NLCS Schedule 2012: Game-by-Game Predictions, Full Series Analysis, More

Robert KnapelCorrespondent IOctober 13, 2012

NLCS Schedule 2012: Game-by-Game Predictions, Full Series Analysis, More

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    The 2012 MLB postseason started with 10 teams and now we are down to four. The San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals will be facing off in the NLCS.

    With a spot in the World Series on the line, each game should bring out the best in all players involved. This could lead to some impressive performances.

    This should serve as your guide to the 2012 NLCS. It provides team previews, game-by-game predictions, series analysis and the schedule.

San Francisco Giants

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    The National League West Champion San Francisco Giants did not make things easy during the 2012 NLDS. Following two straight losses to the Cincinnati Reds to open the series, the Giants were on the brink of elimination.

    San Francisco fought back and won Game 3 and Game 4 on the road. Thanks to a big grand slam from Buster Posey, the Giants were able to survive and advance.

Offense

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    Leading the San Francisco Giants’ offensive is MVP candidate Buster Posey. He was hitting at a torrid pace in the second half of the season and that has continued in the postseason, as he had two home runs and five RBI in the Divisional Series.

    Additional offensive production comes from Pablo Sandoval and the recently acquired Hunter Pence. San Francisco is obviously expecting a big series from these three.

    It will be the production of the rest of the offense that makes a big difference. If a player like Brandon Crawford or Xavier Nady can come up with timely hits, the Giants will be in a good position.

Pitching

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    The strength of the San Francisco Giants is their starting rotation. Giants starters had the sixth-best ERA in baseball this season (h/t ESPN).

    Matt Cain is the Giants ace and he is coming off an outstanding regular season in which he went 16-5 with a 2.79 ERA.  In a long series, Cain will be on the mound twice and the Giants should be in a good position to win each time he is on the mound.

    Tim Lincecum could be the X-factor for the Giants in this series. He pitched very well out of the bullpen in the NLDS and he looks like he deserves to be moved back into the starting rotation.

    Even without Brian Wilson in their bullpen this year, Giants relievers have performed fairly well. Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla have shared the closer’s role and each has been effective.

    If Giants relievers continue to perform the way that they have, then they should be in a position to close out a number of wins in the NLCS.

X-Factor

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    Regardless of if he moves to the starting rotation or if he pitches out of the San Francisco Giants’ bullpen, Tim Lincecum will be the key to the series for the Giants.

    Despite his struggles this season, Lincecum thrived in his postseason relief appearances. In 6.1 innings in the NLDS, Lincecum struck out eight while only allowing one run on three hits.

    It is possible that Lincecum replaces Barry Zito in the Giants’ rotation for the NLCS and if he does, the team needs a solid start from him.

St. Louis Cardinals

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    The quest to defend their World Championship has not been easy so far for the St. Louis Cardinals. They first had to get through the Atlanta Braves in the Wild Card Playoff Game and then they earned the right to play the Washington Nationals in the NLDS.

    St. Louis fell behind in the series 1-0, but they responded in a big way in Game 2. The two teams split the next two games and went to a decisive Game 5.

    The Cardinals are alive to see another day after they defeated the Nationals in Game 5. Their match-up with the San Francisco Giants is certainly an interesting one, and it should lead to an interesting series.

Offense

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    Even without Albert Pujols in their lineup this season, the St. Louis Cardinals have been able to score 765 runs on the year. A number of players have stepped up this season.

    David Freese has picked up where he left off last year, and he hit 20 home runs on the year. St. Louis has five players that have eclipsed the 20-home run mark on the year.

    A resurgence from Carlos Beltran has really helped drive the Cardinals' success this season. He replaced a lot of the production that Pujols had in the past.

Pitching

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    Losing Jaime Garcia for the rest of NLCS certainly was not something that the St. Louis Cardinals wanted to deal with, but it does not necessarily make them worse off.

    This injury moves Lance Lynn back into the starting rotation. He had 18 wins during the regular season, but he had been pitching out of the bullpen in the NLDS. Kyle Lohse had a surprising season and went 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA.

