Both division series in the NL ended with the team lacking the home-field advantage for the series winning the series in four games. But I wouldn’t call either the Cardinals or the Giants underdogs, considering the two franchises represent the last four NL pennants, and one of them will win it again this year when they meet in the NLCS.
San Francisco Giants def. Washington Nationals, 3 games to 1
Game 1 in Washington: Giants 3, Nationals 2.
Game 2 in Washington: Giants 2, Nationals 1, 18 innings.Game 3 in San Francisco: Nationals 4, Giants 1.
Game 4 in San Francisco: Giants 3, Nationals 2.
The Giants simply find a way to win in October, and this season is no different. After beating Pittsburgh in the NL Wild Card Game, they defeated Washington in four games to advance, winning their eighth straight postseason round under Bruce Bochy. The Nationals, meanwhile, still have not won a postseason series since 1981.
Starting Point: Sergio Romo escaping 8th inning jam in Game 1.
After the Giants had taken a 3-0 lead into the seventh inning stretch on RBI singles by Joe Panik in the 3rd, Brandon Belt in the 4th, and Buster Posey in the 7th, Washington cut into the lead with a pair of solo homers off of Hunter Strickland by Bryce Harper and Asdrubal Cabrera, making the score 3-2. Normal 8th inning pitcher Sergio Romo came in for the Giants, and singles by Anthony Rendon and Adam LaRoche got the tying and go-ahead runs on with one out. But Romo was able to strike out Ian Desmond, and got Harper to ground into a fielder’s choice (really an accomplishment in this series), escaping the jam, and setting the stage for Santiago Casilla’s perfect 9th, giving the Giants a 1-0 series lead.
Turning Point: The Nationals pulling Jordan Zimmerman in the 9th of Game 2.
Jordan Zimmerman was cruising through the first eight innings of Game 2, allowing just three hits, one start after no-hitting the Marlins on the final day of the regular season. A 3rd inning RBI single by Anthony Rendon had given the Nationals a 1-0 lead, and Zimmerman retired the first two hitters in the 9th, before walking Joe Panik. Instead of letting his hottest pitcher finish out the game, Nationals manager Matt Williams brought in closer Drew Storen to face Buster Posey, who singled. Pablo Sandoval then doubled, allowing Panik to score, with Posey being thrown out at the plate. Three extra hours of baseball, leading to a Brandon Belt game-winning homer in the top of the 18th, was the result, and instead of the series heading west tied 1-1, the Giants were going home with a 2-0 lead.
Ending Point: Aaron Barrett’s Wild Pitch(es).
After a mistake by a pitcher allowed the Nationals to go ahead and eventually win Game 3, when Madison Bumgarner threw the ball away on a Wilson Ramos bunt and allowed two runs to score, and after a clutch Bryce Harper homer had tied Game 4 at 2-2, it was another pitcher’s mistake that was the difference in the deciding game. Aaron Barrett came in for Washington with two on and one out in the bottom of the 7th, and walked Hunter Pence to load the bases. In the ensuing at bat of Pablo Sandoval, Barrett threw a wild pitch, allowing Joe Panik to score and give the Giants a 3-2 lead. On the next pitch, trying to intentionally walk Sandoval, Barrett threw the ball over catcher Wilson Ramos’ head, and although Ramos was able to throw out Buster Posey as he tried to score, the Nationals had seemingly lost all control, literally. The Giants got six outs, and took Game 4 and the series to advance.
St. Louis Cardinals def. Los Angeles Dodgers, 3 games to 1
Game 1 in Los Angeles: Cardinals 10, Dodgers 9.
Game 2 in Los Angeles: Dodgers 3, Cardinals 2.
Game 3 in St. Louis: Cardinals 3, Dodgers 1.
Game 4 in St. Louis: Cardinals 3, Dodgers 2.
In a rematch of last year’s NLCS, the Cardinals did what they do best, winning in the postseason. The Dodgers had baseball’s largest payroll this year, but it was only enough to get them to the first round of the playoffs. The Cardinals advance to the NLCS for the fourth straight year, looking for their third World Series appearance in that span.
Starting Point: The Cardinals 8-run 7th in Game 1.
In Game 1, in a matchup of pitching titans, Clayton Kershaw led Adam Wainwright, 6-2, after six innings. What happened next shocked everyone in Dodger Stadium. The Cardinals scored eight runs in the 7th inning, with the big blows coming in the form of a 3-RBI double by Matt Carpenter, who had homered off of Kershaw in the previous inning, and a three-run homer by Matt Holliday. Suddenly, it was the Cardinals with a four run lead, 10-6, with eight of the runs charged to Kershaw, the probable NL Cy Young winner. The Dodgers would close the gap to 10-9, in part due to a two-run homer by Adrian Gonzalez, and got the tying run to third with Yasiel Puig at the plate, but Puig struck out (which would become a theme for the series), and the Cardinals had a 1-0 series lead. After Matt Kemp’s go-ahead homer in the 8th inning of Game 2, the series was tied as it traveled to St. Louis.
Turning Point: Kolten Wong’s go-ahead homer in Game 3.
At the 7th inning stretch of Game 3, the game was tied at 1-1 after a solo homer by Matt Carpenter for the Cardinals and an RBI double by Hanley Ramirez for the Dodgers. Many casual fans know Kolten Wong as the player who was picked off of first base for the final out of Game 4 of the 2013 World Series, a play that was one of the turning points for the Red Sox on their way to the title. But this year, in his first full major league season, Wong hit .249 with 12 HR and 42 RBI, and he came through in Game 3, hitting a two-run homer in the 7th to give the Cardinals a 3-1 lead. The Cardinals bullpen only allowed one baserunner the rest of the way, getting six outs to take a 2-1 series lead.
Ending Point: Matt Adams homer off Clayton Kershaw in Game 4.
Despite the rough 7th inning in Game 1, the Dodgers opted to pitch Kershaw on short rest for Game 4, a strategy that worked a year ago against the Braves. It was going very well for the Dodgers through five, although Cardinals pitcher Shelby Miller was matching Kershaw pitch for pitch, and the game was scoreless. In the 6th, the Dodgers took a 2-0 lead when a run scored on a Matt Kemp double play and a Juan Uribe bloop single. They took that lead into the bottom of the 7th, when Matt Holliday reached on an infield hit and Jhonny Peralta added a single, bringing up Matt Adams with nobody out. On an 0-1 pitch, Adams hit a high drive to right field, and instantly knew he had given St. Louis a 3-2 lead, raising his hands in the air. The celebration was almost too early, as the ball just barely cleared the wall, but Adams was able to round the bases, and the Dodgers pulled Kershaw for the final time this season. The Dodgers got two on in the 9th, but Trevor Rosenthal escaped the jam to clinch a 3-1 series win. In each Cardinal win in the series, the winning run scored in the 7th inning.