NL Wild Card Game 2012: Cardinals vs. Braves Lineups, Pitching Matchup Breakdown

Chris Stephens@@chris_stephens6Correspondent IIOctober 4, 2012

NL Wild Card Game 2012: Cardinals vs. Braves Lineups, Pitching Matchup Breakdown

0 of 5

    The Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals kick off the MLB playoffs with an NL wild-card game that will decide who plays the Washington Nationals in the divisional round.

    In what will be a fitting tribute to the 2011 season, the Cardinals will again try to overtake the Braves to earn a spot in the NLDS.

    Last year, it was an epic collapse by the Braves that allowed the Cardinals to win the wild card. This year, there's no collapse, but the Cardinals can again take the Braves' spot with a win in the last game.

    The Braves are 5-1 against the Cardinals this year, with the only loss coming on May 28 in Atlanta.

    Here's a look at the lineups, pitching matchups, bullpens and benches for Friday's game in Atlanta, along with a prediction.

Starting Pitching

1 of 5

    The National League Wild Card will see one of the better pitching matchups of the entire playoffs.

    Kyle Lohse will take the hill for the Cardinals, while Kris Medlen will go for the Braves.

    Medlen is 10-1 on the year with a 1.57 ERA, 120 strikeouts and a 0.97 WHIP. Keep in mind that Medlen didn't get into the starting rotation until July 31.

    Having just broken the MLB record for most consecutive starts with a team win (23), Medlen is flying high heading into Friday. Since July 31, he's been nearly unhittable, having only allowed 57 hits, 10 walks and nine earned runs in 80.2 innings pitched.

    Medlen has allowed three earned runs once and two earned runs once in 12 starts. In six of those starts, he allowed none. It's safe to say he's been dominant since rejoining the rotation.

    Lohse is 16-3 on the year with a 2.86 ERA, 143 strikeouts and a 1.043 WHIP. He has easily shown he's the team's ace.

    However, Lohse has given up three or more earned runs in three of his six September starts. Luckily, he went 2-1 on the month, receiving three no-decisions.

    The right-hander has shown consistency throughout the year, having never been taken out before the end of the fifth inning.

    He did have one start against Atlanta this year, which ended in a 10-7 loss on May 30. In that game, Lohse gave up five runs in five innings, including home runs to Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman.

    Both pitchers have succeeded this year. It's going to come down to who executes their pitches better.


2 of 5

    When looking at the lineups for both teams, there's a lot to be excited about at the top.

    The Cardinals have been without Rafael Furcal at the top of the lineup, which could be huge in a close game. The Braves have Michael Bourn, who can turn a game around with his speed on the basepaths.

    Both teams have good players in the middle of the order, but the bottom part of the lineups are very different.

    Although the starting lineups won't be official until a few hours before the game, here's how they should look for both teams.

    St. Louis Cardinals Atlanta Braves
    CF Jon Jay CF Michael Bourn
    RF Carlos Beltran LF Martin Prado
    LF Matt Holliday RF Jason Heyward
    1B Allen Craig 3B Chipper Jones
    C Yadier Molina 1B Freddie Freeman
    3B David Freese C Brian McCann
    2B Daniel Descalso
    2B Dan Uggla
    SS Pete Kozma SS Andrelton Simmons
    P Kyle Lohse P Kris Medlen

    Jay has clearly shown he can fill in for Furcal at the top of the lineup, batting .305 with a .347 on-base percentage. Although he has a little speed, it's not game-changing speed at the top of the lineup.

    Beltran and Holliday give the Cardinals a big advantage in the No. 2 and 3 holes. While most teams save their best hitters until No. 3, the Cardinals choose to put Beltran second. This guarantees him more at-bats and a chance for St. Louis to strike in the first inning.

    The real X-factor, however, is No. 6 hitter David Freese, who was the hero of last year's postseason. If he struggles, then the Cardinals will struggle to drive in runs, as the lineup's last three hitters have a combined 45 RBI on the year.

    Then again, all it takes is one hit in a close game.

    For the Braves, Bourn is a game-changer at the top of the order. With Prado behind him, the Braves have played for one run in the first inning in many games this year.

    From there, the Braves are stout through Uggla. Although he has struggled this year, Uggla has shown that when he's hot, he can really be hot.

    The key for the Braves is in the top of the lineup. If Bourn and Prado are getting on base and/or moving runners over, the Braves will be hard to stop.


3 of 5

    In a one-game playoff, both managers will be quick to go to their benches if anyone gets into trouble.

    For the Cardinals, Matt Carpenter and Skip Schumaker are the only real threats off the bench. Carpenter has six home runs and 45 RBI and could get a big hit if need be. Schumaker is batting .276 on the year, and is capable of getting timely hits.

    If the Cardinals need a speedy guy to come off the bench, there's no real base-stealing threat, so they could go with anyone.

    The Braves counter with Reed Johnson, Juan Francisco, David Ross and Eric Hinske.

    One thing I wouldn't be surprised to see from manager Fredi Gonzalez is a pinch-run for McCann if it's a close game and the Braves need a run. Ross is more than capable at taking his spot, and having a guy like Jose Constanza on the basepaths to score a run could be huge.

    Francisco can simply crush the ball, and he might be called on if the Braves need a big hit. With nine home runs on the year, there's no better player on the bench if a big hit is needed.


4 of 5

    When it comes to the bullpens, the Braves have a noticeable advantage over the Cardinals.

    The Braves are second in baseball with a bullpen ERA of 2.80, while the Cardinals are 22nd with a 3.92 ERA. The Braves also lead in bullpen strikeouts (472-432) and opponent's batting average (.237-.243).

    Atlanta is led by one of the best closers in the game in Craig Kimbrel, and guys like Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty help set him up. Kimbrel has 42 saves and a 1.02 ERA, while Venters and O'Flaherty have combined for 48 holds.

    Those three will make it hard for the Cardinals if the Braves have a late lead.

    The Cardinals counter with Jason Motte and Mitchell Boggs at the back of their bullpen. Both are good in their own right, as Motte has 41 saves and a 2.78 ERA while Boggs has 34 holds.

    While they don't receive the same press as the Braves' three relievers, Boggs and Motte have the potential to hold the Braves down just as well.

    Where the Cardinals might run into trouble with Boggs is the fact that he's appeared in 78 games, which is a career high.


5 of 5

    While all of the previous slides went over what's on paper for both teams, there's one thing that can't be forgotten.

    Jones could be playing in the final game of his big league career on Friday. That is, if the Braves lose, of course.

    But the Chipper factor has to be taken into account for many reasons. The Braves are playing at home and will be behind him more than anyone else.

    While the Chipper factor can't be the only thing to propel the Braves to a win, it is quite prevalent.

    When looking at the lineups, starters, benches and bullpens, the Braves have a clear advantage over the Cardinals. This was shown during the regular season and will be shown again Friday.

    Prediction: Braves 5, Cardinals 1