By Ryan Witt
Thursday, the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the San Francisco Giants 8-3 to take a 3-1 game lead in the NLCS. The win puts the Cardinals just one win away from winning the NLCS and advancing to the World Series to face the Detroit Tigers. The Cardinals currently hold a huge advantage, but for a number of reasons the Cardinals probably want to clinch the series Friday in Game Five. If the Giants are able to win Friday, the odds suddenly take a dramatic shift in their favor given the setup for Games Six and Seven in the NLCS.
First and foremost, Game Five is the last home game for the Cardinals in the NLCS, so if the Cardinals fail to win, they must win one out of two back in San Francisco. The Cardinals tend to play much better at home (50-31 regular season record) as opposed to the road (38-43 regular season record). The Cardinals have clearly fed off the crowd energy at home, and the Giants will surely do the same if the series heads back West. Right now the series is firmly in Cardinals control, but if they lose Game Five, the Giants will simply tell themselves that all they have to do is win two games at home to win the series.
Secondly, the Cardinals currently have all the momentum in the series after winning Games Three and Four. However, as the Giants proved in the NLDS against the Cincinnati Reds, momentum is a fragile thing which can change direction in one game, one inning, or even one pitch. The Reds also had all the momentum when they lead the Giants 2-0 in the NLDS. But the Giants showed a great deal of resiliency by winning the final three games of the NLDS in Cincinnati. If the Giants are able to stave off elimination, they will all the sudden go back home with the wind at their backs while the Cardinals will be forced to win one on the road.
Lastly, the Cardinals need to take advantage of Friday’s favorable pitching matchup. Lance Lynn is scheduled to take the mound. Lynn had an excellent regular season (18-7, 3.78 ERA) and tends to pitch better at home (3.28 ERA) than on the road (4.15 ERA). Barry Zito will start for the Giants. Zito did not have as good of a regular season (14-5, 4.15 ERA) as Lynn, and tends to pitch worse on the road (4.34 ERA) as compared to at home (4.00 ERA). Game Five is the one that, on paper, favors the Cardinals in nearly every category.
However, if the series goes to Games Six and Seven, the pitching matchup favors the Giants, who will start Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain in those two games against Chris Carpenter and Kyle Lohse. Vogelsong and Cain were both very effective in Games One and Two, and they both tend to pitch better at home. Carpenter struggled in Game Two, and Lohse tends to be worse on the road (3.41 ERA) than at home (2.33 ERA).
Ryan Witt is a freelance writer covering all things St. Louis Cardinals. His work can be found on Examiner.com.