St. Louis Cardinals @ Atlanta Braves, Friday, October 5, 5:07 PM EDT - TV: TBS; Radio: TBD
Starters: STL – RHP Kyle Lohse (16-3, 2.86 ERA); ATL – RHP Kris Medlen (10-1, 1.57 ERA)
WASHINGTON, October 5, 2012 — If the AL Wild Card game is likely to turn into the “Slugfest in Arlington”, then its NL counterpart is headed for an extended pitchers’ duel in Atlanta. An incredibly close matchup between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves will almost certainly be determined by who blinks first in a titanic matchup of dominating pitchers not widely known outside of their respective cities.
The visiting Cardinals are staking their fortunes on the arm of Kyle Lohse, who, after a slight late-season drop off, finished the year with a 16-3 record and a 2.86 ERA, largely on the strength of a miniscule 38 walks across 211 innings pitched. Meanwhile, the hometown Braves will ride the superhuman late-season performance of Kris Medlen, who, since his return to the starting rotation on July 31, has gone 9-0, has seen the Braves win all 12 of his starts, and has allowed just nine earned runs in 83.2 innings, good enough for a 0.97 ERA in that timeframe. Yes, the first number is a zero, as in any team that scores one run while Medlen is on the mound is already pushing their luck.
From the day that the expansion to ten playoff teams became official, it was fated that Atlanta and St. Louis would meet with advancement on the line. Scratch that. It was official from the last day of the 2011 regular season, when the Braves finished a 9-18 September slide, and the Cardinals completed an 18-8 September surge, lifting them into the playoffs at Atlanta’s expense. Then the Cardinals stormed to the World Series title while Braves players were mired in thoughts of the two more wins that weren’t and that would have blocked St. Louis from the postseason.
If the Cardinals want to defend that title, they will have an incredibly huge obstacle to surmount. Aside from Medlen’s pure dominance over the past two months, they will have to compete with an Atlanta offense that is far from weak. The trio at the heart of the Atlanta lineup, first baseman Freddie Freeman, retiring third baseman Chipper Jones, and right fielder Jason Heyward, will be the difference between success and defeat.
They’ll be facing a St. Louis lineup that is strong from top-to-bottom, even with the hole where Albert Pujols used to be. The heart of the opposition to Medlen will be formed by catcher Yadier Molina, first baseman Allen Craig, left fielder Matt Holliday, and right fielder Carlos Beltran, who all hit at least 22 homeruns, and all slugged at least .495.
As strong as the St. Louis offense may be, all they’ll get as a reward should they force Medlen out of the game is a gauntlet of top relievers to run. Ignoring closer Craig Kimbrel for the moment, the Cardinals are looking at a path that leads through top-notch setup men Eric O’Flaherty and Cristhian Martinez plus fireballing Jonny Venters. And yet, the scariest member of the Atlanta bullpen that they might have to face is Kimbrel, he of the 16.7 K/9 rate, the highest in MLB history for a reliever.
Indeed, St. Louis manager Mike Matheny better hope that he gets a good long start out of Lohse, because there’s little depth for him to lean on in between Lohse and closer Jason Motte. For once, it is not cliché to say that all hope rides on one player. The only way that the Cardinals can win and stay on track for a title defense is if Lohse spins a masterpiece, or if Medlen’s magic runs out. Right now, though, Kris Medlen is pitching like Cy Young, and if Heyward, Freeman, and Jones can get anything at all going against Lohse, it’s hard to argue against the revitalized Braves.
Pick: BRAVES over Cardinals
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