Following Wednesday’s victory, the Royals will return to the World Series for the first time since the 1985. Both NLCS teams, on the other hand, have been World Series regulars. The Giants won it all in 2010. A year later, the Cardinals took their spot as World Champions. In 2012, the Giants and Cardinals faced off in an NLCS which saw the Giants come back a three games to one deficit to take the series. The Giants would go on to defeat the Tigers to win yet another championship. The very next year, the Cardinals were back in the fall classic, falling to the Red Sox in six games. No member of the last Kansas City or Baltimore championship teams have swung a bat in decades, but the San Francisco and St. Louis rosters have not changed drastically from their World Series-caliber teams of the past four years. As of now, the outcome of the NLCS is very much up in the air, but let’s take a look back to see who still has what it takes to represent the National League.
The Giants are returning six of eight starting position players from the 2012 World Champion team, including catcher Buster Posey, first baseman Brandon Belt, third-baseman Pablo Sandoval, shortstop Brandon Crawford, center fielder Gregor Blanco, and right-fielder Hunter Pence. In 2012, a twenty-three year-old Madison Bumgarner earned a win in Game Two, and a thirty-five year-old Ryan Vogelsong took Game Three. If anything, the Giants rotation has changed the most over the past two years, but overall, they still look like more or less the same team.
Looking at the Cardinals, they return starters Matt Carpenter and Matt Adams to the infield, Yadier Molina behind the plate, and Matt Holliday and John Jay to the outfield. Adam Wainwright is still the ace, and is the only returning consistent playoff starter. Stud catcher Yadier Molina strained his left oblique in Game Two, and did not start Game Three. As of now, he is still a possibility coming off the bench. His catching prowess and .282 hitting will be sorely missed in the starting lineup.
San Francisco boasts plenty of experience. Most of the Giants know exactly what it takes to win late in the playoffs, and they pulled it off only two years ago. They’re sticking to a lineup that has been tried and true over the past several years, and a few World Series rings creates no lack in confidence. On the other hand, the Cardinals have changed things up just a little bit. Despite recent postseason success, St. Louis has introduced some new faces and new roles. The average age of the Cardinals is nearly two years younger than that of the Giants (28.2 to 29.9). A twenty-eight year-old may not be a youngster anymore, but the Cardinals do have a legitimate advantage in youth. Late in a game, the two extra years of the strain of professional baseball may become more apparent. A little hop in your step can turn an RBI base-hit into a SportsCenter Top 10-worthy diving catch, or a groundout into an infield single. Perhaps this is too much speculation, but the rest of the series will be the judge of that.
One thing is clear. Both these clubs know how to win ballgames. The Giants have embraced their past successes, while the Cardinals have not shied away from adjustments. These contrasting strategies could determine the series, which may very well come down to one game. No matter who wins, the NL representative in the World Series is certainly going to have their hands full. The dust in the AL has settled, with the Royals looking more dominant with each passing game. A modern baseball empire may very well fall to a team that trailed going into the ninth inning of the wild card game. Whoever earns the right to face Kansas City will have to find a way to slow down the seemingly unstoppable small ball machine, a task that I do not envy.
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