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• Saturday’s opening game in the National League Championship Series sets up as a classic pitching duel between the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner and the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright. Bumgarner (18-10, 2.98 ERA) beat Wainwright (20-9, 2.38) on May 30 in St. Louis, allowing three hits and striking out 10 in seven shutout innings in a 9-4 victory. Wainwright allowed seven runs in 41/3 innings, his earliest exit of the season. In Wainwright’s other start against the Giants, on July 2 at AT&T Park, he allowed four hits in 72/3 shutout innings in a 2-0 victory. One day later, the Cardinals scored five runs against Bumgarner in five innings in a 7-2 victory. On the season, the Giants won four of seven against the Cardinals.
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• Since the Vivek Ranadive-led group purchased the Kings, there’s been an emphasis on expanding the team’s brand, one reason the team is in China to play the Brooklyn Nets twice in four days. But you have to wonder what toll the trip will have on players – especially DeMarcus Cousins – as they prepare for the season opener against the Warriors on Oct. 29. Remember, the big fella also played in the FIBA World Cup in Spain last month, after several weeks of practice in Las Vegas, Chicago and New York.
• All the talk about a toxic clubhouse will quickly disappear if the 49ers continue winning. And as they’ve proven so often in the past, the best way to do that is to hand the ball to Frank Gore. After that infamous loss to Arizona in which Gore carried the ball six times for 10 yards, he’s had back-to-back 100-yard-plus games and is fifth in the NFL with 365 yards. Look for Gore to have another big game Monday night against St. Louis; the Rams are giving up an average of 152.5 rushing yards, tied for third-worst in the league.
– Tom Couzens
Weekend poll results
Will Tony Sparano make a difference as Raiders interim coach ?
• Yes, they’ll win: 19%
• No, it’s a bad team: 58%
• I don’t care: 23%
Total votes: 267