MLB Playoff Preview: St Louis Cardinals vs. Atlanta Braves
It is October once again and the return of fall nostalgia. The leaves have begun to fall, pumpkin spice lattes are in peak demand, and the Major League Baseball’s Fall Classic is back in full swing. In the coming days, I will be taking a glance at each of the four League Divisional Series and making predictions on who will advance. Next up is the St. Louis Cardinals vs the Atlanta Braves.
St. Louis Cardinals vs. Atlanta Braves
St. Louis Cardinals Record: 91-71
Atlanta Braves Record: 97-65
Most Recent Playoff Matchup: 2012 NL Wild Card, Cardinals 6, Braves 3
Two of baseball’s most consistently successful franchises meetup this year in a rematch of the 2012 NL Wild Card. While the Atlanta Braves left no doubt throughout the season as to who would win the NL East, the St. Louis Cardinals required a late season push to position themselves in front of the Chicago Cubs and the Milwaukee Brewers to take the NL Central Crown. It is tough to gauge how strong these teams will be in the playoffs, however, as their records were padded by their weak divisions. Still, both teams feature aces, superstars, and young talent that will make them a tough out in later series. This series may not have the headline teams and names that other series do, but it could provide the most competitive and pure baseball of any of the divisional series.
The Atlanta Braves bolster three of the league’s top sluggers in Freddie Freeman, Josh Donaldson, and Rookie Ronald Acuna. The three hit a combined 116 homers combined, accounting for nearly half of the team’s 249 total homeruns on the season. They can change the game in one pitch, which could spell trouble for the Cardinals if the Braves continue to get on base at the same rate as the regular season (.336 Team OBP). The Braves also have one of the best young starters in Mike Soroka (13-4, 2.68 ERA) to lead a pitching staff that features strong veterans Julio Tehran and free agent addition Dallas Keuchel. The top ends of both the lineup and pitching staff can provide Atlanta with a strong base for success in the series
The St. Louis Cardinals have similar strengths as the Braves, fielding a lineup led by Paul Goldschmidt, Paul Dejong, and Marcell Ozuna. These three accounted for much of the Cardinal offense this year in a lineup that would have otherwise struggled to produce. The Cardinals also have a young ace in Jack Flaherty (11-8, 2.75 ERA) and Giovanny Gallegos out of the bullpen to shut games down. Starter Dakota Hudson provides a nice 1-2 punch for the Cardinals first two games that can catapult them to an early lead in the series.
The Braves greatest weaknesses lie in the back of their rotation and the bullpen. While the back of the rotation typically does not matter as much as it does in the regular season, both Max Fried and Mike Foltynewicz have been inconsistent this year. One of them may need to start game four if the series gets that far. The bullpen has also been inconsistent this year, but if Sean Newcomb and trade addition Shane Greene come into form the bullpen may quickly become a strength for Atlanta.
The Cardinals have similar issues as the Braves with their bullpen. While stronger overall than the Braves, there is a dropoff in talent after Gallegos and closer Carlos Martinez. Andrew Miller has not been the pitcher that the Cardinals had hoped they would get. John Brebbia and Tyler Webb have shown a penchant for giving up runs quick. If the Cardinals have to dig into the back of their bullpen, it could be trouble. The Cardinals also have a weak lineup after their top end. Center Fielder Harrison Bader has struggled from the plate all year (.205 BA) while fromer slugger Matt Carpenter has severely regressed from his peak powers (.226 BA, 46 RBIs). The back end of the lineup is going to need to produce for the Cardinals to have a chance.
Why the Cardinals Will Win
The Cardinals are fighters. They grinded out the last few months of the season to win the NL Central over the Brewers and Cubs. The Cardinals also have the pedigree, with veterans Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter, and Adam Wainwright still in the fold to help guide the younger stars and new additions to a series win. The series will be difficult, but so has the rest of the season for the Cardinals.
Why the Braves Will Win
The Braves will win if their young superstars continue the hot starts to their careers. Both Mike Soroka and Ronald Acuna Jr. provided key contributions to the team this year and either would make a reasonable choice for team MVP. Acuna has been an absolute delight to watch this year with his combination of power and hitting for average and can carry the Braves through the series. The Braves mix of rising stars and veteran presence will be a potent mix for the series and may be the catalyst for a long October run.
Braves in five. Atlanta has been consistent throughout the year, leaving little doubt as to who was coming out of the NL East. The young stars Soroka and Acuna Jr. will be unfazed by the playoff pressure cooker and push the Braves to the NLCS. I think a split at both SunTrust Park and Busch Stadium will set up the deciding game 5 in Atlanta, where the Braves will win on a walk off single by Josh Donaldson.