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MLB MLB PlayoffsSan Francisco GiantsSt. Louis Cardinals

NLCS St. Louis Cardinals vs. San Francisco Giants: Five Critical Lessons We Have Learned Thus Far

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NLCS: Pivotal Lessons We Learned from Giants vs. Cardinals Thus Far

Giants
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

Knotted at one game apiece in the NLCS, we’ve come to learn five key variables in the clash between the San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals that will serve pivotal in the games to follow.

Both teams’ road to the NLCS was not easy. Each team had been at the brink of elimination with impossible odds mounting against them in their division rounds. And the idea of overcoming such odds, overwhelmed the most even-tempered of baseball fans. But what else would you expect from October baseball?

In the Cardinals division series against the Washington Nationals, St. Louis was backed into the wall in Game 5, falling behind 6-0 midway through the game. Most people, me included, turned off their television and accepted the Cardinals fate as one of the four teams not to advance in the postseason. Those people, unfortunately, missed one of the most historic comebacks ever to grace a postseason game. The Cardinals rattled off six runs in the last three innings to stun the nation’s capitol and shock some of the most never-say-die St. Louis believers.

Meanwhile, the Giants hopes of postseason stardom were looking just as inconceivable after dropping the first two games of their division series with the Cincinnati Reds. To put it in perspective, only four teams in MLB history have come back from a 2-0 deficit in a five game series. Still, guided by the NL MVP Buster Posey, the Giants kept churning and surmounted an unbelievable three-game sweep in Cincinnati to punch their ticket to the NLCS.

And there you have it. Two teams that, against the most unlikely of odds, kept fighting for their postseason lives.

But unfortunately, there’s no room for two Cinderella stories in October baseball.

Now, the Giants and Cardinals put their luck to the test once again in a pivotal seven game series. So far, we’ve seen the best out of both teams and accumulated five critical lessons we’ve learned from them in the first two games to paint a clearer picture of what’s to come in the sprint to the World Series. So without further ado...I give you those lessons.

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5. No Easy Outs for the Cardinals at the Bottom of the Lineup

Giants
Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE

The Cardinals back end of the lineup was a surprising impact in game 1 of the NLCS against the Giants. And it’s been one of the biggest storylines throughout these playoffs.

The unheralded bats of second baseman Daniel Descalso and shortstop Pete Kozma have delivered big hits for St. Louis when it’s mattered in clutch situations. In the first four innings of Sunday’s win against San Francisco, the two combined for 3-for-4 to surmount a six-run lead and top the Giants 6-4 in Game 1.

The two infielders’ success in the NLCS isn’t by luck. Descalso and Kozma have been lighting up opposing pitchers since the postseason kicked off. In the deciding Game 5 of the NLDS, No. 7 hitter Descalso went 3-for-5 and posted three RBIs on the day. Two of which came in the ninth inning against closer Drew Storen when the Cardinals were down to their last out (sound familiar Cardinals fans?). With a two-one count, the 25-year-old second baseman singled sharply between the shortstop and third baseman to knot the game at five runs apiece.

Kozma, who hits eighth in the lineup, also had a hand in the dramatic come-from-behind victory in Game 5 of the NLDS. In fact, he followed up Descalso’s game tying hit with a single of his own, driving in the final two runs of the contest and capping what looked to be an insurmountable 6-0 deficit.

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4. Madison Bumganer Is a Legitimate Concern

Giants
Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE

Madison Bumgarner’s postseason struggles have been well documented after his ugly Game 1 collapse against the Cardinals in the NLCS. And, unfortunately, the fallout from it has yet to settle down.

The disastrous start put an immediate damper on the Giants World Series hopes and caused a legitimate concern amongst their playoff rotation, which has already struggled to find a bright spot with their No. 3 starter Barry Zito.

Now, the Giants are talking about a switch that may move Bumgarner to the bullpen, something that could pay off down the line as it did with Lincecum in his three solid relief appearances this postseason.

Still, Bumgarner has managed two poor starts in this playoffs thus far. After allowing four earned runs in 4 1/3 innings in his 2012 playoff debut, Game 1 of the NLCS was even worse. The young righty had a dreadful Sunday night, allowing six earned runs in 3 2/3 innings. The reason? His fastball wasn’t in top form and his breaking balls were lofting up into the strike zone, leaving batters foaming at the mouth with easy pitches to hit. The ugly outing raised his postseason ERA to a frightful 11.25 ERA.

With that said, Bochy has a tough call to make in Game 5. He can either start Ryan Vogelsong on short rest or leave it to the struggling Barry Zito. Either way, Bumgarner’s ghastly performance gives Giants fans cause for concern.

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3. Lincecum Best Fit for Game 4 Starter

Giants
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

As I alluded to in the last slide, Lincecum has managed to climb out of the bullpen cellar and back into the limelight with his three solid relief appearances in the playoffs thus far. So, it’s no wonder why manager Bruce Bochy feels comfortable with him starting Wednesday’s Game 3 rematch in St. Louis.

In Lincecum’s last three relief outings this postseason, he has allowed just one run in 8 1/3 innings of work, including nine strikeouts and just one walk. And with Zito’s shaky start in Game 4 of the NLDS (two ER in 2 2/3 innings), it couldn’t come at a better time.

Per Tom Singer of MLB.com: “He’s had a great attitude about this, and I think that’s one of the reasons he’s thrown so well,” Bochy said about Lincecum’s mindset after being tabbed as a bullpen pitcher. “He didn’t hesitate when he said, ‘I’m good with that.’ You have to accept your role to be good at it, just like a role player during the season.”

Lincecum may very well be the better option than Zito. The veteran lefty got in a heap of trouble in Game 4 of the NLDS, which continues to shake Giants fans’ faith in him. So, by default, Lincecum should get the starting nod in Game 4.

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2. Beltran Can Carry a Team

Giants
Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE

The one-time Giants slugger is now their worst enemy. Yes, Carlos Beltran has made his mark on the NLCS in just two games against San Francisco. And there’s more to suggest he will be the hardest out to come by in these playoffs.

While the Giants got the best of the Cardinals in Game 2, Beltran delivered two doubles, upping his postseason average to a deadly .414 and a ridiculous .897 slugging percentage. He's also tallied a team-best three homers and six RBIs to buoy a struggling offense who is hitting a mere .220 without him.

Beltran has led the Cardinals on their historic, and unlikely, route to the NLCS, almost single-handedly. His continued success will ensure the Cardinals put runs on the board and pressure on a Giants team that usually struggles to find them on a nightly basis.

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1. Giants Resilient after Snapping Home Field Advantage Losing Streak

Giants
Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE

Before Monday’s win against the Cardinals in Game 2 of the NLCS at AT&T Park, San Francisco’s home field advantage was, unexpectedly, a DIS-advantage. It was three games played and, unfortunately for Giants fans, three games lost.

The Giants home field struggles sure haven’t been the case through the last two years, in which they were a collective 55 games over .500 at AT&T Park in the regular season. But the Giants finally righted the ship in San Francisco, rolling over the Cardinals 7-1 and putting an end to the consecutive home loss streak.

Now, the Giants have some much-needed momentum in a series that switches over to St. Louis, where the Cardinals have played just two postseason games this year (1-1). Contrastively, St. Louis will hope to take advantage of their home field advantage and continue their remarkable, and unlikely, streak to defend their World Series title.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE