Series titles, second only to the Yankees (27).
The Giants have won two, not including the five the New York Giants won from 1905 to 1954.
The Giants won the season series 4-3.
Both teams had eerily similar stats in the regular season. Both had 3.50 team ERAs and eight complete games. The Cards’ staff held hitters to a .242 average, the Giants’ staff held hitters to .241.
Offensively, the Giants edged the Cards in batting average, runs, and home runs but the Cardinals had 57 stolen bases to the Giants’ 56.