managed one of the greatest (if not the
greatest), comeback in postseason baseball history, erasing a six run deficit en route to defeating the Washington Nationals
. It was the largest deficit any team has ever overcome in the playoffs, and in typical Cardinal comeback fashion, the Redbirds went down to their very last strike before snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
Their reward for such an historic feat? A cross-country plane flight, from Washington D.C. to San Francisco, and a series against the NL West champs and their terrifying pitching staff. The Giants may not be the most complete team in the playoffs this year, but that doesn't mean they aren't perfectly capable of ending the Cards' season, historicalinexplicablemagical comebacks and all.
This one appearss to be a mismatch from the word go, to be honest. The Cardinals have one of the most imposing offenses in all of baseball, an American League styled attack that puts pressure on opposing pitchers through nearly the entire lineup. The Giants have, um, Buster Posey. They had Melky Cabrera and his inexplicable MVP-caliber performance for most of the season, but, well, you know how that worked out.
As things stand now, the Cardinals have an enormous advantage in their offensive production. Of the eight starting position players the Cards are currently fielding, only Daniel Descalso has an OPS+ of less than 113. (That includes Pete Kozma's utterly bizarre .952 OPS and 157 OPS+.) They have six regulars with an OPS+ better than 125; Matt Carpenter gives them another player above that threshold off the bench. They scored the second-most runs in the National League in the regular season in spite of playing in Busch Stadium as their home ballpark. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: this is a remarkable offense.
Against the Washington Nationals and their host of power arms, the Cards continued their offensive onslaught, scoring 32 runs in the series against the NL East representatives. They were held in check in a big way in games one and four, scoring just three runs total in those two contests, but the rest of the series looked a whole lot more like the Redbird attack we've seen for most of the season. The Giants' pitching staff is no less imposing than that of the Nationals; the Cards are going to have their work cut out for them if they're going to keep up that pace.
The Giants, plain and simple, don't have the kind of offense that can compete with the Cards. The difference in runs scored in the regular season between the two teams wasn't huge; the Giants scored 47 fewer runs than the Redbirds, which is significant but not enormous. When you start looking at the overall makeup of the two teams' respective lineups, though, it becomes clear there's a sizable difference.
For most of the season, the Giants had a pair of players posting better than a 150 OPS+: Buster Posey and Melky Cabrera. Posey is right there, hitting like a madman and not getting nearly enough consideration as the best player in the game right now, but Cabrera is not on the NLCS roster for the Giants. He's actually eligible for the series, but San Francisco has apparently decided that getting suspended for performance-enhancing drugs, disappearing for the past couple months, making virtually no contact with the club, and the whole making-a-fake-website-and-being-investigated-by-the-FBI is all just a little too much for them to swallow. So Melky isn't going to be there.
Xavier Nady and and Gregor Blanco have stepped in to the void left by Cabrera's absence, and the combo have done a nice job filling in for him, but it just isn't the same. The Giants do have three other hitters above a 120 OPS+ (Brandon Belt, Angel Pagan, and Pablo Sandoval), giving them a fair amount of depth in the lineup. The inexplicable career renaissance of Marco Scutaro gives them a potential shot in the arm off the bench.
Here's the bottom line: at the beginning of the season, I think most people thought the Giants would be a one-trick pony, winning games solely on the strength of their starting pitching, with an offense just sort of along for the ride. They're a better hitting club than that. The presence of Posey alone makes them a better hitting club than that. But this is an offense that isn't going to beat you on its own. That's why I say...