Daily Rant: National League Wild-Card Preview


The 2012 MLB regular season is no more, and tomorrow night, the postseason dawns, as the St. Louis Cardinals take on the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field in Atlanta.  Kyle Lohse (16-3, 2.86) will face Kris Medlen (10-1, 1.57), both pitchers coming off fantastic seasons.  Both teams have fairly new managers, as Mike Matheny looks to match wits with Fredi Gonzalez, who has a few years of managing experience on Matheny.

The pitchers:  In 3 appearances against the St. Louis Cardinals this season, Kris Medlen has thrown 5 2/3 innings, allowing 6 hits and 3 runs with a 4.76 ERA and .273 batting average against.  That amounts to his second highest ERA against any team this season, and bodes well for the Redbirds if history were to repeat itself.  Kyle Lohse, on the other hand, has one start against the Atlanta Braves this season, and struggled.  In 5 innings of work, he allowed 9 hits to the tune of 5 earned runs and a .409 batting average against.  Certainly, he’ll have to be better than that Friday night if he doesn’t want to be on a short leash.  My prediction is that the game will be 3-1 Atlanta before the 2 starters depart, which would mean a battle of the bullpens to determine the eventual winner.

September 18, 2012; St. Louis, MO. USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Kyle Lohse (26) points up after the sixth inning against the Houston Astros at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Astros 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-US PRESSWIRE

The overall ERA of the St. Louis Cardinals is 3.71, which ranks 8th overall in the MLB.  Slightly better than that is the Atlanta Braves staff, who owns a 3.42 ERA that is 5th in the league.  I think an extended series against Atlanta would end poorly for the Redbirds, but a 1 and done scenario bodes well for them.

The hitters:  The Braves .247 batting average was good for just 20th on the season, but they do have a few solid hitters.  Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward each hit better than 20 homers, and 4 Braves had 70+ RBI.  The St. Louis Cardinals have a more potent lineup, which I believe swings the pendulum very much in their favor.  The Redbirds had 5 players with 75+ RBI, 5 players with 20+ homers, and a .271 average overall that was good for 4th in the league.

Also worth noting is the fact that Brian McCann will be benched tomorrow.  Instead, David Ross will start in his place.  Having such an important piece of their lineup missing for a playoff game might just be their downfall.  With a win in this one, the St. Louis Cardinals would have a hand in ending the Atlanta Braves season two years in a row.

Starting Lineups:

St. Louis Cardinals:

C – Yadier Molina – Molina enjoyed his best offensive season this year, and looks primed for a big postseason.  He hit 22 HRs, batted a team-best .315, and had 76 RBI and 12 steals.  He also had career highs in OBP, SLG, and OPS.  If the Redbirds make it past the 1st game, look for him to be huge in both handling the pitching staff, and at the plate.

1B – Allen Craig –  With a .400 average with runners in scoring position, Craig could very well be the hero of this postseason.  In a time that’s predicated on being clutch, Craig has been exactly that.  For a good while this season, his games played matched his RBI total.  His .307 average, 22 HRs, and 92 RBI were such solid production, I’m sure that many St. Louis Cardinals fans almost forgot the man he replaced, Lance Berkman.

2B – Daniel Descalso – Descalso has been one of the few weak links in the Redbirds lineup this season.  His 83 Ks nearly matched his mere 85 hits in 374 ABs.  His .227 average is a career low, and it is pretty obvious he is not a permanent fixture at the position.  His power numbers leave a lot to be desired, but thankfully, his defense has been stellar.  He has played 1B, 2B, 3B, and SS this season, and his range is good too.  Any offense he could provide during the postseason would be an added bonus.

3B – David Freese – Last year’s postseason hero finally had the chance to reach 500 ABs, and he didn’t disappoint.  His 20 HR, 79 RBI, and 70 runs were as good as anyone could expect from a guy in his first full season in the majors.  If he can only cut down slightly on his strikeout total (122), he could be a 25/90/90 guy soon.  If he can even come close to his heroics of last year, this will be a very special postseason for the St. Louis Cardinals.

SS – Pete Kozma – Kozma has been a spark plug for the Cardinals since Rafael Furcal‘s season ended with an elbow injury.  Look for him to be a Freese-like contributor this postseason.

RF – Carlos Beltran – In his first year with the Redbirds, Carlos Beltran paced the team in HRs, with 32.  He also hit a decent .269, and had 97 RBI.

CF – Jon Jay – A very quick .305 hitter, Jay has been a solid contributor in both hitting, runs (70), and stolen bases (19).

LF – Matt Holliday – Holliday paced the team in RBI, with 102, and had 27 homers to go along with that.  Not enough can be said about the Cardinals acquisition of him back in 2009.  He is nothing but the consummate pro, and his production has been absolutely fantastic.  There’s no reason to believe that won’t continue.

Atlanta Braves:

C – David Ross – Ross has been a pretty effective defensive catcher this season, and filled in admirably thus far for McCann while out, hitting .256 with 9 homers and 23 RBI.

1B – Freddie Freeman – Freeman, a former 2nd rounder, has been fabulous for the Braves this season, coming just 2 homers, 6 RBI, and 9 runs shy of a 25/100/100 final line.

2B – Dan Uggla – Uggla had his worst year ever hitting, reaching just .220 when all was said and done.  He did, however, have pretty solid production numbers.

3B – Chipper Jones – Jones had his highest average in 4 seasons this year, and this is his farewell tour.  Look for him to have a very solid game both defensively and offensively.  While his production is not what it once was, his defense is still as solid as ever.  He will be hitting in the clean-up spot, and will look to extend his highly productive career.  I hate to say it, but I hope this game is his last.

SS – Andrelton Simmons – Simmons will man the hole between 1st and 2nd, and has been pretty solid for the Braves while taking over for Tyler Pastornicky.

RF – Jason Heyward – Heyward has been very solid this season, belting 27 long balls to go with his .269 average.  He also 82 RBI, 93 runs, and 21 stolen bases.

CF – Michael Bourn – Bourn will lead off, and has 42 steals on the season.  While running against Yadier Molina is highly unadvisable, it could be a strategy tomorrow night for the Braves, as Bourn, Heyward, and Prado are all capable of swiping bases.  Bourn also has 96 runs and a .274 average.

LF – Martin Prado – Prado is just over .300 with a .301 average, and had solid production, with 10 HR, 70 RBI, 81 Runs, and 17 steals.

Prediction:   I predict that the St. Louis Cardinals will advance in the postseason by a score of 6-3, sending the Atlanta Braves on vacation.  While the Braves certainly have the ability to beat the Redbirds, I don’t think that luck will be on their side tomorrow.  Getting the crowd out of the game early will be a must, as that tomahawk chop could mean death to the Cardinals.  I think this will be a tight one that the Redbirds pull out in the later innings, never to look back.  I think this is the most crucial game in the entire postseason for the Cardinals, as a do-or-die situation could doom them in one day, or send them well on their way to #12 in ’12.  Let the games begin!