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Cardinals take Game 1 from Giants, 6-4

Madison Bumgarner was knocked out of the game early, and after the Giants pulled within two runs, the Cardinals' bullpen shut the door.

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Cardinals ride big 4th inning to beat Giants 6-4

In the NLCS opener, both starting pitchers failed to survive the fourth inning, but the Cardinals did more damage before both teams' bullpens completely took over the game.

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Get used to the bullpens

The Cardinals went down quietly in the top of the eighth, with a pair of strikeouts sandwiched around a Pablo Sandoval. Santiago Casilla was the reliever on the mound, making his sixth appearance of the postseason (of a possible six games). He relieved Jeremy Affeldt who relieved Tim Lincecum, who relieved George Kontos.

On the other side, Joe Kelly relieved Lance Lynn, and Rzepczynski relieved Kelly before being relieved by Edward Mujica. Now Mitchell Boggs is in the game for the Cardinals.

This is probably the paradigm you'll see throughout the NLCS for both teams. The Giants haven't been getting innings from their starting pitchers for the last month, and the Cardinals won their last NLCS without having a starting pitcher get through the sixth inning. Both teams will use their bullpens early and often.

So far it's been as expected, and through eight innings, the bullpens have been flawless. Jason Motte will come into the ninth for the save.

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Bullpens rule, so it's still 6-4 in the 7th

Wow, we're in the seventh-inning stretch already?

Sure, this game's going to go long past three hours. But we're used to that by now. With the arguments and the pitching changes and the longer commercial breaks, postseason baseball games give regular-season football games a run for their money, time-wise. And that's not even counting extra innings.

This game has picked up quite a bit since the fourth inning, though, when the Cardinals scored four in their half to take a 6-0 lead, only to see the Giants score four in their half to make it 6-4.

But now we're in their bottom of the seventh, and since that explosive fourth inning the Cardinals and Giants have combined for exactly one hit, thanks to sterling relief pitching (most notably, by likely Game 4 starter Tim Lincecum).

You have to figure somebody's going to break through -- either the Cardinals will add to their lead, or the Giants will catch up -- but then, if we've learned anything this month already it's that your figuring won't be good for much.

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Giants rally cut short, Cards still up 6-4

The Giants surprised the world with a furious two-out rally to turn a 6-0 laugher into a 6-4 game, so when they started the bottom of the fifth with a single, it felt like something that could turn into something more substantial. Joe Kelly walked Buster Posey shortly after, putting two on with one out.

But right fielder/motivational speaker/onbaseophobe Hunter Pence popped out to shallow center. After Mike Matheny brought in Marc Rzepczynski to relieve Kelly, Brandon Belt flew out to end the inning.

One interesting note: Rzepczynski is the only left-handed reliever in the Cardinals bullpen, so there isn't going to be a lot of match-up playing in the late innings. The Giants have Belt, Gregor Blanco, and Brandon Crawford at the bottom of the order, and they've been fond of bringing in Xavier Nady and Joaquin Arias for the latter two against lefties. Which really isn't that scary when you see it typed out like that.

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Giants battle back with 4 in 4th, now trail 6-4

Full disclosure: When I started writing this update, it was all about how Lance Lynn is really good and he probably should have been given a start in the Division Series and he's pitching really well and he's going to beat the Giants in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.

That was about five minutes ago, when the Cardinals were still beating the Giants 6-0 in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Since then, the Giants have gotten right back into the game with a two-out rally, highlighted by four hits in a row, that narrowed the Cardinals' comfortable 6-0 lead to a distinctly uncomfortable 6-4.

Marco Scutaro opened the inning with a single, but Lynn looked in control as he struck out Pablo Sandoval and retired Buster Posey on a fly-out. But then came the line drives. Hunter Pence (single). Brandon Belt (single). Gregor Blanco (triple). Brandon Crawford (double).

Aubrey Huff pinch hit for the Giants' pitcher. Lynn walked him on five pitches. And with that, Lance Lynn was finished. He hasn't lost a game since the 7th of September. He won't lose this one. But with a fourth-inning exit, he can't win it, either.

Joe Kelly came in to pitch, and Angel Pagan sent his first pitch up the middle on the ground. Second baseman Daniel Descalso saved at least one run by making a diving stop, then flipping to Pete Kozma for the fielder's choice.

