- Associated Press - Thursday, October 9, 2014

A look at the best-of-seven National League Championship Series between the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals:

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Schedule: (All times EDT) Game 1, Saturday, at St. Louis (8:07 p.m.); Game 2, Sunday, Oct. 12, at St. Louis (8:07 p.m.); Game 3, Tuesday, Oct. 14, at San Francisco (4:07 p.m.); Game 4, Wednesday, Oct. 15, at San Francisco (8:07 p.m.); x-Game 5, Thursday, Oct. 16, at San Francisco (8:07 p.m.); x-Game 6, Saturday, Oct. 18, at St. Louis (4:07 p.m.); x-Game 7, Sunday, Oct. 19, at St. Louis (7:37 p.m.). (All games on Fox or FS1).

x-if necessary.

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Season Series: Giants won 4-3.

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Projected Lineup:

Giants: CF Gregor Blanco (.260, 5 HRs, 38 RBIs), 2B Joe Panik (.305, 1, 18), C Buster Posey (.311, 22, 89), 3B Pablo Sandoval (.279, 16, 73), RF Hunter Pence (.277, 20, 74), 1B Brandon Belt (.243, 12, 27), LF Travis Ishikawa (.252, 3, 18 with Pirates and Giants) or Michael Morse (.279, 16, 61), SS Brandon Crawford (.246, 10, 69).

Cardinals: 3B Matt Carpenter (.272, 8, 59), CF Jon Jay (.303, 3, 46), LF Matt Holliday (.272, 20, 90), SS Jhonny Peralta (.263, 21, 75), 1B Matt Adams (.288, 15, 68), C Yadier Molina (.282, 7, 38), 2B Kolten Wong (.249, 12, 41, 20 SBs), RF Randal Grichuk (.245, 3, 8) or Oscar Taveras (.239, 3, 22).

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Projected Rotation:

Giants: LH Madison Bumgarner (18-10, 2.98 ERA, 219 Ks, 217 1-3 IP), RH Jake Peavy (7-13, 3.73 ERA with Boston and San Francisco), RH Tim Hudson (9-13, 3.57), RH Ryan Vogelsong (8-13, 4.00).

Cardinals: RH Adam Wainwright (20-9, 2.38, 227 IP, 3 shutouts, 5 CGs), RH Lance Lynn (15-10, 2.74), RH John Lackey (14-10, 3.82 with Red Sox and Cardinals), RH Shelby Miller (10-9, 3.74).

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Relievers:

Giants: RH Santiago Casilla (3-3, 1.70, 19/23 saves), RH Sergio Romo (6-4, 3.72, 23/28 saves), LH Jeremy Affeldt (4-2, 2.28), LH Javier Lopez (1-1, 3.11), RH Jean Machi (7-1, 2.58, 2 saves), RH Hunter Strickland (1-0, 0.00 in 9 games), RH Yusmeiro Petit (5-5, 3.69 in 39 games, 12 starts), RH Tim Lincecum (12-9, 4.74, 1 save in 33 games, 26 starts).

Cardinals: RH Trevor Rosenthal (2-6, 3.20, 45/51 saves), RH Pat Neshek (7-2, 1.87, 6 saves), LH Marco Gonzales (4-2, 4.15 in 10 games, 5 starts), RH Seth Maness (6-4, 2.91, 3 saves), LH Sam Freeman (2-0, 2.61), RH Carlos Martinez (2-4, 4.03, 1 save), LH Randy Choate (2-2, 4.50), RH Michael Wacha (5-6, 3.20 in 19 starts).

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Matchups:

These teams have dominated the National League this decade, combining for the past four pennants and three World Series titles. The Giants won it all in 2010 and 2012, and the Cardinals won the World Series in 2011 before losing to Boston last season. … St. Louis leads the majors with 30 postseason wins over the past five seasons, while San Francisco is second with 26. … This is the fourth NLCS meeting between these teams, with the Cardinals winning in seven games in 1987 and the Giants taking a five-game series in 2002 and a seven-gamer in 2012. San Francisco rallied from 3-1 down two years ago, outscoring St. Louis 20-1 over the final three games to spoil the Cardinals’ bid for a repeat title under first-year manager Mike Matheny. The Giants have six regulars, two starters and five relievers still on the roster from that series. … Posey and Pence struggled in the 2012 NLCS. Posey hit .154 with no extra-base hits and Pence batted .179. Vogelsong won both his starts, allowing two runs in 14 innings. … The Giants won three of four in St. Louis this year and lost two of three at home vs. the Cardinals. … Molina is 4 for 25 in his career against Vogelsong. … Bumgarner pitched seven scoreless innings in his first game vs. the Cardinals this season and allowed five runs over five innings in the rematch. … Molina threw out nearly half the runners (21 of 44) who tried to steal against him this year. … The 39-year-old Hudson has reached an LCS for the first time in his 16 major league seasons.

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Big Picture:

Giants: After winning the World Series in 2010 and 2012, the Giants (88-74) are hoping to make every other year a pattern. San Francisco missed the playoffs following each of those championships but got back this season as the second NL wild-card team. … The Giants advanced by beating Pittsburgh 8-0 in the wild-card game behind a four-hitter from Bumgarner and a grand slam by Crawford. San Francisco then knocked off NL East champion Washington in four games in the NLDS, winning three one-run games and an 18-inning epic during a low-scoring series that featured only 18 runs. … The Giants have won 11 of their past 12 postseason games under manager Bruce Bochy, including six straight on the road. … After relying on stellar pitching during those two title runs, the Giants are more balanced this year, finishing fifth in the NL in runs and seventh in ERA. But the starting pitching has stepped up in the playoffs, with a 1.04 ERA through five games. … Workhorse RHP Matt Cain made just 15 starts because of a season-ending elbow injury, and two-time Cy Young Award winner Lincecum was removed from the rotation and has not appeared in the playoffs. … Bumgarner is a threat at the plate, batting .258 with four homers, 15 RBIs and a .470 slugging percentage this season. The last pitcher to have more RBIs in a season was Mike Hampton with 16 in 2001 for Colorado. … Panik is hitting .345 since Aug. 4 and provided a big spark with his midseason call-up. … Posey batted .393 in September but was slowed during the final week of the season with a bad back. … Hudson will pitch in his first LCS at age 39 after being on teams that lost seven times in the Division Series. … Morse has just two at-bats since Aug. 31 because of a strained oblique but could be ready for this series.

