Although the St. Louis Cardinals looked poised for another exhilarating run to a championship while up three games to one on the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS, the Giants came back to win the series. Instead of looking at the series as a complete failure by the Cardinals, a more realistic view might show the Giants were simply a better team in 2012.
Sure, the Cardinals had Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Kyle Lohse, a trio of starting pitchers who have a combined three Cy Young awards and 30 wins this season. They also had a lineup that had the fourth highest batting average in Major League Baseball.
Unfortunately, the Giants had a team better equipped to win baseball games. There’s probably a reason they won 94 games and the Cardinals won 88. The Giants have a lineup that can produce runs without hitting a homerun. They had 31 RBIs in the NLCS compared to 19 for the Cardinals.
The Giants also have really good pitching. That shouldn’t have been a surprise to people who follow baseball. The starting rotation with Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong, Madison Bumgarner and Barry Zito is as good of a rotation as any in the league. Closer Sergio Romo also filled in terrifically for injured closer Brian Wilson.
As for the third aspect of the game, the Giants defense was substantially better than the Cardinals. The Giants didn’t give up an unearned run in the entire seven-game series while the Cardinals gave up 10 unearned runs on six errors.
Could the Cardinals have won the series and gone on to win their second World Series in a row? Certainly, they were just one win away, but it would also be unfair to think the Giants are an unworthy opponent for the Detroit Tigers in the Fall Classic. The Giants already proved plenty worthy by winning the first two games of the series heading into play Saturday.
The same thing happened in 1996 when the Atlanta Braves came back from a three-games-to-one deficit to beat the Cardinals in seven games. The finish to that series was actually even worse than the 2012 version. The Braves beat the Cardinals 14-0 in Game 5, 3-1 in Game 6 and 15-0 to close out the series in Game 7.
No playoff elimination is going to be even close to fun. In fact, the final three games of the NLCS were about as brutal as it gets for the losing team’s fans. This year’s loss certainly carried plenty of disappointment given how the team had always come back from seemingly insurmountable odds.
But there is also another way to look at it. The Cardinals probably shouldn’t have made it as far as they did. The team battled injuries to nearly every position player at some point in the season, the bullpen didn’t get its act together until the postseason and the team lost several key pieces from the 2011 championship team.
Manager Mike Matheny did a wonderful job leading the team in his first season. He has the respect of the players and the team has a collective will power that keeps it from getting left behind on the field and in the standings.
The Cardinals will be back next year. They might not win the World Series in 2013. There will be teams such as the Giants who have a well-established team that can make a run through the playoffs. But, there is little reason to think they would completely fall apart and not play competitive baseball throughout the season.
Unfortunately, next season is still six long, cold months away.