After a controversial infield fly ruling, the St. Louis Cardinals moved past the Atlanta Braves and will face the Washington Nationals in the NLDS.
In a true “Wild” Card Game, the Cardinals pulled ahead and will return to the playoffs after winning the 2011 World Series but losing three-time National League MVP Albert Pujols to free agency. The Cardinals, while also defending MLB champions, come into the playoffs under a load of controversy.
Many feel as if the infield fly call was one of the worst calls in MLB history.
But as Jayson Stark pointed out on Twitter, earlier this evening, the call is “expected to be made by an umpire so long as the ball could ordinarily have been handled by an infielder."
The umpire felt that under his discretion, the fielder could have made the play. With that, the final opportunity of the season was gone, and the season quickly came to an end for Atlanta.
“I saw the shortstop go back and get underneath the ball where he would have had ordinary effort and would have caught the baseball, and that’s why I called the infield fly,” said Sam Holbrook, the umpire who made the call.
Unfortunately for the Braves, the final game of Chipper Jones’s career proved to have a remarkably sour (e.g. a field full of beer bottles) ending, as many felt the ball was hit too deep for an infielder to make a play. The Braves filed a protest for the first-ever NL Wild Card Game, but it was too little, too late.
With the conservative values of Major League Baseball as an institution, the protest had been denied and dropped within the evening.
Did you expect the MLB to overturn the ruling?
That’s a clown question, bro.
Instead, the St. Louis Cardinals will go on to play the sage that delivered the aforementioned quote (one Bryce Harper) and the Washington Nationals on Sunday (Oct. 7) at 3:07 p.m. in St. Louis.
You wake up, and your starting infielders include Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond in a division that includes former stars like Chipper Jones, David Wright, Ryan Howard, Jose Reyes and Chase Utley.
You open your eyes and instantaneously recognize that in your previous season, your team finished below .500 and failed to even make the playoffs.
Yet under the leadership of new manager Davey Johnson, the Washington Nationals fooled everyone.
Who would have thought that the Washington Nationals (98-64) would finish the regular season with the best record in the National League?
With their impressive play this season, the Nationals earned home-field advantage in the playoffs. Powered by the bats of Adam LaRoche and Bryce Harper, Washington came out swinging this year and recorded one of the most productive offenses in baseball with a slugging percentage of .428 (sixth-best in MLB). The Nationals recorded 4.51 runs per game in an incredibly impressive effort this season.
The old slugger LaRoche finished the season with 33 home runs (fourth in the NL), which, at 33 years old, was the most impressive season of his career.
Harper, who was the first overall pick in the 2010 MLB draft, finished his first season in MLB with power as the 19-year-old phenom quickly silenced whatever doubters that may have existed. With a weighted runs created plus (wRC+) score of 122, his season proved to be more productive than the likes of 2011 Silver Slugger winner Curtis Granderson (116) and three-time MVP Alex Rodriguez.
The steal of the season, however, was Desmond.
Desmond hit .292 with an OBP of .335 on the year and could prove to be a difference-maker in the playoffs.
Look for the X-factor of Harper.
If his inexperience proves to be a hindrance, the Nationals won’t be much of a contender in this postseason.
However, all indications are that he’s more than ready to step up for real-time success. Harper hit .330 in September and recorded 13 home runs in the final two months of the season, and he will bring the momentum of his exciting and improbable rookie season into a postseason drive.
RF Jayson Werth
CF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche
LF Michael Morse
SS Ian Desmond
2B Danny Espinosa
C Jesus Flores
The Cardinals rallied back from losing Albert Pujols with a remarkable vengeance.
One positive was a rejuvenated presence from National League All-Star Carlos Beltran.
Beltran, who the Cardinals signed over the offseason, led the Cardinals with 32 home runs.
Yadier Molina also posted a career year and was one of the top five hitters in the league this season. Hitting .322 on the year with 22 home runs, he was one of the main reasons that the Cardinals offense had life during the season. The 30-year-old Puerto Rican provides a steady spark to an already impressive lineup.
The Cardinals had the best on-base percentage in baseball this season (.338) and with 4.72 runs per game provided one of the most explosive offenses in the Major Leagues.
Even without Pujols, the Cardinals were one of the better teams in baseball, especially during the second half of the season.
CF Jon Jay
RF Carlos Beltran
LF Matt Holliday
1B Allen Craig
C Yadier Molina
3B David Freese
2B Daniel Descalso
SS Pete Kozma
1. Gio Gonzalez (21-8, 2.89 ERA)
2. Jordan Zimmermann (12-8, 2.94 ERA)
3. Edwin Jackson (10-11, 4.03 ERA)
4. Ross Detwiler (10-8, 3.40 ERA)
CP Drew Storen (24 K’s, 0.99 WHIP, 4 SVs)
RP Tyler Clippard (84 K’s, 1.16 WHIP, 32 SVs)
RP Sean Burnett (57 K’s, 1.24 WHIP)
RP Mike Gonzalez (39 K’s, 1.32 WHIP)
RP Ryan Mattheus (41 K’s, 1.15 WHIP)
RP Craig Stammen (87 K’s, 1.20 WHIP)
1. Adam Wainwright (14-13, 3.94 ERA)
2. Jaime Garcia (7-7, 3.92 ERA)
3. Chris Carpenter (0-2, 3.71 ERA)
4. Kyle Lohse (16-3, 2.86 ERA)
CP Jason Motte (86 K’s, 0.92 WHIP, 42 SVs)
RP Lance Lynn (18-7, 3.78 ERA, 180 K’s)
RP Mitchell Boggs (58 K’s, 1.05 WHIP)
RP Marc Rzepczynski (33 K’s, 1.35 WHIP)
RP Edward Mujica (47 K’s, 1.04 WHIP)
RP Fernando Salas (60 K’s, 1.41 WHIP)
The Washington Nationals get two extra days of rest that will be used for a team workout and pitching rest.