Still, what looked like a laugher is now a nail-biter. We've got five innings left, a two-run difference on the scoreboard, and both teams' bullpens in play. Speaking of which, Tim Lincecum's in to pitch the top of the fifth...

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Cardinals, Beltran storm to 6-0 lead

Daniel Descalso hit .227/.303/.324 in the regular season -- just 18 players with more than 300 at-bats had a worse OPS+.

Pete Kozma had over 2,700 plate appearances in the minor leagues. He's a career .236/.308/.344 hitter in the minors, including a .223/.286/.324 line in Triple-A.

But it's the postseason! Any ol' thing can happen in the postseason. And it looks like Descalso and Kozma are going to help the long-suffering Cardinals through the rough times. Descalso hit a one-out double down the right-field line off Madison Bumgarner, and that was followed with a ground-ball double down the left-field line from Kozma to score the third run.

On an 0-2 count, Jon Jay ripped an inside fastball to center for an RBI single. Which brought up Carlos Beltran, who is the greatest postseason hitter since David Freese, who is the greatest postseason hitter since Carlos Beltran. And Beltran drilled Madison Bumgarner's first pitch deep into the left-field seats for a two-run homer.

Bumgarner left down 6-0, and we're now a month removed from his last good start, and two months away from his last two good consecutive starts.

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Giants hit ball several feet, fail to score

The Giants were better at home during the 2012 season, winning 59 percent of their games at AT&T Park, compared to 57 percent on the road. But you'd never know it with their performance in the first two-plus games in San Francisco this postseason. They scored two runs in their two games against the Reds in the NLDS, including a two-hit shutout in Game 2.

And so far in Game 2, the Giants are hitless again, with Pablo Sandoval's walk the only runner for the Giants through two innings. And as Yogi Berra used to say, "If your only base runner in a game is a walk from Pablo Sandoval ... good god."

Hunter Pence started the inning off with a grounder to short, and Brandon Belt hit an even weaker grounder to first in the next at-bat. Gregor Blanco had the best at-bat of the inning, but he grounded out on the eighth pitch.

The Cardinals have a 2-0 lead, and they're making Madison Bumgarner work much harder than the Giants are making Lance Lynn work.

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Cards up 2-0 in 2nd inning on David Freese's homer

As you might recall, one year ago "David Freese" became a household name -- to the degree that a baseball player can become a household name if he's not called to testify before Congress -- when he came up with big hit after big hit as the Cardinals unlikelinessed their way to a World's Championship.

Well, he's at it again.

Against the Nationals in their Division Series, Freese batted .421 in the five games. He didn't homer, though.

In his very first NLCS at-bat, in the second inning of Game 1 with Madison Bumgarner on the mound, Freese took care of that:

Freesee

Daniel Descalso followed with a base hit, but Bumgarner retired Pete Kozma. With Lance Lynn, Bumgarner's opposite number, due up next, Bumgarner should have been out of trouble.

But Lynn drew his first walk in 2012. So Bumgarner had to retire Jon Jay to escape more damage. Which he did, thanks to a routine grounder. We're in the bottom of the second, and the score is Cardinals 2, Giants 0 at AT&T Park

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Giants stick with regular lineup for Game 1

The Giants used 112 different lineups throughout the regular season, but in the playoffs, they've mostly stuck with a standard lineup. For Game 1 of the National League Championship Series? More of the same:

1. Angel Pagan# - CF
2. Marco Scutaro - 2B
3. Pablo Sandoval# - 3B
4. Buster Posey - C
5. Hunter Pence - RF
6. Brandon Belt* - 1B
7. Gregor Blanco* - LF
8. Brandon Crawford* - SS
9. Madison Bumgarner - LHP

Against left-handed starters, Bruce Bochy would likely look for a platoon advantage in a couple slots, but with Jaime Garcia out, the Giants won't see a left-handed starter in the NLCS.

Against left-handed relievers, Bochy is likely to pinch-hit toward the bottom of his lineup, subbing Xavier Nady for Gregor Blanco, and Joaquin Arias at short. The downside is that both of those moves weaken the Giants defensively, and by a considerable margin.

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