video thumbnail

NYM@ATL: Medlen three-hits the Mets over six innings

The Cardinals and Braves have a lot in common. Each team, naturally, would rather have won its division than face the uncertainty of Friday's win-or-go-home, this-is-for-all-the-marbles National League Wild Card playoff game at Turner Field, airing at 5:07 p.m. ET on TBS.

And both clubs understand that, like old age, it beats the alternative. As Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones told reporters, "We wanted to go out and win the division. It's a little disappointing that we're going to finish second, but we live on past [the regular season]."

One more way the two NL Wild Card teams are alike: It looks like pitching will decide which club advances to face the Nationals in the best-of-five NL Division Series beginning on Sunday.

Well, off course. Doesn't it always come down to pitching? Isn't that especially true in the postseason?

Yes and yes. Except that this time, there's no getting around it. Consider:

Starting for Atlanta will be 26-year-old right-hander Kris Medlen. He didn't make his first start of the season until July 31, but from that point forward, he went 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA, allowing 57 hits in 83 2/3 innings while striking out 84.

It gets better: Atlanta has won 23 straight games started by Medlen, dating to 2010.

Starting for St. Louis will be Kyle Lohse, who went 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA during the regular season, quietly making a case for NL Cy Young candidacy. And the right-hander should have some extra motivation: On May 30, in his only start against Atlanta since 2010, Lohse gave up five earned runs on nine hits in five innings. It was one of his least effective outings of the season.

Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel had an amazing season. He was 42-for-45 in save opportunities with a 1.01 ERA and a 0.65 WHIP, striking out a stunning 116 batters in 62 2/3 innings. And manager Fredi Gonzalez has an able crew -- left-handers Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters, plus right-hander Chad Durbin -- to get the game to Kimbrel.

Still, St. Louis can counter with Jason Motte, who had 42 saves in 49 tries and posted a 2.78 ERA.

Another wrinkle is that the Braves have been having problems scoring against all kinds of pitchers lately. They closed out the regular season by scoring two or fewer runs in 17 of their final 34 games.

Part of the issue is that Atlanta's lineup features four regulars who bat left-handed: Michael Bourn, Brian McCann, Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward. Balancing that is the fact that the Cardinals don't have a dominant left-handed reliever. Marc Rzepczynski was the situational lefty earlier in the season while Sam Freeman has largely taken over that role more recently.

This game is too important to need any extra hype, but here's some anyway. Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright, taken by the Braves in the first round of the 2000 First-Year Player Draft before being traded to St. Louis in the '03 J.D. Drew deal, provided some bulletin-board material recently.

After watching the Braves celebrate loudly upon clinching their NL Wild Card spot, Wainwright made a pointed comment.

"No disrespect to what they did, but I think we're going to save the big pop for after we beat Atlanta," Wainwright told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Game on.

Cardinals: Matheny sees good signs
Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran are both veteran hitters who play an important role in the Cardinals' offense. They also struggled late in the regular season. Beltran made the NL All-Star team but was 69-for-294 (.235) in his last 81 games. Holliday, fighting back and hip injuries, was 26-for-113 (.230) in his final 32 games.

Manager Mike Matheny, however, believes both are on the verge of getting hot.

"I'm just getting that feel, getting that confidence," Matheny said. "If we get both those guys clicking, it could be a lot of fun."

Holliday had four hits in his last two games, and Beltran had five hits in his last three.

Said Holliday: "I'm seeing the ball better. Right now, results or no results, my swing is a lot flatter and more effective."

Both players sat out of Wednesday's 1-0 win over Cincinnati.

• Reliever Mitchell Boggs believes the Cardinals need to worry only about themselves.

"We understand if we play the way we're capable of playing, we're as good as anybody in this league," Boggs said. "If we don't execute, we're going to get beat."

Braves: The Bourn ultimatum
The Braves went 50-17 this season when center fielder and leadoff hitter Bourn recorded at least one hit and scored at least one run. Bourn, however, has been in an extended slump. Despite batting .311 in the first half, he went 60-for-267 (.225) after the All-Star break.

After missing six games with a left thumb injury, though, Bourn finished the season by going 3-for-10 with two walks in four games back in the leadoff spot.

• Second baseman Dan Uggla sat out on Monday and Tuesday with a swollen right hand. He returned to the lineup on Wednesday and went 2-for-2, meaning he ended the year going 23-for-77 (.299) with two home runs and 12 RBIs in his last 23 games. That's good news for Atlanta, since he was 60-for-324 (.185) in his last 99 games overall.

• The third member of the Braves lineup who will be watched closely is McCann. The catcher, who has been fighting right shoulder and right knee problems, was 27-for-134 (.201) with four extra-base hits from Aug. 1 until the end of the season.

Worth noting
• Atlanta won five of six meetings against the Cardinals this season.

• Both teams finished strong. Atlanta was 20-9 in September, and the Cardinals won 11 of their last 15 games. Comments