5 Benefits to the St. Louis Cardinals Closing out the Giants in NLCS Game 5
Pivotal Game 3 of the 2012 NLCS was a bit like a bad dream, a game punctuated with injuries, Midwest thunderstorms and Tim McCarver's "golden days" baseball stories.
Carlos Beltran left the game after one at-bat with a knee injury while the Giants offense took advantage of a nibbling Kyle Lohse to litter the basepaths with runners, yet were only able to push across one tally.
But when the sun rose Thursday morning, the Cardinals' 3-1 victory—and 2-1 series lead—was indeed a reality. They had won, apparently, though it certainly didn't feel like it to Cardinals fans.
Game 4 showed, however, that the Cards are finally, fully awake.
For the first time in the series, a Cardinal starter earned a quality start. For the first time in the series, Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina contributed offensively. For the first time, the Cardinals looked like the best team in the National League.
All in all, it was a convincing 8-3 win that wasn't as close as the final score indicated.
St. Louis needs just one more win in the final three contests to punch their return ticket to the World Series to defend their title.
But clearly, there are plenty of reasons why Mike Matheny and the Cards should do everything they can to close out the Giants tonight in Game 5. Lets look at five of those.
Keep the Momentum
Going into the NLCS, the Cardinals seemed to have the better offense on paper and indeed started the festivities with a bang, cuffing Giants' lefty Madison Bumgarner for six runs in four innings in Game 1.
But their fickle ways at the plate still lingered as they scored just one run in a Game 2 loss and three in a Game 3 squeaker of a win.
Last night's Game 4 finally featured the full complement of the Cardinals' hitting prowess as every position player hit safely. The Cardinals did what they had done all year by grinding at bats and sticking with their game plan, finishing 5-for-12 with runners in scoring position.
Sending the series back to pitching-friendly San Francisco will only invite trouble for the Cards' offense.
Not only will the Giants' staff return to a more familiar environment, but the safety of the West Coast marine air layer that knocks down fly balls like King Kong on top of the Empire State building.
When a foe is down, you don't let up. Hopefully the Cards won't.
Extend the "Homestand"
The Cardinals were 50-31 at home during the regular season with a run-differential of plus-107, compared to just plus-10 on the road, and a sub-.500 record.
Closing out the Giants tonight will allow the Cardinals to extend this postseason "homestand," giving them five games at home in a row and an opportunity to really settle into an almost regular season groove.
If the Cards' are unable to finish the deal at home, that will mean another road trip into hostile, enemy territory.
Several St. Louis players have severe home/away splits including integral leadoff man Jon Jay, who bats .384 at home but only .224 on the road.
Better to keep their bats near the banks of the Mississippi if at all possible.
Chris Carpenter Can Start Game 1 of the World Series
Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter have both been recent NL Cy Young Award finalists.
Both have recently missed entire regular seasons with injuries and both have had at least one poor outing in this postseason.
But both also possess the same competitive fire that drives them to be aces on the Cardinals pitching staff. Wainwright atoned for his poor NLDS outing by dominating the Giants Thursday night in Game 4.
Anyone want to bet that Carpenter isn't chomping at the bit to do the same?
And what better stage than at home in Game 1 of the World Series.
In all practicality, workload-wise, Carpenter is just finishing up spring training. He was successful, but inefficient against the Nationals and simply not sharp against the Giants.
The third time could be the charm and on the World Series stage no less.
Rest Carlos Beltran
Whether it was the dreaded post-Home Run Derby slump or just a case of his 35-year-old body wearing down in the second half, Carlos Beltran found his stroke just in time.
Beltran looked lost shortly after the All-Star break and batted just .236 in the second half.
But two things seem certain about October—Nature will put on a colorful display during the fall season, while Carlos Beltran puts on a hitting display in the postseason.
Beltran began his revival in September, batting .280/.386/.480/.866 for the month.
When the "real season" began, Beltran knew what to do and has done this postseason what he has always done. Look no further than his career postseason slash line of .375/.486/.830/1.316, accumulated over 31 games.
The Cardinals' lineup is deep and led the majors in on-base percentage, but Carlos Beltran is the X-factor and the birds need his bat in the lineup.
After a Game 3 scare, the Cards need to close out the Giants Friday and give Beltran time to recover physically and get medical treatment, if needed.
Sure, the Tigers have Prince Fielder and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, but in October, there is only one Beltran.
Let the Fans Celebrate with Their Cardinals
If you read internet forums and online sports chats, you'd think baseball fans outside St. Louis are getting a little fatigued by the Cardiac Cardinals and their winning ways.
Well, perhaps that's to be expected.
The Cardinals sent Atlantans home disappointed in Chipper Jones' final appearance on a baseball diamond.
They put the entire city of Washington, D.C. in a state of shock for a solid week. In fact, there's probably more than a few folks walking the National Mall in a bit of a daze, even still.
So the Cardinals should do everyone a favor and celebrate an NLCS win at home amidst a screaming throng of red and swirling white.
The worthy Giants and their terrific fans deserve some dignity in the Bay.