Cardinals: Steady as can be, the Cardinals have reached the postseason four years in a row for the first time in franchise history. And they don’t stop there. This is St. Louis’ fourth consecutive trip to the NLCS and ninth in 15 seasons. … The Cardinals (90-72) held off Pittsburgh by two games to repeat as NL Central champs. Then they beat Clayton Kershaw twice in a playoff series for the second straight year and eliminated the Dodgers again, this time 3-1 in the NLDS. Last season, St. Louis defeated Los Angeles in an NLCS that lasted six games. … The final two wins against the Dodgers were low-scoring games, but there was just enough timely hitting - and some long-dormant power has finally emerged. Adams batted .190 against lefties but diligent work on the curveball machine sharpened him for his homer off Kershaw in the crucial at-bat of Game 4. … Wainwright is one of baseball’s elite starters and probably was the MVP of a team that was inconsistent offensively. He was well-rested for his Game 1 matchup with Kershaw at Dodger Stadium, but both aces faltered as St. Louis won 10-9 in a surprising slugfest. … The rotation is deep and the back end of the bullpen has been solid, too. The side-arming Neshek worked a perfect eighth in the last two games, rebounding from a spate of ineffectiveness at the end of the season and early in the Dodgers series. … Wacha struggled to regain his form following a two-month stint on the DL due to a shoulder injury. After taking home NLCS MVP honors as a rookie last season, he was parked in the bullpen during this year’s NLDS and did not pitch. … Gonzales, a 22-year-old rookie drafted in the first round out of Gonzaga last year, threw three scoreless innings against the Dodgers and went 2-0 in relief. … The 35-year-old Lackey came on strong down the stretch and showed his big-game bonafides with seven stingy innings in a Game 3 win over Los Angeles. … In his first full season as a closer, Rosenthal was among the game’s best, giving hitters more to worry about than just a fastball that tickles triple digits. He saved all three playoff wins against the Dodgers. … Molina’s return for the final month of the season from a torn thumb ligament was a plus, even though he wasn’t that productive at the plate. … Peralta is one of baseball’s best-hitting shortstops and had a big second half in his first season with St. Louis. … The Cardinals were 51-30 at home and 39-42 on the road.

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Watch For:

- Time Warp. Working on 10 days’ rest, Wainwright threw up a dud in the Division Series opener when he was tagged for six runs and 11 hits in 4 1-3 innings at Dodger Stadium. There’s some concern that he didn’t have much life on his pitches in that game, perhaps a result of fatigue from being such a reliable innings-eater all year. But he was 5-0 in September with a 1.38 ERA and two complete games. He lost twice to the Giants during the season, including his shakiest outing of the year in May when he was rocked for seven runs in 4 1-3 innings. Wainwright will have seven days off before facing Bumgarner in Game 1.

- Leadoff Loss. The Giants miss Angel Pagan’s bat at the top of the lineup. He batted .304 from the leadoff spot this season, fifth-highest in the majors. Blanco has struggled in his place, going 2 for 22 in the playoffs and batting just .213 from the No. 1 spot in the regular season, the second-lowest mark in the big leagues.

- Power Surge. After totaling a paltry 105 homers this season, second-fewest in the majors ahead of only Kansas City, the Cardinals finally flexed their muscles in the Division Series. They belted seven homers in four games, including five by left-handed hitters off Dodgers lefties. Carpenter, who had eight homers in the regular season, joined Albert Pujols (2004) as the only Cardinals players to homer in three consecutive postseason games. Carpenter made the most of his six hits, totaling seven RBIs.

- Potent Panda. Sandoval has keyed San Francisco’s postseason success during the past two trips, even after having his 14-game postseason hitting streak snapped in the clincher vs. the Nationals. Kung Fu Panda is batting .368 with six homers and 14 RBIs in his last 18 postseason games. That includes his three-homer performance in the 2012 World Series opener against Detroit on the way to MVP honors.

- Late-Night Lightning. The Cardinals scored eight runs in the seventh inning to stun Kershaw in the NLDS opener and totaled one hit before their rally in the seventh during the Game 4 clincher. In the 2011 World Series, they were down to their last strike before beating Texas in Game 6, and in the 2012 playoffs they shocked Washington late before falling short against the Giants.

- Vogel-Strong. Vogelsong started the clincher in the Division Series, allowing one run in 5 2-3 innings. That made him the only pitcher in MLB history to yield no more than one run in his first five postseason starts. Curt Schilling is the only pitcher to have a longer streak at any point in his career, going six straight postseason starts allowing one run or less from 1993-2001. The 37-year-old Vogelsong, a journeyman who was out of the majors from 2007-10, finally found his niche in 2011 with San Francisco, the team that originally drafted him. He has a 1.19 postseason ERA, and the Giants have won all five of his starts.

- Postseason Pedigree. Last fall, Lackey became the first pitcher to start and win a World Series clincher for two different teams when he pitched Boston past St. Louis. The other came as an Angels rookie in 2002. He has a 2.92 ERA in 20 postseason games and seven wins, one in each of his last four series.

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