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NLCS Game 7 preview: Cardinals at Giants

Kyle Lohse Kyle Lohse has already won an elimination game this postseason and he also beat the Giants in NLCS Game 3. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Cardinals at Giants

Series: NLCS Game 7, series tied 3-3

Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

TV: FOX

Starters: Kyle Lohse (2-0, 1.96 ERA) vs. Matt Cain (1-2, 4.67 ERA)

If you include this year’s one-game wild-card playoff won by St. Louis, the Cardinals and Giants, winners of the last two World Series, have combined to go 9-0 in postseason series over the last three years. The last time either team was eliminated in the postseason was in 2009, when the Cardinals were swept by the Dodgers in the Division Series. The Giants never faced elimination on their way to the 2010 title, but the Cardinals went 4-0 when facing elimination in 2011 and are 2-0 when facing elimination this year. That six-game winning streak when facing elimination, which tied a major league record, is highlighted by two games, Game 6 of last year’s World Series and Game 5 of this year’s Division Series against the Nationals, in which the Cardinals were just one strike from being eliminated only to storm back and win the series.

Not to be outdone, the Giants are 5-0 when facing elimination this year, having come back from a 2-0 deficit to win their Division Series against the Reds -- becoming the fist team in major league history ever to overcome a 2-games-to-0 deficit in a best-of-five series with three wins on the road -- and having battled back from a 3-games-to-1 deficit in this series to force Monday’s Game 7. The Giants are just the third team to have fought off elimination five times in a single post-season and would tie the record of the 1985 Royals, who came back from 3-1 deficits in both the ALCS and World Series, if they were to again stave off elimination Monday night.

Including those Royals, teams that have battled back from a 3-games-to-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series to force a seventh game are 11-5 all-time in Game 7 including a 8-2 record in the last 10 such instances dating back to the 1979 World Series. This is the fifth time in franchise history that the Cardinals have taken a 3-games-to-1 lead only to be forced to play a seventh game. They lost that seventh game in the 1996 NLCS (to the Braves), 1985 World Series (to those Royals), and 1968 World Series (to the Tigers, who lay in wait for them again this year), but won it in the 1967 World Series against the Impossible Dream Red Sox. Of the five teams to salvage a series they once led 3-games-to-1 after being pushed to a seventh game, those ’67 Cardinals and the 1972 A’s (in the World Series against the Reds) were the only ones to win Game 7 on the road, as the Cardinals will try to do tonight.

JAFFE: Brief history of amazing comebacks in LCS play

Curiously, the Giants have never won a decisive Game 7, having gone 0-5 in franchise history including a loss to the Cardinals in the 1987 NLCS and, most recently, the 2002 World Series against the Angels. The last time the Giants played a Game 7 at home was in the 1962 World Series against the Yankees, when with runners on second and third and two out in the ninth, New York's Bobby Richardson stabbed a screaming liner by San Francisco's Willie McCovey for the final out of a 1-0 win. The Giants did break a 3-3 tie with a win in Game 7 of the 1921 World Series against the Yankees, but that was during a brief three-year stretch in which five wins were required to win the World Series (the Giants won Game 8 and the Series the next day). They also won Game 7 of the 1912 World Series, but Game 2 ended in a tie, so their Game 7 win merely evened the series, which they lost to the Red Sox the next day.

That’s the history behind this game. As for tonight’s matchup, once again the reality of the pitching matchup belies the reputations of the men on the mound. As the basic stats above suggest, Kyle Lohse has been far more effective than Matt Cain in this postseason, echoing his superior regular-season performance (134 ERA+ to Cain’s 125). Cain hasn’t been awful, having allowed exactly three runs in each of his three starts this postseason, but he hasn’t been sharp either, only once completing the sixth inning and allowing four home runs in a mere 17 1/3 innings, a rate of more than two homers per nine frames. Lohse hasn’t been going deep into games either, but he has been keeping runs off the board, allowing just two in the wild-card game against the Braves and one in each of his two starts since. That said, Cain posted a 2.03 ERA at home this season with just seven home runs allowed (0.6 HR/9) and two of his three starts this postseason came against the Reds, a team that just seems to have his number this year, while his only previous start in this series came on the road.

Cain will also benefit from facing a Cardinals lineup that has started to slump. St. Louis has scored just one run in the last two games of this series and has scored three or fewer runs in four of the last five. Collectively the Cards are hitting .219/.267/.327 on the series, and if you look just at those last five games, they are hitting just .217/.266/.298. Right now Carlos Beltran, who had St. Louis' only extra-base hit in Game 6, and Matt Carpenter, who went 1-for-3 with a walk as a last-minute replacement for Matt Holliday, are the only Cardinals who are hitting. Given that, it would behoove St. Louis manager Mike Matheny to make sure the lefthanded Carpenter is in the lineup against the righthanded Cain in Game 7. Holliday’s bad back gives him the perfect excuse, particularly given Holliday’s poor performance in this series (.381 OPS plus a costly error in Game 2)

As for the bullpens, it will be all-hands-on-deck given the importance of this game. All, that is, except 22-year-old Cardinals rookie Shelby Miller, who threw 37 pitches in Game 6. However, Lance Lynn, who threw just 66 pitches in Game 5, and Adam Wainwright, who has had three days of rest since his Game 4 start, should be available out of St. Louis bullpen. For the Giants, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner were already on the depth chart for Game 6 and will be again for Game 7.

The one complicating factor in all of that is that it is supposed to rain all day in San Francisco on Monday. The rainfall is supposed to lighten up in the evening, but the forecast doesn’t call for it to stop until Wednesday morning. The big concern there is obviously a rain-shortened game that might cause the teams to burn their Game 7 starters without getting deep into the game. Such a scenario would favor the Cardinals, who would have a fully-rested Wainwright available to pick things up on Tuesday. More likely, Major League Baseball might opt to reschedule the game for Tuesday before first pitch, as they did with Game 4 of the Yankees-Tigers ALCS, thus allowing both teams to get proper starts from their starters. In which case, the Giants might be able to add Game 5 starter Barry Zito to their bullpen depth chart.

-- By Cliff Corcoran
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