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The Cardinals take on the San Francisco Giants in the 2012 NLCS.
The Giants didn't register on my radar as an elite team this year despite winning 94 games. Eclipsed by the 98 win Nationals and 97 win Reds, I wasn't entirely sure what I expected to find when I started looking at this team on paper. I was even more perplexed when watching their final game against the Reds on Thursday (the away team won every game in their NLDS) and no one -- outside of probable MVP winner Buster Posey -- really stood out.
This team has exactly one superstar and then fills in around that with decent position players and good pitchers. They're a solid team but the offense one-dimensional, their pitching is no more elite than the Cardinals and their bullpen really comes down to two guys. If the Cardinals can take out the Washington Nationals -- who had the best starting pitcher of either team and a more balanced offense -- the Giants are a beatable obstacle. The Cardinals aren't a perfect team -- god knows we've been complaining about their lack of perfection all year -- but neither are the Giants. Here's five players to keep an eye on.
2012 Stat: .406 wOBA
Things that are interesting: Remember when he had his ankle shattered last year? You can still watch the video but it's not for the squeamish.
The more you know: I hardly expected Posey to walk normally again after watching that collision much less be a catcher. I never expected the kind of offensive prowess that he displayed this year. With a .336/.408/.549 slash line, he's the heart and soul of the Giants offense. With Melky Cabrera suspended for banned supplement usage, there really isn't anyone else in the Giants lineup that should scare Cardinals' pitchers. Guys like Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Belt either aren't what they once were or never became what they were supposed to be.
2012 Stat: 29 Stolen Bases
Things that are interesting: By fangraphs WAR metric, Pagan was the second best position player on the Giants largely on the merits of his base running.
The more you know: Pagan has averaged 30 stolen bases a season over the last three years as he's finally locked down a starters job -- first with the Mets, now with the Giants. He gets on base at a reasonable clip but the really troubling part is that he's excellent on the bases once he's there. Watch for him to try and swipe a bag or two this series or stretch out a double or test a right fielders arm going first to third. If there's to be a cat and mouse game between Yadier Molina and an opposing base runner, it'll be Pagan.
2012 Stat: 90.4 mph
Things that are interesting: Lincecum obituaries have been penned on a seemingly yearly basis since he entered the league. After losing 2 miles off his average fastball velocity from 2011 to 2012, they seem more credible.
The more you know: Lincecum doesn't look like an elite pitcher on paper based off his 2012 season. His fastball velocity was down and he's been increasingly forced to use his slider. He has a very pronounced reverse platoon split this season (though not for his career) and there's some logical rationalizations given the deteriorating fastball but still healthy changeup for why that stat may be legitimate. Single season splits aren't trustworthy in this sample size but I'd be inclined to keep left handed hitters who struggle with changeups out of the Cardinal lineup.
2012 Stat: 219.1 IP
Things that are interesting: Given how weak the Giants' offense is on paper, I expected to see some elite pitching numbers. Instead I found a rotation that had five workhorses in it: Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, Tim Lincecum & Barry Zito. Combined, they started 160 of the Giants' games.
The more you know: This is not a particularly scary rotation. Matt Cain is good (3.40 FIP) and generally outperforms his peripherals but other than Adam Wainwright (and the now injured Jaime Garcia), the Cardinals and Giants pitchers are all clustered in the mid-3.00 FIP range. If the Giants have an edge in the pitching, it's harder to detect than their surface level 2012 stats.
Sergio Romo / Jeremy Affeldt
2012 Stat: 2.70 FIP / 2.73 FIP
Things that are interesting: Either Bruce Bochy is a better manager than I gave him credit for or he's a far worse one. Despite clearly being the best relievers in the pen, Romo & Affeldt combined for 17 saves while Santiago Castillo (4.14 FIP) led with 25 saves.
The more you know: Even if you don't want to use single season reliever FIP to tell you that Romo and Affeldt are getting it done all of their peripherals agree that these two are the relievers to watch out for. Romo closed out the final game against the Reds (albeit shakily) and Affeldt is a good lefty reliever who doesn't need to be labeled a LOOGy. The Cardinals bullpen is incredibly difficult to get a read on given the unexpected presence of guys like Trevor Rosenthal, Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly. Jason Motte -- sans homeritis -- has an argument for being as good as Romo but the core of the Giants bullpen looks very much like a strength.