Meanwhile, Cardinals ace Lohse was burned on Friday night, as they needed to win each day like it was their last. In their win, they recorded only six hits (and allowed 12, including four extra base hits), which speaks well for a tame Cardinals offense.
Washington’s starting lineup certainly sparked impressive power on the season.
Their home run count (194) was the second best in the National League.
The Washington Nationals won the season series with the Cardinals 4-to-3.
Washington’s biggest asset on the year, however, was their pitching. With a 3.33 ERA, they recorded the best mark in the National League and the second best in Major League Baseball.
This helped them maintain possession of the NL East lead since May 22, and controlled it ever since. The team was 17-10 in September.
One criticism that can be said of the Nationals is their lack of experience, but manager Johnson is the only skipper to take four different teams to the postseason. If any manager can handle the youth, it’s Johnson.
With their first postseason appearance since moving to Washington and their first postseason appearance in franchise history since 1981, expect Nationals fans to come out with extreme excitement for the youthful franchise.
No baseball team from Washington, D.C. has made the postseason since 1933.
Expect the city to be hyped and rally around their young stars.
The Cardinals scored 5.7 runs per game against the Nationals this season, which is the most the Nats allowed to any team all year.
They outscored the Nationals with a total of 765 runs scored this year (the Washington Nationals recorded 731) and are one of the most productive offensive teams in baseball.
St. Louis batters also no longer have to deal with facing young phenom and former No. 1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg, who was shut down to recover from his ligament injury from last season.
Another intangible: The Cardinals have real postseason experience coming off an MLB championship and completely outmatch the Nats in that regard.
Edwin Jackson, a former St. Louis Cardinal, is the only player in the Washington Nationals rotation with a game of postseason experience. None of the Nationals relievers have been to the playoffs, and LaRoche and Werth are the only two players in the starting lineup who have been to the postseason.
While the Nationals may have won the season series, the Cardinals won the most recent series against Washington 2-1 and outscored the team by a remarkable total of 26-12.
The Cardinals are 9-3 in their last 12 games.
Just like last season, the hottest team coming into the playoffs usually ends up on top.
Gonzalez threw a shutout in his last effort against St. Louis.
He last threw on Sept. 27 and will have plenty (perhaps too much?) rest coming into this game and had a scheduled bullpen session on Friday. While this game may be in St. Louis, the home-field advantage may not hold as well as one would expect.
Washington plays extraordinarily well on the road (48-33), which was the best in MLB.
Don’t expect the jitters to get in the way of this Cy Young candidate.
I expect the Nationals to secure this first game easily.
St. Louis 1
Game 1: Sunday at St. Louis (3:07 p.m. ET)
Zimmermann gave up a career-high eight runs when the two teams played each other on September 1.
I like Zimmermann and think he’s a strong young talent, but the St. Louis bats can only be contained for so long. The Cardinals have been hot recently, and they clearly have Zimmermann‘s number. If the Cardinals score first, I wouldn’t trust the Washington bullpen to hold on to a victory.
While Garcia is hardly a staff ace, he’s a reliable enough candidate for a win that the Cardinals should take to tie up the series after lighting up Zimmermann once again.
St. Louis 5
Game 2: Monday at St. Louis (4:37 p.m. ET)
Jackson gave up nine runs to St. Louis in only 1.1 innings last time he faced the Cardinals.
Jackson (September/October ERA of 6.54) will pitch in this game because the Cardinals are strong against lefties, and it would make more sense for him to follow Gonzalez and Zimmermann.
With the Nationals coming home for the first playoff appearance in the nation’s capital since 1933, expect Jackson to rally from a poor performance and come back with an impressive home victory as Carpenter falls to 0-3 on the year.
I like Jackson's postseason experience and trust his 2011 championship experience for a win in this series against his former team.
St. Louis 3
Game 3: Wednesday at Washington (TBA)
In Lohse's first game this season against Washington, he was hit for eight runs. Last time Lohse faced the Nationals, he surrendered a grand slam to Michael Morse in the first inning.
For Washington, Detwiler gave up seven runs in 2.1 innings on Sunday against the Cardinals.
Despite the fact that this game is in Washington and can be a series-clinching attempt for the Nationals, I don’t trust Detwiler for a victory.
Lohse, with his extra rest, will control the game and take the win.
St. Louis 4
Game 4: Thursday at Washington, if necessary (TBA)
For my extraordinarily exciting prediction, I see this series going to five.
This is going to be a pitching battle for the series-clinching berth, but I see Washington taking its home-field momentum into the National League Championship Series.
Under the leadership of Johnson and with the momentum of the home crowd in their favor, Harper and the Washington Nationals go on to pass their scare and see another series.
St. Louis 1
Game 5: Friday at Washington, if necessary (TBA)
WASHINGTON NATIONALS WILL ADVANCE TO THE NLCS IN FIVE GAMES
You read it here first.
The Washington Nationals will take their first playoff opportunity in franchise history and go on to the National League Championship Series.
With the help of rookie sensation Harper and under the first-year leadership of Davey Johnson, the Nationals will defeat the defending champs and send the Cardinals back to St. Louis.
The Cardinals may come into the series with an undeniable amount of momentum, but the pitching staff of the Washington Nationals is a force to be reckoned with. Now that they've tasted the playoffs, I don't see them backing down and bowing out.
Look forward to a great series.
Both the St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Nationals are extraordinarily talented and deep, and fans are in store for some quality baseball as the two go head to head.