After the Los Angeles Dodgers fell to the rival San Francisco Giants on Wednesday, the wild-card picture is set: the Atlanta Braves will host the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals.
The single-elimination wild-card game will be aired on Friday at 5:07 p.m. ET on TBS.
The Cardinals went a combined 46-35 in July, August and September to get where they are now. The Braves have been strong all season long and are coming off a 19-8 September (best in baseball).
The Braves have gone 5-1 against the Cardinals this season, with all those games being played in May. Interestingly enough, May was Atlanta's worst month of the season (14-15 record).
Atlanta has posted the lowest team ERA in the National League (2.91) since the All-Star break, getting strong performances from starters Tim Hudson, Mike Minor, Kris Medlen, Paul Maholm and Ben Sheets along the way. Medlen in particular has been outstanding, posting a 0.94 ERA and 0.82 WHIP since the break, going 9-0 in that span.
The Braves' bullpen has also been fantastic all season long, registering a 2.80 ERA and holding batters to a .237 batting average. Closer Craig Kimbrel has been flat-out ridiculous, posting a 1.01 ERA and 0.65 WHIP while saving 42 of 45 opportunities and racking up 116 strikeouts in 62.2 innings.
On the other hand, Atlanta has largely relied on its pitching, scoring 305 runs after the All-Star break, ranked 11th out of 16 NL teams.
What's interesting about that is that the Cardinals have posted the seventh-best team ERA in the NL since the break (3.53) and had also scored the seventh-most runs in the league (338) before Wednesday's final game.
Even though St. Louis lost five of six games to Atlanta this season, Atlanta hasn't been the same offensive club as it was before the break. The Braves scored the fourth-most runs in the NL (391) before the break.
Of course, this is a one-game playoff, which is why we must examine the scheduled starters for Friday closely.
Medlen will pitch for the Braves, while Kyle Lohse will start for the Cardinals.
When Medlen last faced the Cardinals in May, he was a reliever. He gave up three earned runs in 5.2 innings against St. Louis. On the other hand, starting is different than relieving.
Also, Lohse did not do well against Atlanta on May 30, allowing five runs in five innings while the Braves rolled to a 10-7 victory.
It's a close call, but I'm giving the game to Atlanta because of Medlen's dominance in the second half. The Braves also have a better bullpen and they're playing at home, where they've gone 48-33 this season.
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