    Relief pitching was a bit of an issue for the Cardinals during the regular season. Their relievers had a 3.90 ERA, which was 20th best in the MLB (h/t ESPN). They could cost the Cardinals a key victory or two this postseason.

X-Factor

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    The postseason is when Carlos Beltran thrives. During the 2004 playoffs, Beltran hit eight home runs and drove in 14 in 12 games.  Two years later he hit three home runs and drove in five during 10 playoff games with the New York Mets.

    Beltran is up to it again this year. He hit two home runs and drove in three through the first three games of the NLDS.

    St. Louis needs Beltran to keep producing at a high level so that they have a dependable run producer in the middle of their starting lineup.

Game 1

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    Date: Sunday, Oct. 14 at 8 PM on FOX

    While an extra day does not seem like it will make a big difference, it will in this series. It will allow the San Francisco Giants to reset their starting rotation, while the St. Louis Cardinals will need to go with their current order.

    Madison Bumgarner will be starting in Game 1 for the Giants (h/t The Associated Press via Mercury News). He will be facing off against Lance Lynn (h/t Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com).

    The Giants offense has been heating up lately, and they will continue to produce at a high level. Pablo Sandoval drive in three and lead the charge for the Giants.

    While the Cardinals will try to put up a good fight, the first game of the series will be a lost cause for them.

    Prediction: 7-2 Giants

Game 2

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    Date: Monday, Oct. 15 at 8 PM on FOX

    Coming off their big win in Game 1 of the NLCS, the San Francisco Giants' potent offense will be hard to stop. They will pick up right where they left off.

    Their normally reliable pitching staff will let them down a bit, however. Carlos Beltran will slug his first home run of the series and help the Cardinals keep the game close.

    MVP candidate Buster Posey will have the final say, though, as he picks up a late RBI to give the Giants a 2-0 series lead.

    Prediction: 5-4 Giants

Game 3

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    Date: Wednesday, Oct. 17 at 4 PM on FOX

    Knowing that three consecutive losses to start the series will put them in a very deep hole, the St. Louis Cardinals will dig deep for Game 3.

    With Kyle Lohse  on the hill, the St. Louis Cardinals will be able to keep the Giants' offense at bay.

    The Cardinals offensive will come up strong early but will struggle as the game goes on. However, three early runs should be enough to get them a win.

    Prediction: 3-1 Cardinals

Game 4

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    Date: Thursday, Oct. 18 at 8 PM on FOX

    In this series between the San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals, Game 4 will be very important. The Giants will be trying to take a 3-1 lead in the series, while the Cardinals will be looking to tie the series up.

    With all of the great pitchers in this series, we will finally see our first pitchers' duel. Both offenses will be stymied for the first seven innings of the game. Tim Lincecum should be on the mound for this game and he will show that his struggles earlier this year were just a fluke.

    One run by the San Francisco Giants will be enough to come away with the win. This game will be filled with missed opportunities that will be very costly for the Cardinals.

    Prediction: 1-0 Giants

Game 5

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    Date: Friday, Oct. 19 at 8 PM on FOX

    With an opportunity to clinch a spot in the World Series, the San Francisco Giants will turn to Game 1 starter Madison Bumgarner. As the Cardinals try to stave off elimination, they will go with Chris Carpenter.

    In a match-up of two experienced and talented starting pitchers, it will be the bullpens that make the difference in the game.

    With the game tied at 3-3 when both starters leave, the Cardinals bullpen, which has let them down during the regular season, will do it again, but on a much bigger stage.

    San Francisco will pick up two runs off of Cardinals relievers to earn their place in the World Series.

    Prediction: Giants 5-3

Game 6

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    Date: Sunday, Oct. 21 at 4:30 PM on FOX

    The San Francisco Giants are in a good situation if they face off against the St. Louis Cardinals. The series favors them and they should win it in five games.

Game 7

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    Date: Monday, Oct. 22 at 8 PM on FOX

    With the San Francisco Giants taking the series in five games, there will be no need to play the game on Oct. 22.