Ladies and gentlemen, the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals will play in the first ever National League Wild Card Play-in Game.
The Braves were fantastic this year, finishing 94-68 and erasing the demons of a horrid September that kept them out of the playoffs a year ago. Meanwhile, the Cardinals asked the baseball world, "Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa who?" after losing their star player to free agency and former manager to retirement.
After last season's magical run, no one will bet against the Cardinals. But with one of baseball's hottest pitchers and an excellent bullpen, the Braves will be tough to beat.
When: Friday, October 5 at 5:07 p.m. ET
Where: Turner Field, Atlanta, Georgia
Cardinals Injury Report (via ESPN)
Rafael Furcal, Elbow, 15-Day DL
Kyle McClellan, Elbow,15-Day DL
Braves Injury Report (via ESPN)
Cardinals Starting Pitcher Assessment
The Cards will roll out Kyle Lohse, who has been excellent this season with a 16-3 record, 2.86 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 143 strikeouts. He hasn't been quite so hot away from home, however, where his ERA rises to 3.41 and opponents hit .251 against him.
Hardly poor numbers, of course, but the Cardinals would probably feel better if Lohse was dealing at home. Still, he gives them a great chance to win.
Braves Starting Pitcher Assessment
You can make the argument there hasn't been a hotter pitcher in baseball down the stretch than Kris Medlen. Since being converted to a starting pitcher on July 31, he's been historically good. The Elias Sports Bureau (via ESPN) has more:
Medlen is 9-0 in 12 starts this year, which would tie the major-league record for the most wins in an undefeated season by a starting pitcher. Only three pitchers have completed seasons with 9-0 marks as starters: Tom Zachary (1929 Yankees), Whitey Ford (1950 Yankees) and Ken Holtzman (1967 Cubs).
Plus, the Braves have won every game he has started this season. His 1.57 ERA and 0.91 WHIP for the season have helped. If there was a lucky charm on this team, I'm guessing it would be Medlen.
He's the right pitcher to start in this sort of game.
Cardinals Player to Watch: Allen Craig
The man with two first names isn't a household one like Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday or Yadier Molina, but he's been the team's hottest hitter in the month of September, hitting .316 with 20 RBI.
The MLB postseason is always littered with surprising stars. I'm betting on Craig being the first to emerge.
Braves Player to Watch: Chipper Jones
If there was a player you would expect to find some magic after this season, it would be Jones. The wily old vet might have a few special moments in him left.
In 92 career postseason games, Jones is an .288 hitter with 13 home runs, 47 RBI and 58 runs scored. While he hasn't been to the postseason since 2005, he's never shied away from the big moments. Look for the leader to set the pace for Atlanta on Friday.
From the starting pitching to the bullpen, Atlanta is the better team, and we all know what wins in the playoffs. Plus, they'll have the home crowd behind them. One postseason game is impossible to predict, but based on what we've seen this year, the Braves should be the favorite.
They'll sneak out with a tight win, 3-2.
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