By Sam McPherson-
(CBS) The San Francisco Giants won the battle that was Game 3 on Tuesday, but all parties involved know the war — a.k.a the National League Championship Series — is far from over. What else could we expect from the two teams that have won the last four NL pennants and also played a seven-game NLCS just two Octobers ago?
Game Three featured a fast start by the Giants, a comeback by the St. Louis Cardinals and a 10th-inning surge by the home team to take the victory at AT&T Park: another roller coaster ride, similar to Game 2. Every game left on the slate could be just as bumpy.
San Francisco has won four one-run games this postseason already, while losing only one. The team was 18-22 in the regular season when the score was that close. That’s the kind of fortune you need in the playoffs to advance, and the Cardinals know it.
Let’s look ahead to the next two games on Wednesday and Thursday.
Game 4: Miller vs. Vogelsong
The Cardinals would appear to have the pitching edge in this matchup, but everyone has seen the Giants get amazing postseason performances out of seemingly washed-up players (Cody Ross in 2010, Barry Zito and Marco Scutaro in 2012). Ryan Vogelsong is another of San Francisco’s reclamation projects: he posted a 6.00 ERA in parts of four seasons (2003-06) with the Pittsburgh Pirates before being out of the majors for four seasons (2007-10).
In the last four seasons (2011-14) back in the show with the Giants, he has put together a 3.78 ERA. Meanwhile, Shelby Miller, who was a first-round draft pick for St. Louis in 2009, has thrown 370 major league innings in the last three seasons, to the tune of a 3.33 ERA.
Both pitchers struggled in 2014 overall, posting ERA+ marks below league average. While Miller posted a 2.92 ERA in the second half of the season, he also had a 4.14 ERA on the road for the year. Likewise, Vogelsong posted a 3.06 ERA at home in 2014, but his second-half numbers (3-6, 4.20 ERA) don’t inspire confidence.
Scoring first seems to be key in this series, even though the last two games featured comebacks by the team that feel behind early.
Game 5: Wainwright vs. Bumgarner, Round II
Adam Wainwright is not himself right now. He went 20-9 this year with a 2.38 ERA, but he hasn’t lasted five innings in either of his postseason starts. He’s a better pitcher than the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner, and he has the pedigree to prove it. Not that Bumgarner is any slouch, but he had a 4.03 ERA at home this year, strangely.
Of course, the Giants won this matchup on the road in Game One, and there’s little reason to think they can’t win it again in Game 5 — unless the real Wainwright shows up. Remember, he’s been a member of three World Series teams in St. Louis, closing out the championship in 2006 and starting key games in 2011’s title run. His 3.17 career postseason ERA is nothing to dismiss, but with catcher Yadier Molina also banged up, Wainwright just may not be at his best.
The Giants would like to complete a home sweep, obviously, but the Cards are too tough to let that happen. Look for St. Louis to win Game 4 with the slight pitching advantage (youth and talent beating guile and guts), leaving Bumgarner and a weakened Wainwright to battle it out in Game 5.
It’s hard to pick against Bumgarner in Game 5, even if his home numbers this year are downright ugly.
This series is going back to St. Louis for Game 6 with the home team needing to win both games to advance to its fifth World Series in the last 11 seasons.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer.