This year’s NLCS features the two most recent World Series winners, the San Francisco Giants (2010) and the St. Louis Cardinals (2011). Needless to say, it should be a fun series to watch, but here are some subplots to keep in mind while watching:
MOMENTUM ON EITHER SIDE
Both teams are heading into the NLCS after making unexpected comebacks to win their respective division series.
For the San Francisco Giants, losing the first two games of the best-of-five contest to the Cincinnati Reds forced them into attack mode as they fought for their own survival over the next three games, taking the series and stunning almost everyone on Thursday.
For the St. Louis Cardinals, the memory of their impressive comeback is fresher still. Down 6-0 to the scrappy Washington Nationals, the best team in baseball record-wise, the Cards chipped away at their opponent’s lead until the ninth inning when they scored four runs with two out to take the game 9-7, and the series 3-2.
The Giants will have home-field advantage this time around, though it didn’t help them in the NLDS. The Bay Area team lost both games at AT&T Park and were outscored 14-2 on their own turf.
THE MYSTERY OF CHRIS CARPENTER
Considering that the former Blue Jay and current Cardinals starting pitcher should still be rehabbing from the surgery he undertook to repair nerve damage in his arm and neck in July, it’s amazing that Chris Carpenter is even with his team as they make their playoff push, let alone be able to deal on the mound.
Though the Cards ace wasn’t expected to be ready to play again until spring training next March, he made an early comeback, starting three games toward the end of the regular season, and pitching 5 2/3 scoreless innings in Game 3 of the NLDS in Washington. Carpenter held the Nationals batters to seven hits and two walks while he struck out two in his only postseason appearance so far this year.
The 37-year-old righty hasn’t fared too well against the Giants over his career, though, giving up 55 hits and 22 runs to the San Francisco squad in eight games for a .268 opposing batting average.
TIM LINCECUM’S TIME TO SHINE?
We’re probably all getting tired of hearing about the 2012 struggles of the one-time San Francisco Giant’s ace, but to refresh everyone’s memory, Lincecum entered the postseason with the worst ERA (5.18) among starting pitchers in the National League.
Sure, he showed signs of recovery toward the end of the regular season, going 7-5 in his last 15 starts, but even Bruce Bochy was skeptical of the two-time Cy Young winner’s ability to take the mound in a post-season start and relegated him to the bullpen for the duration of the NLDS instead.
But in that unfamiliar role, the 28-year-old Lincecum excelled, pitching 6 1/3 innings over two games, giving up just three hits and one run while striking out eight Reds’ batters in the process.
With Barry Zito allowing two runs on four hits through 2 2/3 innings against the Reds in Game 4, maybe Lincecum will find his way into the Giants’ NLCS starting rotation.
SWINGING THE BATS
The St. Louis Cardinals received offensive contributions from just about everyone in their NLDS lineup, including 24-year-old rookie infielder Pete Kozma.
Kozma, who drove in the winning runs with a line drive single to right field on Friday night, became the unexpected hero of Game 5, granting the Cardinals entry into the NLCS. Aside from Friday’s game-winner, Kozma also picked up three other hits in the NLDS including a home run and a double. He may be young, but he’s certainly someone the Giants will have to watch out for.
The top offensive threat heading into San Francisco, however, is none other than former Giants outfielder Carlos Beltran who has racked up eight hits and four RBIs so far this postseason for a .444 batting average. Beltran has historically performed well against his former club, hitting .303 with 24 home runs over 45 games.
THE CARDINALS DYNASTY
With Friday night’s victory, the St. Louis Cardinals have now made it to the NLCS seven times over the last 12 years. They’ve also won two World Series over that time period.
Both of these figures exactly mirror one of MLB’s most storied franchises, the New York Yankees who also boast two World Series Championships while playing in seven ALCS since 2000.
The 2012 Cardinals are missing some key components this time around -- Albert Pujols was acquired by the Los Angeles Angels for a lofty $240 million contract in the off season, and manager Tony La Russa retired following last year’s World Series victory.
But even so, this current Cardinals team has already proven itself, and with 42-year-old skipper Mike Matheny at the helm, we could very well see a reign of red in the major leagues for years to come.