A Fairly Lopsided Rivalry Reignited
Now that the “one and done” Wild Card round is in the books, we can turn our attention to the Division Series. We’ll be getting a little more in-depth than just a single game. Today’s installment: the series between the NL East Champion Atlanta Braves and the NL Central Champion St. Louis Cardinals
The Road To October
These two teams got their 2019 matchups out of the way early in the season, playing all six of their games in May. The Braves finished with a 4-2 record against St. Louis, taking 2 of 3 both times they played. Given how long ago that was, we probably shouldn’t read too much into what it could mean for the playoff series.
What is interesting is what each team did after they said good-bye to each other in May. The Braves came into 2019 looking to defend their division title – and expectations were high. After getting off to a slow start, they were starting to find their footing en route to what was a pretty stress-free division title. Nobody in the NL East could string together enough of a run to really make the Braves sweat. By the time anyone did (see the Mets post All-Star Break), they already had a big enough cushion that they never felt truly threatened.
On the other side of the diamond, St. Louis entered the season looking to improve upon their 3rd place finish in the division in 2018. There was reason for optimism at the start of the season. They came out of the gate hot, but couldn’t keep the fire burning. They spent the majority of the rest of the season scrapping (along with most of the rest of the NL Central) to stay in the playoff picture at all. Essentially they won the war of attrition in the division. Chicago basically fell off a cliff in the end and the Brewers got hit with the injury bug at the worst possible time. St. Louis was able to do enough to outlast the Brewers for the division.
Will History Repeat Itself?
Of all this season’s playoff matchups, this one may be the most evenly matched. When it comes to the postseason, however – St. Louis has a pretty sizable advantage.
History doesn’t bode well for the Braves. Atlanta is hoping to change things around in 2019
So What’re We In For?
Tonight’s opening game will pit Miles Mikolas against Dallas Keuchel. While St. Louis probably would’ve preferred to have their ace – Jack Flaherty – on the mound, they’ll have to wait on him. He pitched in game 162 when the Cards clinched the division and the team decided not to run him out on short rest. Atlanta will turn to experience, putting Keuchel on the hill for the start of the series. They’re hoping that experience will help the team get off on the good foot in the series.
Some other things to keep an eye on – injuries and team defense. The Braves will be without Ozzie Albies, Johan Camargo and Charlie Culberson. Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr. have also been banged up in recent weeks. The sheer number of bodies either missing or not 100% could impact whatever depth Atlanta may need in terms of matchups, etc. as the series wears on. Comparatively, the Cardinals don’t have anything nearly that major that they’re dealing with. Michael Wacha‘s shoulder issue will likely render him unavailable for the series but apart from that they’re pretty healthy.
As for defense – it could very well be the one area where the teams differ the most. The Cardinals had one of the most solid defenses in all of baseball this season. They committed the fewest errors and turned the second most double plays in the league. Atlanta, on the other hand, was below average in most of the defensive categories. In a series that is so evenly matched in so many other places, they’ll have to improve on their regular season in the field.
Who Ya Got?
As I said before – this is possibly the most evenly matched pairing in the field this season – which should translate into a pretty exciting series. I’m stoked to see how the pitching duels play out. Of course, I also expect there to be plenty of offensive firepower as well – given that 2019 was yet another season of HR records. In the end, I find myself in the same position I did when I looked at the NL Wild Card game – betraying my Mets fandom by picking an NL East rival to come out on top. I think the Braves will emerge victorious in this series, though I do think it’ll be close enough to go to a deciding 5th game.