After an improbable ninth-inning comeback (via foxnews.com) that has become an all too familiar way to win for the St. Louis Cardinals, the 2011 World Series champions will once again go to the National League Championship Series, this time to take on the San Francisco Giants.
San Francisco is no stranger to improbable comebacks either. The Giants found themselves down 0-2 in the NLDS to the Cincinnati Reds before pulling off three straight road victories to advance to the NLCS.
Both of these teams will not quit until the last out is made. That fact alone—along with great pitching and solid lineups—makes this series potentially one for the ages.
Let's take a look at the full NLCS schedule, as well as the lineups and pitching rotations for the Giants and Cardinals.
NLCS Schedule (via MLB.com)
Probable Giants Lineup
1. Angel Pagan: CF
2. Marco Scutaro: 2B
3. Pablo Sandoval: 3B
4. Buster Posey: C
5. Hunter Pence: RF
6. Brandon Belt: 1B
7. Gregor Blanco: LF
8. Brandon Crawford: SS
9. Pitcher's Spot
It took three games, but the Giants lineup finally woke up and put some runs on the board.
Posey didn't have such a great NLDS, batting just .211, but the Giants catcher did notch five RBI in the series, four of those coming on an enormous grand slam in the fifth and deciding game. If he gets hot, to go with an already hot Sandoval (.333, HR, 3 RBI in NLDS), the Cards will have fits trying to contain the middle of the Giants lineup.
Pagan, the team's leadoff hitter, must show up in this series if San Francisco wants to be successful. The Cards have great pitching, so with runs tough to come by, a speedster like Pagan can make scoring a bit easier.
Besides Sandoval, the Giants didn't have a regular in their lineup hit better than .300 in the NLDS (Blanco coming the closest at .286). Clearly, this is an offense that needs to do better as a whole in this upcoming series.
Probable Cardinals Lineup
1. Jon Jay: CF
2. Carlos Beltran: RF
3. Matt Holiday: LF
4. Allen Craig: 1B
5. Yadier Molina: C
6. David Freese: 3B
7. Daniel Descalso: 2B
8. Pete Kozma: SS
9. Pitcher's Spot
St. Louis' lineup was far more impressive in their NLDS than the Giants'.
With Beltran back to his old postseason tricks, don't be surprised if the Cards right fielder carries this team for a few games, having hit an astounding .409 in the playoffs thus far.
Guys like Freese and Craig have remained consistent for St. Louis, but watch out for Descalso, who finished off the NLDS with a 3-for-5 performance, which saw him knock in three huge runs while scoring three of his own.
Holliday has recorded five RBI in the playoffs so far, but the Cards would love for him to pick up that .250 average in the middle of their order. Jay is another bat that needs to get going, as the Cards table-setter is hitting an abysmal .167 in postseason play.
Probable Giants Rotation
1. Madison Bumgarner
2. Ryan Vogelsong
3. Matt Cain
4. Tim Lincecum
Closer: Sergio Romo
Thanks to a Game 5 in the first round, the Giants had to push Cain back to Game 3, but the Giants ace still could have the opportunity to pitch two games in this series on full rest.
It wasn't even known if Lincecum would get a chance to pitch in the playoffs, following a lackluster 2012 season, but "The Freak" earned the right to start in this series after saving Barry Zito's rear end in Game 4 of the NLDS.
Bumgarner will have the difficult task of starting the first game of the NLCS and will look to improve upon the beatdown he received from the Reds in Game 2. Vogelsong was solid in the NLDS, but the Giants will hope to get a few more innings out of him in his next start.
And what can you say about Romo? The Giants closer has been stellar all season long, so there's no doubt he will remain solid in this series.
Probable Cardinals Rotation
1. Lance Lynn
2. Chris Carpenter
3. Kyle Lohse
4. Adam Wainwright
Closer: Jason Motte
While you can take it to the bank that Carpenter will be great for the Cardinals, a few of the other arms in this rotation can be seen as question marks.
Lynn came out of the bullpen for St. Louis in the NLDS, but now he'll be converted to the starting rotation in place of Jaime Garcia and will make his first career playoff start. Wainwright has a history of solid postseason performances, but after a rough outing against the Nats in Game 5, it isn't certain which version will show up.
Lohse is expected to continue his impressive pitching in the NLCS. Meanwhile, Motte has added to his season-long success, notching a save and a win in the playoffs; expect him to play a major role against the Giants.
This will be a series that features some incredible starting pitching. The majority of the games in this series will come down to the last out, so make sure you don't clip your nails this week if you're a fan of either team.
But the Cards offense has proven to be more consistent than that of the Giants in this year's playoffs, and that success combined with immense experience should be enough to help St. Louis outscore San Francisco in this series.
No matter how it goes, this matchup will be a series baseball fans will remember for a long time, and there's no doubt it goes the distance with the gritty, gutty Cards pulling out the ultimate series victory.
Cardinals in Seven