Cardinals Push Giants To Brink Of NLCS Elimination

By: Bruce Marshall | Friday, October 19, 2012

San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy’s big gamble didn’t pay off in Thursday’s Game 4 of the NLCS. Now Bochy’s Giants are looking at match point for the Cardinals unless the Bay Bombers can survive tonight at Busch Stadium and get the series back to AT&T Park.

What could be the finale of the NLCS takes place Friday night in St. Louis, with the Redbirds one win away form their second World Series appearance in a row and third since 2006 – not to mention another rematch in the Fall Classic vs. the Tigers, who could be meeting the Cards for the fourth time since 1934 in the World Series...but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

The Friday pitching matchup features the bottom end of both rotations, with Barry Zito (15-8, 4.15 ERA in regular) on the mound for the Giants and Ole Miss Rebel alum Lance Lynn (18-7, 3.56 ERA in regular season) taking the ball for the Cardinals.

A check with the Don Best MLB odds screen notes host St. Louis anywhere form -155 to -160 on the win, with the total at 7½ shaded to the over, or 8 shaded to the under, at most Nevada wagering establishments.  On the Run Line, laying the extra run with the Redbirds can fetch a price in the +135 range, while getting the extra run with San Francisco costs -155 at most Las Vegas outlets.

First pitch at Busch Stadium will be at 8:05 p.m. (ET), with big FOX providing the coverage.  The trying-not-to-be-partial broadcast crew of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver will be on hand to describe the action.

Bochy’s gamble didn’t pay off in Game 4, when he altered his postseason rotation pattern and instead decided to roll the dice with Tim Lincecum, and not Zito, as his starter.  Lincecum had pitched well out of the bullpen in the playoffs – prior to last night, in eight innings of postseason work, Lincecum had issued just one walk, as well as a mere two hits and one run, along with nine strikeouts – and was expected to be at the ready should expected starter Zito falter as he did in Game 4 at Cincinnati in the NLDS.

But the two-time Cy Young winner Lincecum resembled his erratic regular-season self on Thursday and was promptly shelled, putting Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti in a touch spot tonight with Zito, who probably won’t have Lincecum ready for a long stint in relief should Zito falter as he did at Cincy last week when lasting just 2 2/3 innings against the Reds.

Please note that over the course of the season, Zito has been the most-profitable pitcher in the NL, with the Giants 22-11 in his starts and +1525 units. The Giants have also won an astounding 12 straight games started by the vet lefty who, despite rarely being dominant in that stretch, has nonetheless seen the offense perk up considerably in his starts.  The Giants have scored almost six runs per game for Zito in the 12 winning starts.

Therein, however, lies another dilemma for Bochy, as his offense has bogged down at Busch, scoring a combined four runs in Games 3 and 4 in St. Louis.  The only bright spot in Game 4 was a homer hit by previously-slumping OF Hunter Pence.

Meanwhile, Mike Matheny counters with Lynn who had been demoted out of the rotation late in the summer before briefly resurfacing late in the regular season, only to be put back in the relief corps for the playoffs.  A shoulder injury to Jaime Garcia in the NLDS vs. the Nats forced Matheny to put Lynn back into the NLCS rotation.

Lynn was not sharp in Game 1, allowing four runs and five hits while walking a pair in just 3 2/3 IP, although the Redbirds provided run support in an eventual 6-4 win.  But Lynn’s numbers tailed off dramatically as the season progressed, and enters Game 5 with a 9.00 ERA in four postseason appearances.  Lynn was also hit hard on August 7 at Candlestick, allowing four runs and eight hits over six innings in an eventual 4-2 loss, and has a 7.15 career ERA vs. San Francisco.

Before burying the Giants, remember how they fought with their backs against the wall against the Reds in the NLDS, sweeping three straight on the road to steal that series.  Over the course of the season, San Francisco is also a solid 49-37 this season on the road, and 20-9 in its last 29 despite losses the past two nights.

The Giants, however, have only won one of four this season at Busch.  Unless they can make it two out of five, their campaign ends tonight in St. Louis.

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