The St. Louis Cardinals may be the most consistent team in baseball. Although the Cardinals have just one championship in the last four years while the San Francisco Giants have two, the Giants have two losing seasons in between their titles. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have gotten within one win of the World Series in each of the last three years, after getting to the brink again on Oct. 15.
The Cardinals’ 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 4 of the NLCS puts them in familiar territory. But as they will hear over and over, they had a 3-1 lead over the Giants in last year’s NLCS, then lost by a combined 20-1 over the next three games. However, St. Louis has some advantages that it didn’t have over San Francisco.
The 2012 Giants weren’t as hobbled as the 2013 Dodgers are now, since they had to finish Game 4 without an ailing Hanley Ramirez. His return in Game 3 put the Dodgers’ lineup back in order and on track, but it wasn’t as lucky in Game 4.
Los Angeles’s pitching didn’t help either, as Ricky Nolasco couldn’t make it to the fifth inning after giving up three third-inning runs, including a two-run homer by Matt Holliday. The Dodgers now have to trust Zack Greinke to save them in Game 5, so they can get to Clayton Kershaw in Game 6 -- yet Greinke and Kershaw couldn’t beat the Cardinals in Game 1 or 2.
St. Louis might be held to one run over Games 5-7 again, given how offense has been in short supply in both championship series. But the idea of Los Angeles scoring 20 runs over three games, let alone five, is laughable at this point -- especially with Ramirez in his condition.
In addition, the Cardinals were blown out in San Francisco to close the 2012 NLCS, while they have home field advantage for Games 6 and 7 with the Dodgers. Even if Greinke sends the series back to St. Louis, two straight wins in Busch Stadium may be a tall order for Los Angeles.
The Cardinals can make that unnecessary by finishing the job right away, like they couldn’t in 2012 or in 1996 against the Atlanta Braves. If the third time with a 3-1 NLCS lead is the charm, they will prove it starting at 4:07 p.m. est on TBS.