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The 2014 American League Championship Series features two franchises -- the Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles — that haven't reached the World Series since the '80s. Over in the National League it's a different story. The St. Louis Cardinals — winners of the 2006 and 2011 World Series — meet the 2010 and 2012 champs, the San Francisco Giants.
ESPN's Tim Kurkjian joined Bill Littlefield to preview the matchup.
BL: The St. Louis Cardinals are appearing in their fourth straight NLCS. I know pitching and defense — yada, yada, yada — but what else accounts for their perennial postseason appearances?
[sidebar title="Kansas City Reaches ALCS" width="630" align="right"]With the Royals in the ALCS for the first time since 1985, we assess the scene in Kansas City.[/sidebar]
TK: First off, Bill, I'm 0-4 in the NLDS. I got 'em all wrong — 0-4. Not sure why you have me on to talk about baseball when I can't get one of them right. But having said that, there's something different about the Cardinals, Bill. I'm telling you, it's an organizational thing. It's a history thing. You play for the Cardinals, you learn how to play the game in the right way.
And the approach that the Cardinal hitters took against Clayton Kershaw — the best pitcher in baseball — and beat him not once but twice, tells you all you need to know about the Cardinals. They just kind of slug their way through certain parts of the season, and you wonder, "Are they any good?" And October shows up and they play their very best, and that's a really good thing to have on your side.
BL: One of St. Louis' heroes is first baseman Matt Adams, who's three-run homer against the Dodgers' ace Clayton Kershaw in Game 4 of the previous round sunk LA. Where did this guy come from?
TK: Well he came from a big family. He is huge. He weighs about 260 pounds and he's one of their better young players and he's moved himself into the everyday first base job. He basically took it away from Allen Craig and others and said, "I'm the guy." And he's the first guy to hit a home run with more than one runner on base against Kershaw since 2012, which shows how long it has been. He just doesn't look like a typical Cardinal because he is so big. He's Matt Adams. He's Grizzly Adams. He's that big.
BL: The Cardinals' NLCS opponents are the San Francisco Giants who handily dispatched the favored Washington Nationals to advance. Given your record I hesitate to ask you for a prediction, but will the Giants continue to be Giant-killers?
[sidebar title="MLB Playoff Myths" width="630" align="right"] Does pitching really win championships? Ben Lindbergh crunched the numbers on some popular playoff myths. [/sidebar]
TK: I'm going to say the Cardinals beat them in seven games. But I've learned again, Bill, we never, ever, ever discount the San Francisco Giants. There is no way that the talent on their team could match the talent on the Nationals. No way. And yet they beat 'em three games out of four, and they deserve to advance because they're tougher minded than the Nationals. They know how to play in October as well as any team, including the Cardinals.
And they were — they were so fun to watch cause you kept wondering, "How are they going to win this game?" Well they won Game 4, the deciding Game 4, by scoring three runs on a bases-loaded walk, a weak ground ball to the first baseman and a wild pitch. But, as always, it was just enough to win, which is how the Giants have won all year, and it's basically how they've won two World Championships in the last fours year — by doing just enough to win.
BL: Tim, I'm looking at the LCS schedule and I notice that the late games are starting 30 minutes earlier than the late games last year. Is the league no longer pandering solely to insomniacs?
TK: Well I'm happy that we're starting at 8:07 instead of 8:37 because it's never good to be in the bottom of the 1st at 9:30 at night, but I've seen it before. But yes, it is baseball saying, as we lose fans here and there, maybe we should start the games a little earlier. Because I told you, Bill, my kids who are now 23 and 21, they never saw a full World Series game until they went to college when they stayed up all night. Otherwise they were always asleep, so I would have to wake them up in the morning and say, "Yeah, the Giants won last night or the Tigers won last night" because it was too late for them to stay up.
Earlier MLB Postseason Coverage:
This segment aired on October 11, 2014.
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