Programming note: For comprehensive Giants-Cardinals NLCS coverage, watch “October Quest” tonight at 6:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area
Historically, the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals have shared a lot of the same spaces and a lot of the same experiences, which is why history is a filthy lie.
History is what we fall back on when we cannot make hide nor hair of what is about to occur. These are two teams that arrived at the same place more by accident than anything else, and even though their paths cross an unusually high number of times at this time of year, you’d have had more success guessing the Cardinals would be here than the Giants, and in doing so would have felt like more of a fool for a greater part of the season.
The regular season numbers are of some help, but not a lot, and the individual matchups are a cavalcade of small sample sizes trumped up to look like something valuable. Hang a slider one time, and your numbers are blown to smitheroons.
That’s like smithereens, only with smaller shrapnel, the kind that doesn’t make big wounds but goes deeper. Trust me on this. I made up the word, so I should know.
Anyway, here’s what we’ve got:
The Giants score more than the Cardinals, mostly because the Cardinals injuries and a number of their best players have significantly worse power years. How else do you give up the same number of runs -- more or less -- but lose 164 one season to the next?
The Cardinals have better starting pitching statistically, but the Giants have a significant edge in the bullpen. That, though, is for the entire year, and teams ebb and flow, sometimes violently, as both teams showed.
The Cardinals have a serious offensive edge at two positions -- shortstop (Jhonny Peralta over Brandon Crawford) and left field (Matt Holliday over the Giants’ amalgam), serious disadvantages at catcher (Yadier Molina missed 52 games, while Buster Posey is Buster Posey) and in right field (Hunter Pence beats the hell out of Jon Jay).
Neither team runs worth a damn, which is unusual for the Cardinals but very much in keeping with the post-Mays-era Giants. Indeed, they were 29th and 30th in steals, and only Baltimore, Boston and Miami tried fewer times. And defensively, they had poor fielding percentages but relatively high in total zone runs allowed, so they got to more balls and kicked more as well.
If you’re more into individual matchups, you can say that a healthy Adam Wainwright has a slightly better C.V. than Madison Bumgarner, but they are essentially a wash. But weirdly, if the season was only a month long and that moth was September, the Cardinals would have it all over the Giants. Jake Peavy and Shelby Miller would be a wash, but Lance Lynn and John Lackey had better Septembers than Tim Hudson or Ryan Vogelsong. Michael Wacha is now the Cardinals’ version of Yusmeiro Petit, so we’ll call that a wash as well.
Indeed, the Cardinals had to pitch better just to get into the postseason, even though Milwaukee gifted the Central to them by refusing to play after Labor Day. The Pirates never went away, though, so there was that.
Managerially, Bruce Bochy has it all over Mike Matheny, though that isn’t to say Matheny isn’t good. Bochy, though, reached Hall of Fame standard two years ago, and is now just managing to see how easy his induction will be. Every manager is an idiot in the postseason, but Bochy has been too good too many times to be subject to the same pressures. It is now taken as a given that he knows what he’s doing in all situations, and when things he does go bad, it is because he has failed to figure out how to foretell the future so he can make humans behave as he thinks they should in all situations.
But there is one thing that the Giants have mastered that the Cardinals do not, and cannot. They have embraced and weaponized their crazy.
The Cardinals are a grand old St. Louis institution, a monument to Midwestern group-think, a reflection of the state and region they represent. They are Catholics in the Vatican, Oscar nominees at the Oscars, team bloggers who do it only to proselytize for their beloveds (as opposed to those who see baseball better and more clearly in part because they blog, and they know who they are).
The Giants are Hunter-F’ing-Pence, in thought, word and deed.
Even those players who prefer the quieter profile, most notably Posey, understand that a Pence has gotta Pence, and a Bumgarner has to drink the beer aisle when celebrating. And Bochy lets it happen because he knows he has their eyes, ears, noses, throats and brains when the game is prepped for and played.
So there you have it. Two teams that are different except where they’re the same, hot except in the areas in which they are cold, pitching well except when they don’t, hitting like Ruth except when they’re doing it like Mendoza. And all the numbers you can assemble, even the ones here, don’t change the simple fact that these are all isolated events we try against the laws of science to congeal into a coherent whole. We fool ourselves when we do it, and yet we are compelled to do so anyway.
But I will say this in closing. Until you can provide evidence that you saw the three Giants runs in Game 4 unfold as they did before they did, you’re just as deluded as all the rest of us. Stuff happens because it happens, and that’s the best reason for this series to exist -- for the great probability that it won’t unfold as you think it might.