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2014 NLCS: Giants vs. Cardinals Preview & Predictions

By Andrew Perna

In a battle of two of baseball’s most recently successful franchises, the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals will face off in the 2014 National League Championship Series. The Giants have won it all in each of the last two even-year seasons (2010, 2012), while the Cardinals have appeared in the NLCS in four consecutive years (winning it in the odd years).

If the ALCS between the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals is a battle of new blood, this San Francisco-St. Louis battle is between two blue bloods.

These two teams are very familiar with each other. They faced off seven times in six days that spanned May and June during the regular season (the Giants won four of them) and were opponents in the 2012 NLCS.

San Francisco beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL Wild Card game just to get to the divisional round, but St. Louis bested them by just two wins over the course of the season. Statistically, the teams were about as close as you can get.

The Giants hit more home runs (132 to 105), but the Cardinals may have finally woken up offensively during the NLDS. St. Louis clubbed seven home runs in four games against the Los Angeles Dodgers. San Francisco also had the edge in OPS (.699 to .689), but St. Louis was better at getting on base (.320 to .311). The Giants scored 4.1 runs per game against 3.8 for the Cardinals.

In the limited sample size of this postseason, the Cardinals have been a much bigger offensive force. They’ve scored one more run in one fewer game (actually two fewer if you count the 18-inning battle the Giants had with the Washington Nationals) and had a far superior OPS (.746 to .507). Maybe the offense will continue to click as it has in October, as Mike Matheny preached all season long, but it’s more likely that both offenses will look more like they did all year long.

The pitching should be very good in this series with more experienced arms than we will see in the ALCS. The Giants and Cardinals both finished with 3.50 ERAs during the 162-game slate and were nearly identical in terms of batting average against (.241 for San Francisco, .242 for St. Louis) quality starts (91 to 86 in favor of the Cardinals) and strikeouts per nine innings (7.59 to 7.52, also in favor of the Cardinals).

San Francisco has enjoyed tremendous work from their staff in the postseason -- a 1.33 ERA, 49 strikeouts, just 13 walks and .157 BAA in 54 innings. St. Louis hasn’t pitched quite as well (3.86 ERA, 3.0 K/BB ratio and .285 BAA in 35 innings), but the sample size is small (once again).

It sounds incredibly cliché, but this series will be won by the club that gets the timely hit, the big shutdown outing from a starter and a key out from a reliever. The stage won’t be too bright for either team, they’ll both be well managed (edge to Bruce Bochy) and they matchup very evenly. It wouldn’t surprise anyone to see either team advance and go on to win the World Series, but only one of them can.

The Cardinals haven’t missed a beat after trading Allen Craig, who occupied the middle of their lineup, and the added depth of John Lackey in the rotation has built them for postseason success. However, there is too much uncertainly surrounding Adam Wainwright’s health and Madison Bumgarner (and to a lesser extent Tim Hudson and Jake Peavy) has looked too good lately for the Giants not to win.

Prediction: Giants in 6


2014 NLDS Preview & Predictions

By Andrew Perna

The San Francisco Giants topped the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night, setting the National League playoff field by winning the Wild Card game. The division series kick off on Friday with the Giants facing the Washington Nationals on the East Coast and St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers playing on the West Coast.

Giants vs. Nationals

The Nationals are hosting this series as the top seed in the NL, but the Giants clearly believe they are the favorites. It's hard to count San Francisco out, especially since they have won the World Series in each of the last two even-number years, but Tim Hudson's comments about Washington's … uh ... intestinal fortitude are unfounded.

Washington was eight wins better than San Francisco in the regular season and the NL East champs took five of the seven head-to-head matchups in 2014. The Nationals bested the Giants in several offensive categories -- OPS (.714 to .699), home runs (152 to 132) and runs per game (4.2 to 4.1).

That advantage extended to the mound, where Matt Williams had one of the best staffs in the Major Leagues. The Nationals had the lowest ERA (3.03) in baseball, while the Giants (3.50) ranked tenth. Williams also got incredible length from his starters. Only the Atlanta Braves recorded more quality starts than the Nationals (106). Washington edged San Francisco in strikeouts-per-nine (7.88 to 7.52) and has the deeper staff.

