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St. Louis Cardinals: Why They'll Get Bounced Early Even If They Make Playoffs

Joe LevittContributor IIIOctober 27, 2016

St. Louis Cardinals: Why They'll Get Bounced Early Even If They Make Playoffs

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    These St. Louis Cardinals are not quite your Cardinals of yesteryear.

    Yesteryear being the 2011 version that overcame an immense deficit in the division to make the postseason and eventually win the World Series.

    The 2012 Cardinals currently hold the second wild card spot behind the Braves and sit four-and-a-half games ahead of the Brewers and Dodgers with seven games remaining.

    They thrive off the strength of its No. 2-ranked offense and an underappreciated top-six pitching staff. Five batters have at least 20 home runs and 70 RBI. Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and Allen Craig headline that group.

    Four starters have 13-plus wins and essentially a sub-4.00 ERA. Second-year pitcher Lance Lynn ranks fourth in the NL with 17 victories.

    And closer Jason Motte has absolutely stonewalled opposing bats despite a couple blown saves earlier in the month.

    Yet, even if St. Louis makes the postseason after a brutal six-game stretch against the first-place Nationals and Reds, its playoff experience will be short lived.

    Let’s pinpoint the three reasons why the Cardinals will get bounced early in October baseball against the Atlanta Braves.

Atlanta’s Superior Starters

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    Per the new rules regarding MLB playoffs, the two wild card teams from each league will play a one-game playoff for a chance to play one of the three division winners.

    As it stands right now in the National League, the Cardinals would play the Braves. The top two candidates to start that game would be Lance Lynn or Kyle Lohse for St. Louis, and Kris Medlen or Tim Hudson for Atlanta.

    The Braves have the decisive advantage in these matchups.

    Medlen has often been unhittable in his 9-1, 1.64-ERA campaign. The Braves have not lost in any of his 11 starts, recently winning 21 consecutive with Medlen on the mound.

    The man simply does not walk batters or give up home runs. His electric stuff has yielded 116-strikeouts to just 22 walks in 2012. Until his latest start on Tuesday, he had given up just two jacks on the season.

    The relatively high frequency with which Holliday, Beltran and Freese strike out will feed into Medlen’s skill set.

    Tim Hudson, on the other hand, is an entirely different, yet still effective starting pitcher.

    Hudson leads the team with 16 wins, but doesn’t exactly have the dominant stuff like Medlen. He relies more on a sinking fastball, changing speeds and his veteran guile. The biggest stage is by no means a stranger to the wily Hudson.

    For the Cardinals, Lohse is one of the overachieving types.

    His win-loss ratio of 16 to 3 and 134 Ks to 34 walks are certainly noteworthy. However, he falters in grand fashion when it matters most. His 11 earned runs allowed in 12.2 innings of works last year in the postseason reflect that losing tendency.

    Lance Lynn doesn’t even have that kind of postseason experience.

    He has emerged victorious in 17 starts this season, but has just 30 in his brief career. Also, he did indeed register postseason outings last year, but only out of the bullpen. Starting such a high-pressure contest is another matter entirely.

    The veteran Chris Carpenter, for his part, is still a wild card himself with only one start on the season. He’ll work off another limited pitch count on Wednesday and remains questionable for the one-game playoff.

    So with regards to pitching, Atlanta holds the keys to victory over St. Louis.

Managerial Inexperience

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    Mike Matheny’s first season as a MLB manager has been quite the successful one indeed.

    The rookie skipper has guided the Cardinals to an 84-win season and a more than likely chance of making the playoffs.

    His playing days as a catcher endows him with the necessary expertise in correctly handling a pitching staff. However, as with Lynn’s lack of experience in starting a postseason game, the same applies to Matheny in managing series in the biggest of moments.

    It boils down to the fact that veteran skippers have the edge in crucial series—not rookies.

    When looking at last season's team, it was Tony La Russa’s 33 years of managerial experience that helped keep his Cardinals afloat in the face of such overwhelming odds. It was La Russa’s track record of having been there, done that, which led an underdog team to a World Series title.

    The Braves’ Fredi Gonzalez has been there, done that; Matheny has not.

    Last year Gonzalez fully learned the perils involved in managing high-pressure games in pivotal situations. His Braves blew one of the biggest leads in MLB history and missed out on the playoffs—the Cardinals being the beneficiary of said failure.

    Now, the veteran baseball man who’s held in such high regard will capitalize on last season's lesson. He’ll pull all the right strings in the one-game playoff against St. Louis.

    Matheny, on the other hand, will not. Next year will be his time to shine.

Balanced Retribution

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    The Braves’ 2011 collapse was a sick and unnerving development. Adjectives don’t readily exist to describe it.

    Their once double-digit lead late in the season dwindled down to zero, as they finished 89-73—second behind the 90-72 Cardinals. We all remember what happened from there.

    Ethereal things like fate and karma don’t always sit well with those who employ practical logic to the everyday world of sports. Yet, baseball players are a wholly superstitious bunch that often believe that seemingly illogical things help lead them to victory.

    Well, in this case, the idea of balanced retribution—a form of baseball payback, if you will—will serve as the ultimate force behind the Cardinals loss.

    In 2011, Freddie Freeman’s ground out to second base with a runner in scoring position in the bottom of the ninth ended Atlanta’s season in disheartening fashion. He certainly capitalized on his chance for payback in 2012.

    With Chipper Jones on third in the bottom of the ninth and down by two, Freeman jacked a 94 MPH fastball to dead center for a walk-off victory. His Braves had officially made it into October baseball.

    St. Louis will suffer the consequences of Atlanta’s winning destiny.

    Ultimately, the Braves’ starting pitching, managerial edge and, well, baseball gods will decree it.

    Suffice it to say, this simply isn’t the Cardinals year.


    Follow me on Twitter @jlevitt16

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