2012 NLCS: 5 Reasons the St. Louis Cardinals Will Win the NL Pennant in Game 7
But don't be fooled by first glances. In spite of how the lineup looks on paper, there are some keys that I feel will ultimately carry St. Louis into their second straight World Series.
Here first, is key No. 5...
No. 5: Game 7 Experience
Believe it or not, it does matter. For each team's perspective lineups (assuming Matt Holliday plays tomorrow night), there is no contest in Game 7 experience: St. Louis would has seven starters who have played in a Game 7 (only Pete Kozma hasn't played in one).
By contrast, the Giants have no one with experience in a Game 7. Not Pagan, not Scutaro, not Posey, not even Pence or Blanco. History says, it does matter. In four of the last five postseason game Game 7's, the team with the most experience has prevailed (only the '08 Rays buck that trend).
What this says is, in a one game, winner take all setting, the pressure is different from "lose or you go home." The stakes are high for both teams, which changes the degree with which the game is played. Expect both managers to make some earlier decisions than normal. Case in point...
No. 4: Adam Wainwright Could Be St. Louis Savior
Here's a hypothetical: Let's say that Kyle Lohse throws a ton of pitches and wriggles out of a jam or two. Would it surprise you at all if Mike Matheny turned to his bullpen early and didn't risk Lohse getting into a situation he couldn't get out of?
I could easily see that happening. As such, having Wainwright available to pitch could be huge. While he hasn't been great on the road this year (four-plus ERA), Wainwright was absolutely filthy against San Francisco in Game 4.
And while the Giants could counter with Tim Lincecum (though it is doubtful with Cain pitching) right now, the advantage in the long relief goes to the Cardinals. So it would behoove St. Louis to get ahead early.
No. 3: Success vs. Cain
The combined nine "regulars" (Matt Carpenter included) for St. Louis hit a combined 33-for- 112 lifetime against Matt Cain. That's a .295 batting average. What that means is the Cardinals will have their chances to score.
It also means a slight deficit won't have the same type of foreboding that falling behind Ryan Vogelsong did. Over the last two years, the Cardinals have been more than just resilient: They have been very good. Their championship resolve will get tested against an elite pitcher tomorrow night. Expect them to respond like champions.
No. 2: Lohse Is Great under the Lights
Some people are just night owls. In 2012, that has certainly applied to Kyle Lohse. Of his 16 regular-season wins, 12 of them have occurred in night games. As a matter of fact, he is tangibly better at night than in the daytime.
Let's compare: During the day, Lohse was 4-1 with a 3.55 ERA in 2012. But at night, he was a sparkling 12-2 with a 2.56 ERA. His effectiveness seems to have continued as such in the postseason.
Against the Nationals, Lohse went seven strong innings in Game 4 in Washington, leaving with a 1-1 tie. That was a night game. In the midday against San Francisco in Game 3 of this series, Lohse wriggled like bait on a fishing hook, but escaped after 5.2 innings with just one run allowed.
It is not a reach at this point: The guy is appreciably better at night. The San Francisco sunset is at approximately 6:22 p.m. PST. If the Cardinals have a lead at that time, they will win the pennant. You heard it here first.
No. 1: Cardinals Magic
Ultimately, the deciding factor here is what I will call in an unoriginal manner: "Cardinals Magic." This team has whatever that "it" is supposed to be. This was never going to be an easy series. The Giants are in many ways, a mirror image of St. Louis. I said that before the series began as well.
So how do you make a decision when two teams are so evenly matched? For me, it is going to be recent history. The Giants have won their last three elimination games, all against the Reds. The Cardinals have won their last eight, against the Astros, Phillies, Rangers, Braves and Nationals.
In other words, it hasn't mattered what scenario, what the circumstances and what the adversity, this team has found a way to win. What I will say is, they better not find themselves playing from behind too long. That is on Kyle Lohse. As I have shown you earlier, I don't worry so much about that.
What it will come down to is this gritty bunch looking the Giants in the eyes, staring down perhaps the most hostile of their road crowds during this run, and doing it one last time. They have been down to their last game, last inning, last out and last strike multiple times during these last two years. And they have remained standing. With the chips down one last time, I will go with the champs until they are dethroned.
The Giants impress me. The Cardinals make me believe.
Whoever wins will have survived. This will not be a blowout, nor will it be given away. St. Louis may lose, but I will go on record as saying they won't hand the Giants the pennant.
The knee-jerk reaction is to assume a tight pitching duel. I think that is actually likely. The key will be Lohse duplicating his Game 3 escape act because I anticipate the Giants having base runners. If he is able to give the Cardinals 6-plus innings, that means they will be in prime position to win.
Conversely, the first two innings will go a long way towards determining what kind of night the offense has against Matt Cain. Jump on him early and get a run or two and St. Louis will be in great shape. It's winner take all, and the real winner is anyone watching. It is going to be a classic.