San Francisco needed Madison Bumgarner to beat the Pirates, so we won't see him until Game 3. That tilts the early momentum towards the Nationals, who will trot out (in order) Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister. Strasburg has been incredible in the second half, Zimmermann is coming off a no-hitter and Fister posted the best season of his career (16-6, 2.41 ERA and 1.08 WHIP).

Bruce Bochy will counter with Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson and Bumgarner. The trio is more than capable of shutting down an offense in October, but they don't have the same firepower as Washington's trio of starters.

The two clubs have a combined seven players among the NL's top-40 in terms of WAR this season. Tops among those was Anthony Rendon (6.5), Washington's second baseman, who ranked second only to Jonathan Lucroy (6.7) among positional players.

San Francisco scored two or fewer runs in four of the seven games they played against Washington this season. They simply won't have the offensive firepower to win their third World Series title in five years.

Prediction: Nationals in 5

 

Cardinals vs. Dodgers

Clayton Kershaw really doesn't have anything to prove as he nears yet another Cy Young award, but his Game 1 matchup against Adam Wainwright and the Cardinals just might be the biggest start of his already storied career. The left-hander, who just completed one of the best statistical seasons ever for a pitcher, has a 4.23 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 1-3 record in 38.1 postseason innings.

Kershaw may be the central theme of the series, but in truth the Dodgers can advance to the NLCS even if they fall in one of his starts. That's because they have Zack Greinke coming in Game 2 (and potentially Game 5) and an offense that is significantly better than that of the Cardinals.

L.A's offense isn't just superior, it's also red-hot right now. The Dodgers edged the Cardinals in OPS (.738 to .689), home runs (134 to 105) and runs per game (4.4 to 3.8). Mike Matheny's troops will have to scrap more than a few runs against the likes of Kershaw and Greinke to win.

L.A.'s pitching staff is a bit top-heavy, but in a short series the cream of the crop will start four games. Kershaw (1.77) and Greinke (2.71) are tremendous, but overall the club had a 3.50 ERA. St. Louis wasn't far behind with a 3.40 ERA, but after Wainwright it'll be Lance Lynn, John Lackey and Shelby Miller. Only Lackey has a history of postseason success.

Most of us said the same thing less than a year ago, but it's hard to envision the Dodgers losing a series against this Cardinals team with Kershaw and Greinke fronting the rotation.

Prediction: Dodgers in 4


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MLB Rankings For End Of 2014 Regular Season

By RealGM Staff Report

The Opsera is a statistic RealGM Executive Editor Chris Reina created in order to objectively rank teams by how well they hit (OPS) and pitch (ERA). 

In order to determine the Opsera rating for each, we take their OPS, multiply that number by 10 to move the decimal point over one place to the right and then subtract their ERA from that number.  

All statistics are through the end of the 2014 regular season.

Rankings from last week are in parenthesizes.

(1) Washington Nationals – 4.11

(2) Los Angeles Dodgers – 3.98

(3) Baltimore Orioles – 3.91

(4) Pittsburgh Pirates – 3.87

(5) Oakland Athletics – 3.78

(6) Los Angeles Angels – 3.70

(7) Seattle Mariners – 3.59

(8) Detroit Tigers – 3.56

(9) Cleveland Indians – 3.50

(10) San Francisco Giants – 3.49

(11) Milwaukee Brewers – 3.41

(T12) St. Louis Cardinals – 3.39

-- Kansas City Royals – 3.39

(14) Toronto Blue Jays – 3.36

(15) Tampa Bay Rays – 3.28

(16) Atlanta Braves – 3.27

(17) New York Mets – 3.24

(18) Miami Marlins – 3.16

(19) New York Yankees – 3.12

(20) San Diego Padres – 3.07

(21) Cincinnati Reds – 3.02

(22) Chicago Cubs – 2.93

(23) Colorado Rockies – 2.88

(24) Philadelphia Phillies – 2.86

(25) Boston Red Sox – 2.83

(26) Houston Astros – 2.81

(27) Chicago White Sox – 2.79

(28) Minnesota Twins – 2.56

(29) Arizona Diamondbacks – 2.52

(30) Texas Rangers – 2.40

 

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