St. Louis Cardinals vs. Atlanta Braves: 5 Key Matchups in NL Wild Card Game

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St. Louis Cardinals vs. Atlanta Braves: 5 Key Matchups in NL Wild Card Game
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
The Braves have the chance to exact revenge on the Cards.

The Atlanta Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals baseball franchises have met in the postseason only three times throughout both team's illustrious histories.

They tangled most recently 12 years ago, as Will Clark helped the Cards sweep the Braves in the 2000 League Division Series, defeating future Hall of Famers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, and the talented Kevin Millwood.

Four years prior, the Braves roared back from a 3-games-to-1 deficit in the NLCS to beat the Cardinals in seven games (Tony La Russa's first year in St. Louis). Sadly, the Braves couldn't seal the deal, falling to the Yankees in the World Series.

In 1982, St. Louis swept NL MVP Dale Murphy and his Braves, three games to none, on their way to a World Series win over the Milwaukee Brewers (AL team in 1982).

But it's not the seesaw playoff battles that intrigues us in this matchup. It is the fact that the Braves essentially surrendered their rightful Wild Card playoff position last year to the Cardinals, who proceeded to surge on to one of the most unlikely championships in baseball history.

Each club took a slightly different route to reach Bud Selig's inaugural Wild Card playoff.

Atlanta rode strong starting pitching, a lights-out bullpen and excellent team defense to 94 wins and a second-place finish, right behind the upstart Washington Nationals.

The season was a fitting testament to Chipper Jones' lifetime credentials, that he was one of the most important batters in the Braves lineup.

Of course, that is also an indictment of the Braves middle-of-the-pack offense, as well.

The Cards possessed a highly productive offense and reliable starting pitching that was unfortunately shackled by a leaky bullpen and mediocre defense.

Though even more maddening was the Cards lack of clutch hitting in close, late-game situations. The team led the the NL in batting most of the season and had five 20 HR players for the first time in franchise history, yet often struggled to drive in runs when the opportunity arose.

But a midseason trade for Edward Mujica settled the bullpen and the second half slumping bats of Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday finally began to contribute down the stretch—at least enough to lift the Cards to a 12-4 finish.

As fans prepare for Friday's sudden-death showdown in Atlanta, lets look at five key matchups that will determine the outcome of this tilt.

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