Starting pitching, beating Wainwright keys vs. Cards

Starting pitching, beating Wainwright keys vs. Cards

SAN FRANCISCO -- Another October, another looming World Series berth awaits either the Cardinals or Giants.

Thanks to National League Division Series Game 4 victories for each team on Tuesday, either St. Louis or San Francisco will represent the NL in the Fall Classic for a fifth consecutive season. The more things change …

  Date Time Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3   SF 3, WAS 2 video
Gm 2 Oct. 4   SF 2, WAS 1 (18 inn.) video
Gm 3 Oct. 6   WAS 4, SF 1 video
Gm 4 Oct. 7   SF 3, WAS 2 video

"Both teams know how to win," ace Madison Bumgarner said. "The Cardinals have a really good reputation of winning in the postseason, but so do we."

They'll be battling in the NLCS for the fourth time: the Giants lost the best-of-seven series in 1987, but won in 2002 and '12.

Here are three keys for the Giants if they are to eliminate the Cards and claim a third NL pennant in five seasons.

1. Strong starting pitching
Pitching is important, but even more so when a team's offense scores just nine runs in four games against the Nationals.

Giant starters compensated for the lack of offensive firepower, as they combined for a 2-1 record and 1.04 ERA to go along with 31 strikeouts in the team's NLDS conquering of the Nats.

"This pitching staff has been amazing. I can't say enough about them," first baseman Brandon Belt said. "The hitters, we did our jobs and got it done, but the pitching staff … just unbelievable. Kept the other team at bay the whole time."

Strong starting pitching has long been San Francisco's calling card, and the staff will again need to carry the team.

2. Keep the ball in the park
Last postseason, the Cardinals' ridiculously high, seemingly too-good-to-be-true average with runners in scoring position they had maintained throughout the season came crumbling down during their World Series loss to the Red Sox.

So far this October, the Cards are on the opposite end of a seemingly inevitable offensive change: after hitting an NL-low 105 home runs in the regular season, St. Louis hit seven long balls in its NLDS dispatching of the Dodgers.

Thirteen of the Cardinals' 18 NLDS runs came via the long ball, including all eight that they scored in Games 2-4.

3. Rough up Wainwright
Manager Mike Matheny's plan is for Adam Wainwright to start Game 1 on Saturday night inside Busch Stadium for the Cards, so if Wainwright is healthy, the Giants will likely face him multiple times in the series.

Concerns about Wainwright's health -- he has been dealing with arm issues on and off this season -- led Matheny to acknowledge that the team was getting Lance Lynn ready in case he needed to go in an NLDS Game 5.

"There's no question Waino has been fighting it," Matheny said. "I've not made that a secret, and neither has he. It's all going to come down to how he feels. The likelihood of him saying he can't go is very slim, but it is a possibility that something might not feel right."

Not much went right for Wainwright against the Giants this season. He was roughed up to the tune of a 5.25 ERA in two starts against San Francisco. Wainwright's worst outing of 2014 came May 30 at home, when the Giants tagged him for seven earned runs on eight hits in 4 1/3 innings.

Beat Wainwright in Game 1, and the Giants steal home-field advantage. Beat Wainwright a second time later in the series, and San Francisco will likely get another champagne celebration.

Ryan Hood is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryanhood19. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.