Playoff Preview: Cardinals vs. Braves

The NLDS is here and Trevor Hooth has a preview of the Cardinals and Braves series!

Playoff baseball is here and the St. Louis Cardinals (91-71) and Atlanta Braves (97-65) will be kicking things off in the National League. The Cardinals enter the 2019 postseason in search of their 12th World Series title, and first since 2011. The Braves are seeking their third championship, their most recent coming in 1995.

 

NLDS Schedule

 

Game One: Thursday, October 3th at Atlanta, 5:02 PM EST

Game Two: Friday October 4th at Atlanta, 4:37 PM EST

Game Three: Sunday, October 6th at St. Louis, TBA

Game Four (If needed): Monday, October 7th at St. Louis, TBA

Game Five (If needed): Wednesday, October 9th at Atlanta, TBA

 

 St. Louis Cardinals

 

There is always a magic to the St. Louis Cardinals come playoff time and it seems they can never be counted out. They captured the NL Central title in game 162 after a dramatic end to their season that included a four-game sweep of the Cubs at Wrigley and holding off the Brewers after losing four straight down the stretch. They had clinched their playoff berth for the first time since 2015.

Drama aside, the Cardinals have some veterans who will have to step up if St. Louis is going to have a chance. Yadier Molina is the lone player that played in the 2011 World Series, as Adam Wainwright was on the IL that entire season. However, Wainwright and Molina both got their first rings in 2006. They also, along with Matt Carpenter, Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha and Kolten Wong were on the 2013 team that lost in the World Series. Andrew Miller and Dexter Fowler were on opposite sides of the 2016 World Series. Paul Goldschmidt has limited playoff experience, never making it passed the NLDS.

Molina might seem ageless, but some of the other veterans are showing their age. Both Miller and Wainwright are not the dominant arms they once were, so a lot of it will be on the young guns.

As long as the moment doesn’t get to big, some of the big, albeit young, contributors on the pitching staff the Cardinals will stand a chance. Namely guys like Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson and Giovanny Gallegos, among others, will need to keep their nerves in check. Having Yadier Molina as the other half of the battery will be a plus.

Offensively, there are so many weapons. With names like Goldschmidt, Paul DeJong, Marcell Ozuna, a bounce-back Fowler and Molina. Not to mention Kolten Wong, the surprising bat of the year who was worth 12.9 offensive runs above average. Anyone in that lineup could step up and deliver the David Freese-esque moment… well, we can only hope for a moment that big.

 

Atlanta Braves

 

The Braves are a great combination of youth and veterans that could be a real factor in this postseason. They were active at the trade deadline to fill holes in their roster, especially in the bullpen. One advantage that this team has is that they were in the playoffs last season, even though they lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS. Even so, it’s more recent experience than their opposition. That being said, this team is a lot different. For one, Mike Foltynewicz started game one of the NLDS in 2018, and in 2019, that will be far from the case.

Like the Cardinals, the Braves have players with World Series experience. Dallas Keuchel and Brian McCann both have a ring from their 2017 run with the Houson Astros. Even though he was in a bench role, Francsco Cervelli also won a World Series in 2010 with the Yankees. Outside of that there are veterans like Nick Markakis and Josh Donaldson, among others have some limited playoff experience. Obviously, anyone who was on the roster last year also has seen NLDS play before.

The Braves have some really great names kn all sides of the ball. Just as it’s been all year, it’ll be scary to see names like Donaldson, Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies in the lineup. Ronald Acuña Jr. is still a dangerous name, but he has been out with a groin injury. It’s believed he would be ready for game one of the NLDS so we’ll see.

This pitching staff is entirely different than it was on Opening Day. For one, there is Keuchel, who was good for 0.8 WAR in his 112 innings since being signed mid-season. Not to mention the bullpen overhaul that happened at the trade deadline, where the team brought in Shane Greene, Mark Melancon and Chris Martin.

Team Stats

 

CardinalsBraves
Batting fWAR21.8 (14th)26.4 (7th)
wRC+94 (T-15)102 (T-10)
ISO.169 (T-23).194 (8th)
Pitching fWAR15.2 (T-13)12.4 (18th)
FIP4.29 (11th)4.39 (14th)
K/98.73 (17th)8.63 (18th)
BB/93.41 (T-18th)3.41 (T-18th)
HR/91.20 (3rd)1.25 (8th)
Def39.5 (3rd)17.4 (8th)

There are some interesting numbers here. The Braves take all the hitting categories and Cardinals take most of the pitching and defense. The will interesting match-up, due to the Braves power versus the Cardinals ability to limit homers, especially with the inflated power numbers in 2019. For what it’s worth, the .194 ISO for Atlanta would’ve been good for second in the league in 2018, and .169 would be 11th. It’s also interesting that these teams have the same walk rate. On paper, this looks to be a pretty good match-up that could prove to exciting.

Things To Watch

 

  • Acuña is expected to be ready for the start of the NLDS, but coming off a groin injury we will see what kind of impact he will have.
  • Miles Mikolas will be starting game one and he has been hit or miss. The effectiveness of his slider will be a key component for the Cardinals to get off on the right foot.
  • Wainwright has been showing signs of age in the last few years, though he was worth 2.2 fWAR this season. His leadership will be huge for this young St. Louis team.
  • Pitching will play a big role for the Braves. The offense leads the league in runs scored in the final three innings of the game, which will add an interesting dynamic to how the pitchers will need to perform, should that trend continue.

Regular Season Results

 

The Cardinals and Braves played each other six times during the 2019 season, with Atlanta winning 4-2. The Braves outscored the Cardinals 29-27 in those games. All six of those games were played back in May, before the Cardinals turned their season around.

Postseason History

 

YearSeriesResult
1982NLCSCardinals 3-0
1996NLCSBraves 4-3
2000NLDSCardinals 3-0
2012NLWCCardinals 1-0

Prediction

 

Cardinals in 5. I’m not as confident as I was in this before the announcement that Mikolas gets the ball for game one, but I am sticking to my guns here. It’s still shaping up to be a really good series.

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