The National League Championship Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants heads east deadlocked at one game apiece. Judging by the first two games, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the series go the distance.

Matt Holliday’s controversial slide, which took out Marco Scutaro in Game 2, has added some extra fuel to the fire. It’s exactly what the series needed to get more casual fans interested since it doesn’t have nearly as much star power as the ALCS.

On paper, neither team has a distinct advantage in any key area. Both starting rotations are reliable. The bullpens are solid at the back end. And the Giants illustrated on Monday that their unheralded lineup can compete with the Cardinals.

So this series is going to come down to a few key moments, one that may have already happened. The Holliday slide has the potential to turn the tide in two distinctly different ways.

The Giants can use it as motivation, helping to give them the mental advantage moving forward. They definitely seemed to play with an increased level of focus after the incident in Game 2 and have to keep that mindset in the remaining games.

However, the other possibility is San Francisco spends the rest of the series looking for opportunities to “get even” and lets it become a major distraction. In that scenario, the Cardinals gain the edge.

The Giants come off as a tight-knit group of players that should be able to channel that extra energy in a positive direction. After playing nearly 170 games, anything that can provide a short-term boost helps the cause.

The other major facet of the series will be the pitching matchups, which favor San Francisco. The Giants still get to send their ace, Matt Cain, to the mound twice. The Cardinals will counter with Kyle Lohse, who has exceeded expectations, but Cain has the edge.

Suddenly resurgent starter Tim Lincecum is scheduled to start Game 4. If he can pitch that game like he has been out of the bullpen, it’s almost like the Giants made a major acquisition in the middle of the playoffs.

In a series that’s shaping up to go right down to the wire, the team that gets better performances out of its starting pitchers is going to punch its ticket to the World Series.

The Cardinals have enjoyed an amazing run just to reach this point, but it’s hard to pick against the Giants pitching staff in what amounts to a five-game series.

Prediction: Giants in seven games


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