video thumbnail

Matheny talks about Lohse's strong year

ST. LOUIS -- From "The City By the Bay" to "The Gateway to the West," from a best-of-seven to, essentially, a best-of-five, the National League Championship Series is shifting.

It shifted in a big way Monday night, when the Giants convincingly avoided an 0-2 hole out of which very few clubs have climbed over the years. San Francisco's 7-1 victory over the Cardinals in Game 2 evened things up and ensured Game 3 -- which begins at 4 p.m. ET on Thursday at Busch Stadium, with Kyle Lohse opposing Matt Cain -- is but the beginning.

"I think it's huge that they won the second game," Cards third baseman David Freese said. "Statistically, if you go up 2-0, you've got a pretty good shot of winning the series. That's not the case [now]. Both teams are still confident. I know the Giants are going to turn the page and be ready for Game 3, just like us."

Will the Giants turn the page on the hard hit Marco Scutaro took from Matt Holliday on a controversial slide into second base in Game 2? Or is retaliation on the horizon?

"The more it's kept alive and talked about like this, the more it just seems to linger," Cards manager Mike Matheny said. "Right now, we just understand that they need to rally around each other, and we hope that the rest of the results turn out good. Once again, we're not looking for anybody to be hurt here."

Whether or not hard feelings lead to hard fastballs, we've seen that both of these clubs are a bit on the unpredictable side on this stage.

After all, the Cardinals were averaging more than six runs per game this postseason entering Game 2. They looked unstoppable offensively. And then they proceeded to have a night Monday in which the only run driven in came off the bat of starter Chris Carpenter.

Go figure.

And the Giants scored seven runs Monday night -- or one more than they had scored in their previous three home postseason games combined. And contrary to any rational expectation, none of those seven runs was driven in by their middle-of-the-order bats.

Again, go figure.

The most important trend this time of year rests in the performance of your starting staff, and that is an area where the Giants are now trending positively while the Cards are stuck in neutral.

San Francisco got a huge monkey off its back in Game 2, with Ryan Vogelsong giving the club its first quality start in seven games this postseason. In contrast, the 2010 outfit had 11 quality starts in 15 tries.

For the Cardinals, though, 2012 is looking a lot like 2011, and not in a good way. In the NLCS against the Brewers last year, the Cards got more innings out of their relievers (28 2/3) than their starters (24 1/3). They somehow made that formula work, but it's certainly not one they were seeking to repeat this time around.

Thus far, though, the Cards have seen Lance Lynn, pitching on short rest, last just 3 2/3 innings in Game 1. Then, Carpenter had his shakiest start since returning from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, lasting just four innings in Game 2. And the trend extends throughout this postseason, really, as the Cards have had only one starter make it through six innings.

Obviously, the Cards would like to ease the burden on the bullpen, and in Game 3 it will be up to Lohse to do the trick. Though Carpenter and Adam Wainwright are the club's co-aces, Lohse has been its most consistent starter this season. The right-hander is coming off a no-decision against the Nationals in Game 4 of the NL Division Series, in which he allowed just a run on two hits over seven innings.

"You can't put more pressure on yourself," said Lohse, "to go out there and do more just because you need to. I'm just going to go out there and approach it the same way I have all season, and that game against Atlanta and Washington, where I just go out there and do my thing. I can only control one pitch at a time."

When it comes to that kind of focus, few can compare to Cain, and the Giants feel comfortable with their ace on the hill for Game 3. His stat lines from Games 1 and 5 of the NLDS were very similar, though he had much better command of the ballgame in the winner-take-all contest in Cincinnati.

"An unbelievable competitor," reliever Jeremy Affeldt said of Cain. "He knows what we need from him."

What the Giants need is to carry the momentum to Missouri. All along, though, the expectation is that momentum will be short-lived in this series. These clubs appear evenly matched, and they both scratched and clawed in impressive fashion -- overcoming in-season injuries and postseason setbacks -- to get to this point. When the Giants took Game 2, the point was made: No one's going to win this series by running away and hiding.

"It's 0-0 now," Affeldt said. "Basically we started over. Now it's whoever is the first to win three games, not four. They're going to pitch accordingly. You're running out of games here, and I think we're about to go into an environment over there that's very competitive."

MLB.com Comments