2012 NLCS: Biggest X-Factors in Giants vs. Cardinals
Unlike the American League Championship Series, the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals are providing some drama on the way to the World Series.
These two teams, top to bottom, are probably the most talented in the National League. So it is fitting that they would be meeting on this stage to determine who plays for a championship.
As we reach the turning point of the series, there are still a lot of things that have to be figured out. There are some players who will have a huge impact on how the series plays out from here.
Here is who we are paying extra-close attention to starting with Game 4 of the National League Championship Series on Thursday night.
Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
Following three relief appearances that have covered 8.1 innings with one run allowed and nine strikeouts, Lincecum is going to make his first start of the 2012 postseason on Thursday night.
Starting Lincecum does have inherent risks. Starting a game and coming out of the bullpen are two entirely different things. The preparation is different, the approach to hitters is different, the goal is the same but you have different ways to handle it.
It is interesting that manager Bruce Bochy is starting Lincecum on the road, where he had a 6.43 ERA and gave up 16 home runs in 84 innings this season.
Everyone knows the strength of this Giants team is pitching. Starting Lincecum over, say, Barry Zito is the right call, but it could just as easily backfire on Bochy.
The Cardinals have a great lineup with power, patience and contact. They can destroy Lincecum if he is not on.
If Lincecum gives the Giants six innings and keeps them in the game, that should be enough to justify the decision to start him.
Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
Who Will Play The Biggest Role In The Outcome Of This Series?
Because Molina is so good behind the plate, anything he adds to the offense can go overlooked. He had a great regular season that some would say puts him in the MVP discussion, but so far the bat has not shown up in the playoffs.
In eight playoff games, Molina is hitting .152/.282/.152 with no extra-base hits. As stated before, the Cardinals have such a deep lineup that they can get by without one of their key middle-of-the-order hitters struggling.
Imagine, if you will, how much better the Cardinals would look this postseason if Molina was hitting. His defense speaks for itself, so he hasn't completely fallen off a cliff. He does look a little tired, which is understandable after playing 138 regular-season games and every playoff game.
Hunter Pence, San Francisco Giants
When Pence was traded from Philadelphia to San Francisco, there was some skepticism about how productive he would be in a pitcher friendly environment.
Those fears have turned out to be justified, as Pence hit just .219/.287/.384 in 59 regular-season games with the Giants. Things have actually gotten worse in the postseason, with him posting a putrid .161/.188/.161 slash line.
The Giants don't have much depth in the lineup, so their Big Three of Pence, Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval have to produce. Posey isn't doing much in the average department, but he has shown power and a good eye at the plate.
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