2012 NLCS: Why Game 3 Has Now Become a Must-Win for the St. Louis Cardinals

Robert KnapelCorrespondent IOctober 17, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 15:   	Pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, bench coach Mike Aldrete and Manager Mike Matheny of the St. Louis Cardinals look on during Game Two of the National League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on October 15, 2012 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Even though the St. Louis Cardinals have developed a penchant for comebacks when they are down to their last out in postseason series over the past few seasons, Game 3 of the 2012 NLCS against the San Francisco Giants is a must-win game for St. Louis.

After the two teams split the first two games in San Francisco, the series has shifted to St. Louis for the next three games. Since each team has an outstanding pitching staff, momentum is tremendously important.

Following their Game 2 win, the Giants have the edge in this category and they will be looking to build on it.

Things have begun to click for the Giants offensively, as Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence have gotten a lot of support from the likes of Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco. Pagan has two home runs and five RBI this postseason, while Blanco has driven in four men in the two series.

A Giants offense that is running close to its peak production level should be trouble enough for the Cardinals.

In addition to their offense, the Giants starting rotation lines up very well for the rest of the series.

With Matt Cain heading to the mound in Game 3 for the Giants, the Cardinals are facing a tough matchup. Cain is the ace of the Giants staff, and he will look to swing the series in San Francisco’s favor.

St. Louis has arguably their best pitcher on the mound for Game 3. If the Cardinals cannot pick up a win with Kyle Lohse pitching, then they are in big trouble.

A Game 3 loss would concern the Cardinals because the Giants have starters that could keep them scoreless in any of the games remaining in the series.

Tim Lincecum will likely be pitching in Games 4 of the NLCS, and either Madison Bumgarner or Barry Zito will pitch Game 5 (h/t Henry Schulman of The San Francisco Chronicle). Chances are that they will be pitching against Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn respectively.

Lincecum may have struggled this season, but his second half and his performance out of the bullpen this October have demonstrated that he is very close to being back at a Cy Young-level. In three appearances out of the bullpen this postseason, Lincecum has given up just one run on three hits in 8.1 innings.

This is obviously a boon to the Giants’ starting rotation, and the Cardinals will have a difficult time picking up a win against Lincecum if he brings his “A” game.

While Zito performed poorly in his last start of the NLDS, that does not mean that he will be an easy matchup for the Cardinals lineup. Even if the Cardinals are able to pick up one win against Lincecum or Zito after a Game 3 loss, they will be in a precarious situation.

Bumgarner has struggled as of late, giving up 14 earned runs over his last three starts.

As the series shifts back to San Francisco for what would be the final two games of the NLCS, the Giants would have their two best pitchers ready to take the hill. The feverish AT&T Park crowd will also be behind the Giants in Games 6 and 7 of the NLCS if they happen, and that advantage cannot be overlooked.

Ryan Vogelsong, who won Game 2 with seven innings of one-run ball, would pitch Game 6. He has not given up more than one earned run in each of his last five starts.

Should the Cardinals be able to get past Vogelsong and force a Game 7, it will almost certainly be Matt Cain facing off against them. Cain would be working on full rest for a pivotal Game 7.

For a team that has made its living off of late-game and late-series comebacks, the Cardinals could be in deep trouble if they put themselves in a situation where they need one against the Giants.