The 2011 Cardinals and Braves will be forever intertwined thanks to Atlanta’s epic September collapse that allowed the Cards to win the NL wild card on the season’s final day on the way to surprisingly winning the World Series – as it turns out, the final title with Tony La Russa and Albert Pujols in the St. Louis dugout.
The Cardinals trailed the Braves in the wild-card race by 10.5 games on Aug. 25 and 8.5 games on Sept. 5. But Atlanta lost its final five games (including a 13th inning 4-3 defeat on the season’s final day), 13 of its final 18 and 20 of its last 30 to finish 89-73, a game behind St. Louis for the wild card. The Cards beat Houston 8-0 on the season’s final day to complete a stretch where they won 16 of their final 21 games.
With the addition of the second wild card in each league this year, the Cards and Braves would have had a one-game playoff under those rules last year to earn the right to advance to the division series. Actually, if Atlanta had won that final game, which it led in the ninth inning, the Braves would have played in St. Louis the next night for the wild card.
This three-game series that starts Friday is the first meeting of the season between Atlanta and St. Louis. La Russa will have his No. 10 retired by the Cards before Friday’s game.
Braves at Cardinals Betting Story Lines
Even without Pujols, the Cards look like the class of the watered-down NL Central. They are tied with the Dodgers for the best record in the National League at 20-11 and lead the Reds by 3.5 games in the division. This is all despite St. Louis having played 19 road games (going 12-7) compared to just 12 at home (8-4). The Cardinals have won four straight and enter off their first sweep of the season, taking three in Arizona. Three previous times St. Louis had failed to complete a series sweep this year.
It’s pretty clear to see why this team is winning under rookie Manager Mike Matheny, the early leader for NL Manager of the Year. Despite no Pujols, St. Louis leads the NL in several offensive categories, including runs (174), homers (40), total bases (508), average (.287), slugging (.467) and OPS (.824). Think the franchise is glad it didn’t shell out more than $200 million to Pujols? The Cards’ pitching staff has done its part, ranking second in the NL in ERA (3.07) despite not yet having a complete game or a shutout.
St. Louis will get a big bat back Friday as first baseman Lance Berkman (left calf strain) is expected to come off the disabled list. If Berkman (.348, two RBI in seven games) does come off the DL on Friday, the stint will have lasted 22 days; he won’t play every day right away. When Berkman returns, it will mark the first time this season that the Cardinals have been at full strength with their position players. Skip Schumaker, Allen Craig and Berkman all have spent various lengths of time on the DL so far.
In addition, St. Louis avoided a potentially serious injury Tuesday when catcher Yadier Molina was hit with a fastball on his left hand while behind the plate. X-rays were negative and it’s just a bruise. Molina (.302, four homers, 16 RBI) sat out Wednesday but hopes to play Friday.
The Braves (19-13) entered play Thursday tied with the Nationals atop the NL East and have the second-best run differential in the NL at +24; St. Louis leads the majors at +75.This series completes a nine-game road trip for Atlanta, which swept at Colorado but then lost two of three at the Cubs, scoring just four total runs in that series. The offense has been carrying Atlanta, as it ranks second to the Cards in runs (166), hits (292), total bases (456) and average (.265).
The pitching staff was supposed to the Braves’ strength, but the team ERA of 4.25 ranks 13th in the NL, while the opponents’ batting average of .269 ranks 14th. The bullpen has been excellent, however, and behind Craig Kimbrel, the Braves do lead the league with 13 saves.
Braves at Cardinals Probable Starting Pitchers
Friday: Braves LHP Mike Minor (2-2, 5.97) vs. Cardinals LHP Jaime Garcia (2-2, 3.76) – Minor has been lit up his past two starts, allowing 15 runs and 18 hits (four homers) in 11 1/3 innings. He has thrown only five career innings vs. St. Louis. Garcia was rocked in his last outing, allowing six runs in six innings in a loss to Houston. He is 2-0 with a 2.84 ERA in his career vs. Atlanta.
Saturday: Braves RHP Brandon Beachy (3-1, 1.62) vs. Cardinals RHP Adam Wainwright (2-3, 5.61) – Beachy has been one of the NL’s best pitchers and has yet to allow more than two earned runs in a start this season. He has won three straight decisions and he limited opponents to a .190 batting average in that stretch. Wainwright still doesn’t look all the way back after missing all of last season following surgery. But he might be getting there, having won two straight starts. His last was his best so far, allowing just one run and striking out seven in beating Houston.
Sunday: Braves RHP Tommy Hanson (3-3, 3.63) vs. Cardinals RHP Lance Lynn (6-0, 1.40) – Hanson has allowed more than two earned runs in just one of his past four starts but isn’t getting much run support. He has a 2.57 ERA in seven career innings vs. St. Louis. Lynn, a former reliever, is your NL Cy Young winner right now. He has gotten the decision – obviously a win – in all of his starts and has allowed more than one run just once.
Braves at Cardinals Betting Odds and Trends
St. Louis opened at -165 on the series line with Atlanta at +135. The Cards are -145 favorites for Game 1 with the total at 8.0 on MLB odds. ‘Over/under’ records: STL 15-16, ATL 16-14-2.
The Braves are 7-0 in their past seven games when scoring two runs or less in their previous game. Atlanta has a five-game winning streak on Fridays. The Braves are 4-1 in Minor’s past five starts in Game 1 of a series. St. Louis is 10-1 in its past 11 games after an off day. The Cards are 7-1 in their past eight games vs. a left-handed starter. St. Louis is 11-1 in Garcia’s past 12 Friday starts. The over is 7-1 in St. Louis’ past eight home games. Atlanta has lost seven straight in St. Louis.
MLB Picks: Braves at Cardinals Betting Predictions
I frankly think the Braves are going to start coming back to earth offensively. For example, Chipper Jones is hitting .295 with five homers and 21 RBI in just 21 games, but he won’t keep that pace up at age 40. Michael Bourn is hitting .319 and has never had a .300 season in his career.
On the surface you can only give the Braves the starting pitching advantage in Game 2 of this series, and I don’t see Beachy keeping up his incredible success, either. Plus, Wainwright is coming on. A sweep wouldn’t shock me,, but definitely go with the Cards in the series as well as Game 1. Jump on the over there too.
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