The Cove
Deep coverage of the Giants

Better NLCS Opponent: Cardinals or Nationals?

The Giants are currently stuck in Cincinnati, waiting on the Cardinals and Nationals to finish up their divisional series. Who's the better opponent for San Francisco?

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Matt Cain, Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval celebrate the NLDS victory. (Published Thursday, Oct 11, 2012)

    The Giants are stuck in Cincinnati. Things could be worse, of course. They're there because the Giants stunned the world and upended the Reds in three-straight games at Great American Ballpark and they don't know whether the National League Championship Series will begin in San Francisco or Washington, D.C.

    Which is why, per Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com, the Giants parked their charter and are waiting word on where the team will play next. Regardless of who they play, the next game will be on Sunday. But there's no reason to fly back to San Francisco, board back up on a plane and head to D.C. over the span of 48 hours.

    Perhaps the Giants could book a room in Youngstown, Ohio -- where the 49ers stayed after beating the Bengals in 2011 before heading east on a road trip -- instead?

    More importantly, who should the Giants be rooting for on Friday night? Both the Nationals and Cardinals present challenges and offer advantages.

    Homefield
    This one's easy. The Cards are a wild-card team. The Nats had the best record in baseball. One of those things gets you the top seed in the playoffs, and the other does not. If the Nats win, the Giants will start off the series Sunday, play in Washington again on Monday, get a day off to fly back to San Francisco for three games (Wednesday through Friday) and return to D.C. to play the series on Sunday and Monday. Clearly MLB didn't think this one through. On the other hand, if the Giants win, they get two games in San Francisco on Sunday and Monday and then head to St. Louis for a three-game series. Travel's easier for the Giants if the Cardinals win, but it's also harder on the Nats if they head to the NLCS.

    Experience
    This one's easy too, but in the other direction. The Nationals have very little postseason experience, with all of it coming this year. The Cardinals won't stop overcoming their issues and winning -- they won the World Series last year in quite improbable fashion, lost Albert Pujols and made the new wild-card this year, where they were gifted an infield fly from the umps to beat the Braves.

    Hitting
    The Cardinals, with their experience, are mashing the ball this offseason. Allen Craig's hitting .421 a homer and three doubles. David Freese is hitting .353 with three doubles. Carlos Beltran is hitting .316 with two home runs, four RBI and a double. Matt Holliday is hitting .263 with a homer. The list goes on. They're mashing. The Giants have good pitching but the Cardinals getting hot at the right time should be a major concern. Meanwhile, the Nats have Adam LaRoche with two homers, but he's batting .154. Jayson Werth is hitting .250 with one really, really, REALLY big homer on Thursday night. Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond are hitting .375 and .467, respectively. The Cards could blow someone out, but the Nats play the same style as the Giants.

    Pitching
    The Nationals shut down their best pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, early. That's huge news for anyone that plays them. It means they're trotting out Gio Gonzalez (who's pitching Game 5 of the NLDS, so he won't be available in Game 1 of the NLCS), Jordan Zimmerman (likely Game 1 NCLS starter), Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler. That's a nice rotation and it matches up well with the Giants. The Cardinals are starting ace Adam Wainwright on Friday so he's in the same boat as Gio. Kyle Lohse, Chris Carpenter and Jamie Garcia round out the rotation for St. Louis. It's probably a push on these groups.

    So, who should you root for?
    After close examination of all these factors and other intangibles ... I have no idea, honestly. Just kidding: I think the Nationals are the pick. The downside of the Nats is that everyone will be rooting for them. But the upside is their hitters aren't as dangerous and they like to play close, low-scoring games. They don't blow people out and that plays right into the Giants style. Their pitching staff is dangerous, but can be hit. And forcing them to criss-cross the country a few times probably won't do much to help either. So go Nationals.