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Vogelsong on Game 2 matchup with Carpenter

SAN FRANCISCO -- Hey, we warned you.

We warned you that this National League Championship Series between the Cardinals and Giants wouldn't exactly be ordinary. After all, these are the comeback kids, the guys who knocked off the NL's top two seeds -- the Nationals and Reds -- in stunning, historic fashion.

What, you thought this would be easy?

It wasn't easy for the Cards, even after they took a 6-0 lead in Game 1. The Giants scored four off Lance Lynn in the bottom of the fourth, and they brought the tying run to the plate with two outs in the ninth.

And it won't be easy as the series continues at 8 p.m. ET Monday on FOX at AT&T Park, where Chris Carpenter will oppose Ryan Vogelsong and the Cardinals will try to take a supposedly commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven set.

We say "supposedly," because 2-0 sure looked commanding for the Reds in the NL Division Series. The Giants, of course, stormed back with three wins on the road.

"That's something we've done all season long, getting down and battling back," first baseman Brandon Belt said. "We just came up a little bit short [in Game 1]. But that's something that we can build off of going into [Game 2], and we're looking to go out there and win."

The Giants would be wise to win Monday night. While nobody disputes their ability to win on the road (they did it in the NLDS and they had the third-best road record in the NL in the regular season), an 0-2 hole has not been historically kind to clubs in this setting, and it could be especially dicey against this October-experienced Cards club with a keen killer instinct.

Trouble is, nobody exemplifies that instinct better than Carpenter, and he'll be looking for his 11th career postseason victory in Game 2. The Cardinals view Carpenter as their ace in the hole, the secret weapon they pulled out in September, just a couple months removed from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery that was billed as season ending.

"He's a competitor like I've never seen," manager Mike Matheny said.

So the Cards feel confident about their situation heading into Game 2, and that confidence will grow by leaps and bounds if Carpenter comes through at AT&T Park. After all, of the 18 teams who have taken a 2-0 lead in the NLCS, 16 have gone on to win it. Add in the American League's history, and 2-0 teams are 35-for-40 in the LCS.

That's the history staring the Giants in the face as this series continues on their home turf. Then again, they've proven this month that history is not exactly applicable to them.

"We did the impossible last series," Angel Pagan said.

What is clear, though, is that San Francisco has to take better advantage of its home-field advantage. Perhaps the home field will help Vogelsong, who had a sharp five-inning outing in Game 3 of the NLDS in Cincinnati, but whose ERA was more than a full run better at home (2.86) than on the road (3.87) this season.

If past playoffs are any indication, Vogelsong will have a highly energetic and vocal crowd in his favor. AT&T Park's reputation as a tough place to play for the opposition is well-established, and it will be Vogelsong's job to silence these hot-hitting Cardinals bats and keep the crowd engaged.

"It's no secret, I've said in the past, that I definitely feed off the energy that this crowd brings," Vogelsong said. "I'm sure it's going to be pretty intense."

Intensity is what we expected entering this series, and Game 1 did not disappoint. It was two games in one, really, with shaky starters giving way to bullish bullpens in the fourth inning.

"I'm out in the field, and it's 6-0 and I'm thinking, 'That's not enough,'" David Freese said. "Three outs later, it's 6-4. Then both bullpens came in and did their job."

But bullpens can only be ridden so hard for so long, and for the Giants, especially, the need for a stronger starting effort is clear. Unlike their 2010 championship run, which was built on a robust rotation, this postseason has yet to see them notch a single quality start (six innings or more, three earned runs or fewer allowed).

"We certainly need some good starts," manager Bruce Bochy said. "There's no question about it."

There's no question that the onus now rests with the home club as Game 2 approaches. Resilience is a critical quality this time of year, and San Francisco has it in high supply. But another home loss, another short start, another deficit that, historically, has been a high hurdle might serve to test that resilience too much against a St. Louis club that knows how to go for the throat.

"We have to go out there and win a game," Pagan said.

Here's predicting that it won't come easy, for either side. Comments