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The Strike Zone

NLCS Game 3 Preview: Giants at Cardinals

Matt Cain Matt Cain won the crucial Game 5 of the NLDS to push the Giants into the NLCS. (AP)

Giants at Cardinals

Series: NLCS Game 3, series tied 1-1

Time: 4:00 PM ET

TV: Fox

Starters: Matt Cain (16-5, 2.79 ERA) vs. Kyle Lohse (16-3, 2.86 ERA)

Whether or not they used Matt Holliday's egregious takeout slide of Marco Scutaro to fire themselves up, the Giants teed off on St. Louis' Chris Carpenter in Game 2 on Monday night, taking advantage of a couple of errors and riding Ryan Vogelsong's seven-inning effort — their first start of at least six innings thus far in the postseason — to knot the series at one game apiece. While the issue of whether or not to start Tim Lincecum is one for another day, the Giants get to turn to a pitcher who emerged as their ace this year for Game 3.

The 28-year-old Cain ranked third in the league in innings (219 1/3), fourth in ERA (2.79), seventh in strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.8) and eighth in strikeouts (193), numbers that -- aside from the innings total -- ranked as career bests. He threw a perfect game against the Astros on June 14, and spent most of the season looking like a Cy Young contender, but a spate of no-decisions late in the year left him on the outside looking in while the likes of R.A. Dickey, Gio Gonzalez and Johnny Cueto outdid him by traditional measures. Cain didn't pitch all that well in his two Division Series starts against the Reds, allowing three runs in each without lasting six innings in either Game 1 or Game 5. Manager Bruce Bochy gave him a quick hook after 75 pitches in the opener, and after 96 pitches in the finale, far short of his capacity.

Cain works with a four-seam fastball that averaged 91.8 mph this year, using both a slider and a curveball against righties, and preferring a slider and a changeup against lefties; he spotted a sinker here and there as well. He showed a wide platoon split, limiting righties to a .191/.229/.333 line — making him a good match for the Cardinals' big righty bats — compared to .257/.321/.390 against righties. That said he did show a pronounced home/road split, delivering a 2.03 ERA while holding opponents to a .207/.244/.304 performance at San Francisco's AT&T Park, compared to a 3.56 ERA and a .238/.302/.416 line on the road; his home run rate doubled from 0.6 to 1.2 per nine once he left home, while his infield fly rate dropped from 12.6 percent to 8.4 percent. He faced the Cardinals twice this year, on May 17 at home and on Aug. 6 in St. Louis, and was roughed up both times, yielding a combined nine runs in 11 2/3 innings; Holliday went deep against him in each start, though he hasn't otherwise done much against Cain in his career (.200/.277/.450 in 47 PA). In an even smaller sample, Carlos Beltran has hit Cain hard, .389/.450/.778 in 20 PA, and Beltran is of course on fire this October, hitting .414/.500/.897 in 36 PA.

Squaring off against Cain is Kyle Lohse, who himself is coming off a career year in which he ranked fourth in the league in walk rate (1.6 per nine), fifth in the league in ERA (2.86) and seventh in innings (211). Lohse doesn't miss many bats, but his rate of 6.1 strikeouts per nine was his highest since 2006. He relies heavily on a sinker that averages 90.2 mph, with a slider and a changeup that generates swings and misses from both righties and lefties. Thanks to those, his platoon splits have been minimal (30-40 points of OPS) in the past two years. Contrary to what you might expect given his pitch-to-contact strategy, he's not that much of a groundballer, but he did get significantly higher rates of both groundballs and infield flies at Busch Stadium (42.9 to 38.2 percent for the former, 12.7 to 6.9 percent for the latter) en route to an ERA more than a full run better at home (2.33 to 3.41).

Thus far in the postseason, Lohse has been strong in both of his outings, yielding two runs in 5 2/3 innings in the wild-card game, and one run on two hits in seven innings in Game 4 against the Nationals; he has a tidy 11/2 strikeout-to-walk ratio thus far. He didn't face the Giants this year, and of the 155 plate appearances he has had against their current roster, he has never allowed a home run, though he has yielded a .306/.327/.401 line to those present. He's seen a lot of Hunter Pence in his career (.298/.327/.383 in 49 PA), and curiously has struggled against Ryan Theriot (.545/.545/.818 in 22 PA), though the latter is likely to be on the bench so long as Scutaro is available. All indications are that he will be, despite leaving Monday's game after the fifth inning and undergoing an x-ray and an MRI, which revealed a left hip strain and a contusion.
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