St. Louis Cardinals Faced with Tough Challenge in Atlanta Braves' Kris Medlen

Dan GruchalaContributor IIOctober 4, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 30: Kris Medlen #54 of the Atlanta Braves pitches in the second inning against the New York Mets at Turner Field on September 30, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

I don't think anyone saw this coming from Kris Medlen of the Atlanta Braves.

Medlen was originally drafted  in the 10th round of the 2006 Major League Baseball Player Draft. He was in the big leagues by 2009 but his first season was underwhelming as he posted a record of 3-5 with a 4.26 ERA.

He showed more promise in 2010 when he went 6-2 with a 3.68, but then disaster struck.

At the end of the 2010 season, Medlen partially tore his ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow, an injury that would require Tommy John surgery.

He then spent most of the 2011 season on the disabled list, only being activated on September 24th. After that, he pitched in two games out of the bullpen for a season stat line of 2.1 innings pitched, with two strikeouts and one hit allowed.

He then began the 2012 season as a middle-reliever for the Braves.

In late May he was sent down to AAA to get into shape to come back as a starting pitcher.

Come back he did.

His first start with the Atlanta Braves was July 31st. Since then, he has gone 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 83 2/3 innings.

That bears repeating: 9 wins since the trading deadline with an ERA under one.

Kris Medlen hasn't allowed more than five hits in any start. He has only pitched fewer than seven innings twice and has two complete game shutouts.

Perhaps the most impressive stat of all: since 2010, the Braves have won 23 straight games started by Medlen.

The accolades are beginning to roll in.

SB Nation has dubbed him "Baseball's Best Pitcher." The Washington Times wrote an article about him, and he was voted National League Pitcher of the Month by Major League Baseball.

He is not considered a power pitcher but he is exceedingly good at locating all four of his pitches—a two-seam fastball, which hovers around 90-mph, a four-seam fastball, a curveball, and a changeup that is his 'out' pitch and, by all accounts, is filthy.

How do the St. Louis Cardinals beat him?

Sit on the two-seamer—which he throws about half the time— and hope the curveball misses. Plate discipline is always important but taken too far it will lead to strikeouts as Medlen doesn't issue walks with anything approaching regularity. He has only given up 23 in 138 innings pitched this year.

The Cardinals are countering with a legitimate Cy Young candidate in Kyle Lohse. For them to have a chance to win they will need Lohse to bring his best stuff. If he can do that, and their offense—which has been feast or famine throughout the second half of the season—can score three or more runs, I like their chances.

If the Braves put up a crooked number early, the game might be over.