That's not a question.
Q. You have to be kidding me.
Still not a question.
Q. This isn't the real National League Championship Series, is it?
It is, yes. For the fifth straight season, either the Giants or Cardinals will go to the World Series. The Pirates, punchline-turned-powerhouse, could have been here. The Nationals could have unwound their Expos DNA strand by strand, right in front of our eyes. The Brewers were good for a while until they weren't. The Dodgers haven't won a pennant since 1988, so they would have been fresh blood. There were so many ways for this NLCS to seem fresh and worthwhile.
Instead, Giants and Cardinals.
Q. Why should I watch this? Note that I'm already planning to play Free Cell on an old laptop instead of watch this series, so you're not going to convince me.
Aw, that's a shame. You're going to miss one heavyweight bout of trolling, and the winner will get the title of Troll King, an appointment that lasts at least a full year.
In one corner, the Cardinals. They're adept at trolling teams that have already started celebrating. They made Pete Kozma show the Nationals their still-beating heart just because they could. They let the Rangers think they were going to win the World Series twice within the same hour. They let the Dodgers take a lead in support of the best pitcher in the world -- twice -- then proceeded to mock logic and probability before coming back.
Did you know the Cardinals were almost outscored on the year? Based on runs scored/allowed, their expected record should have been closer to 83-79. They should have finished a game up on the Mets, give or take. They were closer to the Rockies and Twins than the Dodgers, according to expected record. They had the biggest gap between expected record and actual record, tied with the Yankees, and they finished with the second-best record in baseball in one-run games (32-23).
Pete Kozma: Kozma-powers... ACTIVATE! (Norm Hall).
If your explanation is that they just know how to win, you're a part of the conspiracy. You're a part of the trolling cabal that makes people throw their computers into the ocean. Nice work if you can get it.
In the other corner, the Giants. Back in 1988, Saturday Night Live ran a mock debate between Dana Carvey's George H.W. Bush and Jon Lovitz's Mike Dukakis. After Carvey rambles for a bit, trying to waste time with buzzwords and slogans, Lovitz looks at the camera and yells, "I can't believe I'm losing to this guy!"
That's the Giants. The Nationals are at home now, thinking about different pitchers in their mid-to-late 30s who are supposed to be tired by this time of the year. They're still stunned they lost, and with good reason. Why did Ryan Vogelsong show up with his best fastball of the year on Tuesday? How did the Giants take a series in which they were 0-for-Madison Bumgarner? No idea. They don't know, either.
Consider the last three Giants teams to make the NLCS. The first one had TIM LINCECUM, MATT CAIN, and MADISON BUMGARNER. All three were at the height of their powers, or close to it. The next version had MATT CAIN AND MADISON BUMGARNER, with Tim Lincecum unceremoniously demoted to '70s super-reliever. The 2014 version has MADISON BUMGARNER. The 2016 version is going to be Kurt Ainsworth in Game 1 and a uniform stuffed with six chickens standing on top of each other in Game 2.
With all of those pitchers functioning at a high level in 2010 and 2012, somehow the Giants started this postseason with better starting pitching than they've ever had throughout the first five games of a postseason. These teams are inexplicable trolls, and now they must fight to the death for our amusement and disgust.
Q. So neither team is good at all?
Oh, goodness, no. Both teams are stuffed with talent. If you find yourself listening to someone tell you how these teams are nothing but lucky, figure a polite way to get out of the conversation.
The Cardinals might not have scored at a pace they're used to, mostly because their dinger gland withered and fell off, but there are several Cardinals players who are better than their 2014 numbers. Matt Carpenter hit just eight homers in the regular season. Yadier Molina was hurt and topped out at seven homers. Matt Adams hit about the same amount of home runs as he did the previous season, but in twice as many at-bats. It's a safe guess the true talent level for all of those guys is somewhere north from what they showed this year.
If he were Matt Carpenter and you were a lady, would you marry him anyway? Would you have his baby? (Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports, with apologies to Tim Hardin).
As long as Adam Wainwright is healthy, the Cardinals have a top-two in the rotation (with Lance Lynn) that's as good as any remaining playoff team. It's not like they're starting Jeff Weaver and Jason Simontacchi after those two, either. It's a well-rounded, if imperfect, team throughout the 25-man roster.
They still have a thing for Pete Kozma, though.
The Giants have a lineup that's better than you think, probably because a) you're still used to 2009 levels of scoring, and b) they play in a noted pitcher's park, which takes the sheen off the raw statistics. But Buster Posey had a season that's probably going to get him another top-10 MVP finish. Enchanted marionette Hunter Pence had one of his very best seasons. Brandon Belt took some time to get right after his concussion, but he's been swinging the bat very well over the last two weeks. Even though Michael Morse is a cement golem out in left field, his return will still help the Giants regain some of the power they've been missing.
Behind the excellent Bumgarner are three thirty-somethings, Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson, and Ryan Vogelsong. All three were left for dead at some point this year: Peavy by the Red Sox, Hudson by his hip at the end of the season, and Vogelsong by most of the people who've watched him pitch every fifth day for the last two years. All three of them were wonderful in the NLDS.
Q. Can you give me some statistics?
Baseball-Reference.com has something called the "Simple Rating System" that takes into account run differential and strength of schedule. According to SRS, the Giants were the 10th-best team in baseball. The Cardinals were 16th.
These are also the two slowest teams in baseball, or at least the least likely to attempt a stolen base. The Giants were last in the National League with 56 stolen bases. The Cardinals were second to last, with 57.
With a healthy lineup, though, both teams are relatively free of easy outs for the opposing pitchers. Even their pitchers aren't easy outs.
Q. Got any predictions?
When I predicted Nationals in four games, that was really because I wanted the Giants to win in four games. So it would follow that I would pick the Cardinals in five games, except that's not how jinxes work. You can't be aware of them. So by picking the Giants in six games, that'll mean I'm expecting the reverse jinx of the Cardinals in six games, which means the Giants will win in six games. By acknowledging that here, I'm removing the power of the reverse jinx by staring into its eyes.
Giants in six. I have no idea why.
Also, another prediction might be that the next person to use the terms "even year magic" and "Cardinals Way" unironically will wake up the next morning with flat tires and a rotting mackerel in their radiator. But I can't guarantee that one. I just strongly suggest it.