How We Got Here
The Cardinals haven't lost a series yet, fashioning an 11-5 mark based strongly on a home record of 7-2. The Giants still sit in last in the NL West, but two of their six wins came against the Cardinals last weekend and they were only one bullpen implosion away from winning the series.
Past Is Prologue
For the first time this season, the Cardinals get to play a team they've already seen in 2008. Last weekend, the Giants struck first, using Kevin Correia to keep the Cardinals in check. The Cardinals won the middle two games, with Kyle Lohse and Albert Pujols providing the punch in Game 2 and the Giant bullpen ruining a start by Matt Cain that had him taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning of Game 3. The final game was a Giant victory, with Tim Lincecum striking out 11 and Joel Pineiro getting bombed in his first start back from rehab.
Here And Now
The Cardinals lead the NL Central by a game and 1/2 over the Brewers and Cubs, but can't be too comfortable after losing a game they should have won on Thursday. With Cain and Lincecum lined up for Friday and Saturday, the Cards could go from first to third in a matter of days.
If it's a different bat every week, this week it's Ryan Ludwick, doing his best Rick Ankiel impersonation from the first part of the season. Ludwick has four home runs, all in the last five games, and is sporting a .390 average after his four hit game on Thursday. He has not had a game (with more than 1 AB) without a hit since April 5.
Whatever the Giants' flaws, when their rotation is lined up they can be in position to win any series and their rotation is lined up for the Cardinals. The first game is a rematch of last Saturday, as Matt Cain squares off against Todd Wellemeyer. Interesting note: Cain has struck out exactly 5 batters in each of his three starts. Wellemeyer has faltered in his last inning the past two starts, so hopefully Tony LaRussa will monitor him and get him out of there before he causes as much damage as last week, where he allowed five runs in the sixth.
Saturday, Tim Lincecum brings the heat against Joel Pineiro again. The Cards are going to have to put the ball in play more and hope that Pineiro's struggles from last weekend were because of rust and not something more sinister.
The final game of the series will have youngster Jonathan Sanchez on the hill against Braden Looper. The Cardinals didn't face Sanchez in the four game series last weekend, so he'll be a new puzzle to figure out. He's had three starts, all against strong teams (Milwaukee, San Diego, Arizona) and has a 6.00 ERA to show for it. Most of that is due to the seven runs he allowed the Brewers in four innings. He can bring the heat (21 K in his three starts, including 10 against San Diego) and seems to tend to fly balls. If he hangs a few pitches, hopefully the Cardinal offense will take advantage.
This is going to be a tough series for the Cardinals to win, but they've proven they know how to hang around in games and find a way to win. After last weekend, if they can get into the Giants bullpen, they'll feel pretty confident about bringing the runs in that they need.
Friday and Saturday's games will be on FSN, while Sunday afternoon's games will be broadcast by Jay Randolph and the gang at KSDK. All games, of course, will be heard on the Cardinal Radio Network and their flagship station, 550 KTRS. You can still get in on the San Francisco YNOT until the first pitch!