How the St Louis Cardinals can beat the Atlanta Braves
By Matt Graves
The St Louis Cardinals are heading to Atlanta for a four-game series. How can they beat the talented Braves?
The last time the St Louis Cardinals were in Atlanta, they emphatically stomped out the Braves’ hopes of continuing onto the 2019 NLCS. Game 5 of the 2019 NLDS was highlighted by their 10-run first inning and despite the Cardinals’ performance for the rest of the 2019 postseason, there is no doubt that fans in Atlanta haven’t forgotten.
Two years later, the Cardinals are heading to Atlanta in a position that isn’t all too different than the team they will face. Injuries and lack of consistency on the pitching side of the ball has easily been the biggest issue for the Cardinals and the Braves have shared in that.
While the Braves have a more talented offense than the Cards, their pitching has been even worse, keeping them below .500. Looking around at Ronald Acuna Jr., Freddie Freeman, Austin Riley, and Ozzie Albies, the name-value screams contender. However, the Braves have not spent a single day in 2021 with a winning record. Right now, they are at a 30-35 record, 7.5 games back of the Mets in the NL East.
So, when it comes down to how to beat the Braves, the answer is going to be very similar to how teams beat the Cardinals. Put simply, avoid the stars in their lineup and take advantage of weak starters and the bullpen.
It’ll be hard to avoid all the stars in the Atlanta lineup, but there is no secret that the bullpen is rough in Atlanta. The Cardinals will face Charlie Morton, Max Fried, Drew Smyly, and the final starter hasn’t been announced. In Braves country this year, Morton and Smyly have been a point of contention among fans as they were the Braves’ biggest offseason acquisitions.
Smyly (-0.7 bWAR, 5.63 ERA) signed for $11M and Morton (0.6 bWAR, 4.50 ERA) signed for $15M, and that is a rough way to spend $26M. Neither starters have been good and the Cardinals need to capitalize on that. On Friday, Carlos Martinez will face the toughest matchup in Jack Flaherty’s high school teammate, Max Fried. Fried has spent a lot of the season on the IL, but has ace potential when he’s on.
Presumably, Sunday will be a game that the Braves call up one of their young arms, either Tucker Davidson or Bryse Wilson, but neither have been good in the MLB opportunities this year.
If the Cardinals are going to win the series, they are going to have to attack the pitching of the Braves. It is going to be really hard to keep the Braves from scoring, but a lot of the Braves’ losses this year have been slug-fests that they lose because their bullpen is simply worse.
The Braves are formidable, but have suffered too many injuries and have vulnerabilities on the pitching side. If the Cardinals are going to win, they need to capitalize on this without letting Acuna or Freeman take over.