Saturday, October 11, 2014

2014 NLCS preview

By Rick Morris

And teams don’t often meet in a series that has a chance to shape the identity of the Team of the Decade (as defined by a meeting of teams with one world championship already in the present decade).  Of course, it happened two years ago when these same two teams met in a battle of the 2010 and 2011 World Series champions.  You’d have to go back to the 1972/1975/1979 Cincinnati-Pittsburgh tilts to find the same two teams clashing in the same decade in a repeat – coincidentally, neither was the Team of the 1970s; that honor went to the 1972-74 World Series champion Oakland As.  Also in 1979, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, world champions in 1970 and 1971 respectively, met in a rematch of the 1979 World Series.  The last time before that?  The 1958 World Series between the New York Yankees and Milwaukee Braves.  So this doesn’t happen very often at all.

At this point, it’s almost unfathomable to imagine anyone running down either of these teams to become Team of the 2010s, because this postseason has proven yet again that all these squads need to do is limp into October, even as a wild card (which San Francisco is this year) and they can take out better teams on paper (which the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington certainly were).  Certainly, if San Francisco wins it all this year, the discussion ends very prematurely, because the last team to win more than three World Series in a decade was the New York Yankee franchise of the 1950s and again, it’s impossible to imagine anyone making up that ground by 2019.

Offensively, the roles are reversed from 2012, with the Cardinals looking slaptastic at a National League-low 105 home runs and the Giants mashing a decent amount by their standards at 132.  This disparity carries over to runs, where San Francisco leads, 665-619 and triples (San Francisco, 42-21).  However, strangely enough, the Cardinals doubled up the Giants exactly in HBP, with a league-leading 86 to San Francisco’s 43, keeping their margin in total bases down to a 2,144-2,003 deficit.

Like their Missouri and slap-hitting American League counterparts the Kansas City Royals, St. Louis makes better contact than their opponent, striking out only 1,133 times to San Fran’s 1,245 whiffs.  But unlike the Royals, the Cards don’t combine their statistical lack of power (the qualifier is used because the Cardinals have underachieved in terms of home runs and may be due for a progression to the mean) with vast speed on the basepaths; their lead over the Giants in stolen bases is merely 57-56.  Batting average is likewise close, with San Francisco clocking in with a narrow .255-.253 edge.

In terms of pitching, neither team seems as deep as their recent postseason predecessor versions, although San Francisco’s 1.17 WHIP was second in the National League; St. Louis was in the middle of the pack at 1.24 notwithstanding the teams being tied in ERA at 3.50.  The biggest difference between the staffs was St. Louis’s tendency to walk the other team, doing so 470 times to San Francisco’s 389.  In examining the aforementioned stats, it’s no surprise that Cardinal pitchers had to walk a lot of tightropes, stranding 1,120 batters to San Francisco’s league-low 986.  So the Giants look more likely to keep runners off base, but to let the ones who make it there in to score.

So outside of the Giants’ power edge, there don’t seem to be too many glaring statistical differences between the teams.  In such a series, the fate of star and superstar players weighs very heavily and the arm questions surrounding Adam Wainwright at this time are extremely ominous.  Our pick in the American League was Kansas City, notwithstanding Baltimore’s edge in the dugout.  In the National League, we will defer to arguably the game’s best manager in a circumstance where the opposing team’s ace is questionable and yes, we will forecast a battle of wild cards in the World Series at a time when that is not supposed to happen anymore.  Pick: San Francisco.

World Series: Kansas City over San Francisco in 6.

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