We are at that point in the baseball season where there are about two weeks left, and the field has been narrowed down to the best 4 teams in the League. Welcome to the Championship Series. Today we are going to breakdown the National League Championship Series, which pits the St. Louis Cardinals versus the San Francisco Giants.
This matchup has a ton of great storylines, it pretty much writes itself. (Thank you baseball Gods) On the surface, you have a matchup between the last two World Series Champions. Both teams made improbable runs in their respective Championship seasons, and both defeated the Texas Rangers in the World Series.
This year’s Cardinals are managed by first year Manager Mike Matheny, who made a name for himself playing five seasons with the Cardinals in the early 2000s. Matheny then went on to play for the Giants in 2005, where he won a gold glove and the Willie Mac Award, a team award given out to the player who best exemplifies the spirit and leadership shown by Willie McCovey in his day.
The following season he was placed on the Disabled List for multiple concussions, and never recovered. The San Francisco Giants were the last MLB team Matheny suited up for as an active player.
St. Louis Cardinals infielder Daniel Descalso has some bay area ties of his own. The 25-year-old grew up in Redwood City, California and went to high school in Mountain View, which is about an hour South of San Francisco. In Game 5 of the NLDS Descalso came up with a huge hit that tied the game up in the 9th, roping a first pitch single off the glove of Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond.
He then scored on a double by the next batter as the Cardinals won the game 9-7. The NLCS also marks the return of last year’s failed trade deadline acquisition, Carlos Beltran to San Francisco.
When Beltran came to the Giants last season, it wasn’t the most fair of situations. The Giants were very beat-up, with notable players Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez both out for the offense that won the championship a season before.
Beltran was brought in to spark the offense in a very winnable division, hoping to give the Giants a chance to defend their title. He arrived in San Francisco dinged up, and never got fully healthy until about a week or two before the season ended, when the playoff hopes for the Giants were all by extinguished.
Beltran chose to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals in the offseason, citing that he never received an offer from the Giants. How true that might be is up for debate, as it doesn’t seem smart for a team to trade one of their best pitching prospects for a rental player that they have no intention of resigning.
Beltran has made a nice career showing up big in the post season, batting .375 with 13 homeruns and 23 RBI’s in just six career post season series’.
Giants infielder Ryan Theriot is no stranger to St. Louis, playing both second base and shortstop for the Cardinals on their way to a Championship last season. Whenever a player wins a title with a city, they are forever loved. Look for Theriot, who hasn’t gotten many at bats since Marco Scutaro became an everyday player, to get some key late game pinch hitting opportunities against this Cardinal staff.
The best storyline in the NLCS has to be the battle of the men behind the dish, Buster Posey and Yadier Molina. Both men have put up great statistical seasons that ended with Posey winning the NL Batting Title with a .336 avg. Posey is the first National League catcher to win the title since Ernie Lombardi of the Boston Braves in 1942 and the fourth in the 137-season history of the league.
He will also undoubtedly be the NL Comeback Player of the Year, after suffering a horrific knee injury in May 2011 and only playing in 45 games.
Molina had the best statistical season of his career, batting .315 with 22 homeruns and 76 RBIs, all career highs. Molina was in the argument for NL MVP with a couple weeks remaining, but did not do enough in my opinion to overtake Posey who finished with 24 homeruns and 103 RBIs.
When you look through the Major League Baseball History books, the Giants and Cardinals have faced off in this position before. Going back to 1987 when both teams had a very scrappy 7-game series, that ended with a Cardinals game seven victory fueled by Jose Oquendo's three-run home run off Atlee Hammaker.
The Giants would get their revenge, defeating the Cardinals in the 2002 NLCS in just five games. It was the Giants’ first NL pennant since “The shot heard around the world” in 1951.
The St. Louis Cardinals are looking for their third championship in the last 7 years, while the Giants are looking for their 2nd in the last three years.
Both teams have a very defiant, “never say die” attitude that should make for a thrilling National League Championship Series.
Game 1 is Sunday October 13 at 5:15pm at AT&T Park
Starting pitchers: Lance Lynn (StL) vs. Madison Bumgarner (SF)