Cardinals vs. Giants: Keys to Victory in NLCS Game 6

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistOctober 21, 2012

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 19:  Joaquin Arias #13 of the San Francisco Giants celebrates the Giants 5-0 victory in Game Five of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium on October 19, 2012 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

With each game of the National League Championship Series, the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants continue to be mysteries wrapped in enigmas that not even Sherlock Holmes could figure out.

Even when you think you have things figured out, Barry Zito throws 7.2 innings of shutout baseball to send the series back to San Francisco for Game 6, which is where we are right now.

For all their good fortune in Game 5, the Giants still did not look overly impressive, at least on offense, but all that matters is the score, and they came out ahead where it counted.

As we prepare for what could be the final game of this NLCS, here are the things we will be looking for to tell us who is going to win.


St. Louis Cardinals

Chris Carpenter's Shining Moment; Don't Hurt Yourself; Wake Up the Bats

The Cardinals have more pitching depth than anyone in the National League, yet as we all know, anything can happen in a Game 7, so the Cardinals are turning to Carpenter even though he struggled in Game 2.

Granted, some of those struggles can be attributed to shaky defense. The Cardinals committed two errors, including one by Carpenter, that allowed three unearned runs to score.

But even without the errors, Carpenter still allowed six hits and two walks in just four innings of work. The Cardinals need him to be at least close to what he was against the Nationals in the NLDS, when he threw 5.2 innings of shutout baseball.

The common theme in the Cardinals' two losses this series has been errors. The Giants aren't beating them so much as the Cards are beating themselves. We mentioned the fielding issues in Game 2, and then there was the Lance Lynn error in Game 5 that led to four unearned runs.

This is a good defensive team, but in the most critical moments, the Cardinals keep shooting themselves in the foot and giving the Giants extra outs to play with. It might be overly simplistic, but if they just play mistake-free baseball, they should be fine.

Ryan Vogelsong, who takes the mound for the Giants, was able to shut down the Cardinals in Game 2, holding them to one run over seven innings. The bats went quiet again in Game 5 against Zito.

This offense was inconsistent in the second half, as players battled injuries and fatigue, but if they can pressure Vogelsong early and force him to make perfect pitches instead of expanding their zones, which is what they did a lot against Zito, they can get into the bullpen early.


San Francisco Giants

More Dominant Starting Pitching; Find Some Offense; Wait for Carpenter to Make a Mistake

It is no secret that the Giants live and die by their starting pitching. In the two games they have won, they have allowed one run. In their three losses, they have given up 17 runs.

Vogelsong had arguably the best start of the 2012 postseason in Game 2 with seven innings of one-run ball. He needs to be close to that level again to give the Giants a chance to win this game.

Aside from the obvious part about needing dominant starting pitching to win, Vogelsong has to be great because the offense has yet to find anything resembling consistency. Their No. 4 through 8 hitters are all hitting .235 or less, and the highest slugging percentage belongs to Brandon Crawford (.294).

The Giants do have the luxury of going against Carpenter, who is still trying to work his way back to full strength after missing most of the season. He is as vulnerable as he has ever been, so don't be shocked to see him miss his spots, walk hitters or possibly give up a few extra-base hits.

The Giants have everything they could have asked for based on the way this series has played out so far: They are back at home with a rested bullpen, Vogelsong on the hill and Madison Bumgarner rested in the bullpen.

The pressure is on the Cardinals to close it out tonight. As mentioned before, you never know what will happen in a winner-take-all Game 7.