Giants go up against another uncrushable squad
NLCS opponent Cards have displayed same won't-be-beat quality as San Francisco
Cockroaches. That's what general manager Brian Sabean calls these San Francisco Giants."I could put nine of you in a microwave," Sabean has told members of this team this season, "turn it up for 20 minutes and eight of you are walking out. We can't kill you." Ask the Dodgers, who stocked up on superstars like Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett midseason but finished eight games behind the Giants in the National League West.
Ask the skeptics who assumed the Melky Cabrera suspension would serve as the Giants' one-way ticket to October tee times.Most importantly, ask the Reds, who had a 2-0 lead on the Giants as the NL Division Series shifted to Cincinnati -- a scenario that history insisted was insurmountable. Nothing seems insurmountable to this Giants club, and that's why it is headed to the NL Championship Series for the second time in three years. But the cockroaches have company in the "can't-be-killed" department, because that's a quality the St. Louis Cardinals share. This, then, ought to be no ordinary NLCS. Not only is it the first LCS meeting, in either league, of the last two World Series champions, but it is a meeting of two teams who proved so averse to elimination last round that they both staged historic comebacks -- be it in the scope of the series in Cincinnati for the Giants or the two-out, two-strike dramatics staged by the Cards in Washington on Friday night -- to get here. Now that they're here, with the thrill of their Houdini routines and the haze of long, late-night flights behind them, they are properly paired in a best-of-seven that you can't help but feel is destined to go the distance. Whether or not that's the case, the Giants have several factors in their favor, beyond their cockroach characteristics. First and foremost, they've got the home-field advantage, despite the No. 3 seed they took into October. Granted, it is true that home field hasn't amounted to much thus far this postseason (the Giants, of course, know this all too well, having been thoroughly outplayed at AT&T Park by the Reds in Games 1 and 2 of the NLDS). But having the first two games at pitcher-friendly AT&T Park could help the Giants corral a Cards offense that averaged 4.7 runs per game in the regular season (second-most in the NL), averaged 6.5 runs in the five-game set against the Nationals and scored six runs in the Wild Card play-in with the Braves. Thanks to the NLDS scheduling, the Giants also got a much-needed two-day break for their bullpen, which they had to ride hard to oust the Reds. No Giants starter went six full innings in the NLDS, and so the 'pen had to assume a larger role than it did during the 2010 run, which was built on stellar starting efforts. What we saw from George Kontos and Jose Mijares against the Reds was encouraging for the Giants. What they lack in a go-to closer commodity (Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt have all lent a hand in filling in for the injured Brian Wilson this season), they make up for in depth of dependability. The starting outlook for this series will feature changes for both clubs from the first round. The Cards had to replace an injured Jaime Garcia with Lance Lynn, who will make the Game 1 start on just two days of rest following his ill-fated, 13-pitch relief appearance in Game 4. Lynn has been a huge help in a pinch for the Cards all season, ably filling the rotation spots vacated first by an injured Chris Carpenter and then an injured Jake Westbrook. As a simple matter of experience, though, Lynn does not have the postseason pedigree possessed by Tim Lincecum, who could be a huge X-factor in this series. A rough end to a rough regular season cost "The Freak" a NLDS rotation spot that instead went to Barry Zito. But Lincecum's 6 1/3 relief innings against the Reds, in which he allowed just one run on three hits with eight strikeouts and no walks, brought back memories of the ace-type effort that won him a club-record four postseason games in 2010. Whether he gets the Game 4 starting nod over Zito or remains a relief option, Lincecum -- if he's anywhere as aggressive in the strike zone as he was against the Reds -- could be a handful for the Cardinals. If the Giants take care of business at home (and Games 1 and 2 starters Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong have both been better at home than on the road this year), they set up well with ace Matt Cain going on the road on four full days' rest in Game 3. This also allows Cain to be fully rested for a Game 7, if needed. The Giants have a good heartbeat to them. It starts with the demeanor of Bruce Bochy, who was so confident his club would come back from the 0-2 hole against the Reds that he had cases of champagne brought aboard the flight to Cincinnati. "I've been with him more than 20 years," third-base coach Tim Flannery said of Bochy, "and there's nobody better in these situations. You just trust him. He's been through it, he forges everybody into who they have to be, the roles they have to be." And on the field, the unquestioned leader, in attitude and aptitude, is 25-year-old Buster Posey, the likely NL MVP. "He's a calming influence," Bochy said of Posey. Both of these clubs have that championship-caliber ability to stay calm in the game's most pressing moments. That's how they won in previous Octobers, and that's how they got here this year. The Cardinals have played two winner-in/loser-out games since the postseason began, winning both on the road. You can't replicate that kind of experience. But to that, the Giants counter with their own experience of having survived three must-win games in Cincinnati last week. "We've had that feeling where our backs are against the wall," Affeldt said. "I'm not going to say we're used to it. I think we just figured out how to cope with it." The cockroaches could not be killed. And now we're about to find out what happens when cockroaches clash.