By Rich Coutinho
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I learned a long time ago in baseball to never underestimate the value of being “a team of destiny.” But the problem in handicapping the 2012 NLCS is which of these 2 “destiny teams” will be going to the World Series? After all, you could make the case for either squad with one having erased a 6-0 deficit in a deciding game and the other winning 3 straight road games in a best of five after dropping the first 2 games at home.

Let’s take the case of the Giants first. This is a team that is loaded with starting pitching but has gotten by with a sub-par season from Tim Linencum and at times an inconsistent bullpen. Add in the fact that they lost one of their best players, Melky Cabrera, in the stretch run because of a suspension and you can see why many experts thought a Dodger team that added heavy lumber in their lineup would pass them. But they didn’t and in fact the Giants won the division going away which really illustrates their toughness.

Buster Posey stepped up and played like an MVP down the stretch while their bullpen really came together with Bruce Bochy piecing together win after win. Still, many people including myself thought the Reds would be too tough for them and after losing 2 games in San Francisco it appeared we were right. But as they have done all year-long, the Giants responded with 3 straight road playoff wins leaving us all scratching our heads in amazement.

The Cardinals journey was a bit different as the reigning World Champions were forced to defend their title without their signature player as Albert Pujols took the bag of money that was waiting for him in Anaheim. Carlos Beltran was added in and in a very quiet way, the Cardinals got a productive bat at the fraction it would have costed for Pujols. It is a move that is brilliant in its simplicity and one many teams like the Phils for instance, ignored and would live to regret it in 2012.

St. Louis would also have its share of injuries but always seemed to have an answer when a star was missing whether it be Lance Berkman, Rafael Furcal, or even Cris Carpenter. Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina really stepped up their offensive game and pound for pound this lineup remains the best in the National League.

But like the Giants the Cardinals would have to fight to get to the NLCS. They outlasted a tough Brave team in the one-game Wild Card play-in game and then faced a Washington National team that was short on experience but had the swagger of a veteran ballclub. After splitting the first 2 at home, they found themselves in a decisive game #5 after a Jayson Werth walk-off homer.

And they coughed off 6 runs to a Nationals team that could smell a series victory with the chances of a Cardinal comeback impossible. Or was it? Like they did last year, this team fought back and refused to die even when they were down to the season’s final strike.

And now these 2 “survivors” face off in the NLCS. I really admire both these teams but I just think there is something about this Cardinal team that is special. They have a great mix of youth and experience sprinkled in with a dose of “good fortune”. Their bullpen is better than the Giants and their offense is more unrelenting.

Plus there is this little voice inside my head that keeps saying–Carlos Beltran deserves this. Here is a player who has taken far too much garbage from Met fans with “that called strike”. Simply put, he is the most underrated post-season player in the history of the sport and deserves this ring more than anyone I know.

Redbirds in 7.

What are your predictions for the NLCS? Let us know in the comment section below.

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