We've heard all the coach speak and cliches before. One game at a time, keep our emotions in check, play with poise, play within ourselves. The list goes on and on.
It was the Cardinals who squeezed by Atlanta last year and grabbed the final National League playoff spot. In a story everyone knows all too well, the Braves weren't able to finish last year on a positive note as they lost their grasp on a 10 1/2 game lead in the wild card standings in late August.
St. Louis made the most of their opportunity and rode the momentum all the way to a World Series title. What they did was impressive. It had to be respected and credit had to be given where credit was due.
While we tipped our cap to the Cardinals, we still have to shake our head in disbelief. Here we are, one year later, and once again they are standing in the way of Atlanta's path to potential postseason success.
If last year's rules were still in effect, the defending champions would have been in Atlanta's rear view mirror permanently a long time ago. Once again, the Cardinals are the beneficiaries of another playoff opportunity with the advent of a second wild card when they would have been sitting home on the outside looking in otherwise.
So, in order to get rid of the Cardinals once and for all, the Braves are going to have to cut the head off the monster themselves by beating them in the one-game play-in.
It's only fitting, and the Braves should be jumping at the chance. For the most part, they've been better than the Cardinals. In their six head-to-head meetings this season, Atlanta went 5-1 against St. Louis. The Cardinals were the better hitting team over the course of the season, but the Braves are better defensively and have superior pitching. This was the case in 2011 as well.
Atlanta was better than the eventual champion Cardinals in two out of three categories in 2011, and again in 2012 in those same categories, and don't have anything to show for it.
Unfortunately, the game isn't played on paper, which is why, come Friday, Atlanta needs to take things personally and show once again that they are the better team on the field. Being 5-1 against the Cardinals this season won't matter if the Braves allow them come into Turner Field and steal game 163.
It's silly that it has to be this way. For all of our lives, the MLB schedule has been predicated on a season's worth of series from April to October. If two teams were tied at the end of all of that then, and only then, was a one-game playoff necessary.
Now with two wild cards, Atlanta has spent six months winning more series than they've lost and it all comes down to a one-game March Madness-like play-in game to see who gets to join the three division winners in the playoffs. The fact that Atlanta will finish at least five games ahead of St. Louis in the standings goes by the boards.
But hey, rules are rules, and these are the rules even if they are brand spanking new.
Fredi Gonzalez should take this personally too. The Red Birds made life miserable for him, spoiling his mostly successful first year as Braves skipper.
He should manage this game like the elimination game that it is. Starting Kris Medlen is the way to go, he gives you your best chance to move on to play in the NLDS. The Braves have won 23 straight games that he has started. Give him the ball and see how it goes from there. He's been on an unbelievable roll.
After that, shorten the game and then take an all hands on deck approach with everyone else, get to the ninth inning with a lead and let Craig Kimbrel do his thing.
No bullets should be left in the chamber, if Atlanta goes down, it needs to go down blazing.
When the dust settles Friday night, the Braves should finally be able to get the dreaded Cardinals off their backs. It will be nice to finally see St. Louis sitting home watching the playoffs.
Revenge will have been served at its best, cold, and it will be sweet.
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