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Cardinals and Giants will meet in the NLCS starting Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on FOX. Here's a look at the position-by-position breakdown.
This matchup features two of the best backstops in the National League -- and possibly all of baseball. St. Louis' Yadier Molina hit .315 with 22 homers this season, and he will likely notch his fifth straight Gold Glove Award when this year's awards are announced. At the same time, those award announcements might also feature Giants catcher Buster Posey being named the National League MVP Award winner. Posey returned from his season-ending leg injury in 2011 to hit .336 with 24 homers and 103 RBIs and delivered what turned out to be the game-winning grand slam in Game 5 of the NL Division Series.
After a disappointing start to his sophomore season, Brandon Belt turned in a strong second-half performance to finish the season with a respectable .275 average. His struggles returned in the NLDS however, as he went just 1-for-13 with seven strikeouts in the series victory over the Reds. As for the Cardinals, they received plenty of offense out of their first baseman despite losing Albert Pujols to free agency and Lance Berkman to injury for most of the season. Allen Craig hit .307 with 22 homers and 92 RBIs, which is all the more impressive considering he missed the season's first month.
Marco Scutaro, albeit under the radar, helped the Giants fill some of the offensive void left by Melky Cabrera's suspension. Scutaro hit an eye-popping .362 after being acquired from the Rockies at the Trade Deadline. Overall, the 36-year-old recorded career highs in average (.306) and RBIs (74) in 2012. Meanwhile, utility man Daniel Descalso settled into the second-base role with the Cardinals this season. Though not known for his offensive prowess, Descalso hit a solo homer in the eighth inning, then delivered the game-tying two-run single in the Cards' frantic ninth-inning comeback in Game 5 of the NLDS.
Pete Kozma has helped ease the blow of losing Rafael Furcal to a season-ending elbow injury at the end of August. The 24-year-old Kozma hit .333 in 26 games down the stretch and capped off St. Louis' historic comeback in Game 5 of the NLDS with a go-ahead two-run single in the ninth inning. Brandon Crawford's offensive numbers are underwhelming, but he gets the slight edge due to his defensive abilities and partially because of Kozma's small sample size.
David Freese made a name for himself last October, taking home the World Series MVP Award. This season, he proved it was no fluke, hitting .293 with 20 home runs, and he's already started building on his postseason success, going 8-for-19 (.421) in the NLDS. The Giants will benefit from having a healthy Pablo Sandoval, especially considering his numbers over the past month and a half. Sandoval hit .298 with four homers, 17 RBIs and 13 walks in September and carried that into the NLDS where he went 7-for-21 [.333] with a homer and three RBIs.
Just two months ago, Cabrera was torturing NL pitching to the tune of a .346 average and appeared well on his way to a batting title. Due to his 50-game suspension in mid-August, it has instead been Xavier Nady and Gregor Blanco patrolling left field for the Giants down the stretch. Both have done well given the circumstances, but the Cards have the consistent Matt Holliday in left field. Holliday turned in his usual productive season, hitting .295 with 27 homers and 102 RBIs.
Angel Pagan turned out to be a key offseason acquisition for the Giants. In a career-high 154 games, Pagan hit .288 with 38 doubles, 15 triples and eight homers, hitting primarily atop the Giants' lineup. Jon Jay, though, has blossomed into a legitimate starting center fielder. Along with playing superb defense, Jay has consistently helped set the table offensively. He hit .305 this season and posted an even more impressive .374 on-base percentage.
Carlos Beltran had an impressive season (32 homers, 97 RBIs), but it's his postseason numbers that are truly staggering. He enters the series with an all-time best .817 career postseason slugging percentage. Beltran also joined Babe Ruth as the only players to reach base in each of their five plate appearances in an elimination playoff game when he went 3-for-3 with two doubles, a single and two walks in Game 5 of the NLDS. Hunter Pence hasn't enjoyed much success at all with the Giants, hitting just .219 in 59 regular-season games and going 4-for-20 in the NLDS.
Tim Lincecum's dominant relief appearance in Game 4 of the NLDS makes this an intriguing category. After struggling all season and not making the NLDS rotation, he looked like vintage Lincecum against the Reds, albeit out of the bullpen. The Cardinals have a rotation led by veterans Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse and Adam Wainwright. Lance Lynn will replace Jaime Garcia for the Game 1 start after Garcia was sidelined with a shoulder injury suffered in the NLDS. The Giants counter with ace Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong and either Barry Zito or Lincecum.
The addition of Edward Mujica at the Trade Deadline helped shore up the Cardinals' bullpen. Mujica, pitching primarily in the club's seventh-inning role, posted a 1.03 ERA in 29 regular season appearances after being acquired from the Marlins. St. Louis also has lefties Sam Freeman and Marc Rzepczynski in the bullpen to complement their solid setup man in Mitchell Boggs. The Giants have a similar bullpen setup, with Bruce Bochy having options for any situation with guys like Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt.
Jason Motte is largely to thank for the Cardinals' current positioning. Motte tied for the NL lead with 42 saves and earned a clutch four-out save in St. Louis' victory in the Wild Card game. He also pitched the final two innings of the Cardinals' comeback victory to close out the NLDS. The Giants reached the NLCS despite losing Brian Wilson -- who had 163 saves over the past four years -- just two games into the season. San Francisco relied on a closer-by-committee approach with Romo and Santiago Casilla, who combined to save 39 out of 46 chances.