The Braves have become one of the most storied franchises in the National League. They were the team of the 90s, winning the division every year from 1991-2005, leading to five World Series appearances and one World Series championship. However, all of their playoff success came before the turn of the century.
Atlanta hasn’t won a playoff series since 2001 despite making it to the postseason seven times. They lost back-to-back-to-back heartbreaking five-game series from 2002-2004, followed by a disappointing four-game series with the Astros in 2005. When they finally returned to the playoffs in 2010, they fell to the Giants, who eventually went on to win the World Series. In 2012, it was the infamous Wild Card Game against these very same Cardinals that featured an infield fly call on a ball 250 feet away from the plate. Atlanta won the division again in 2013, only to show little fight in a series with the Dodgers. And then, finally, after a lengthy rebuild, the Braves returned to the postseason last year for the first time in five seasons. Their opponent was a familiar foe, and Los Angeles served Atlanta a similar result, as the Braves fell in four games for the second straight time. The NLDS has been Atlanta’s Achilles Heel, but this is a young team, and they aren’t hung up on the demons of the past.
The Braves enter the playoffs as the #2 seed and a slight favorite over the NL Central champions. St. Louis features perhaps the best pitching staff from top to bottom in the National League. In Game 1, it will be Dallas Keuchel vs. Miles Mikolas.
Keuchel has been the ace of Atlanta’s staff since August, but his last three starts have been rocky. The Braves have lost all three of them, and he’s posted a 6.19 ERA. Despite that, the Braves won’t have any problems sending him out there for a pressure-packed Game 1 at home. Keuchel is the only pitcher on Atlanta’s staff with substantial postseason experience and has been much better at home with Atlanta than on the road.
The Cardinals won’t have their ace on the mound in Game 1. Jack Flaherty was forced to pitch on Sunday for the Cardinals to clinch their division. He is scheduled to pitch in Game 2 versus Mike Foltynewicz.
Miles Mikolas will receive the first start of the postseason for the Cards. He was an All-Star back in 2018, going 18-4 with a sub-three ERA on the season, but he has not been that effective in his second season with St. Louis. Mikolas is 9-14 with a 4.16 ERA on the year. However, his stats since late August have been much more promising, posting a 3.06 ERA in his last six times out.
A lot of times Game 1’s come down to who is best fit to handle the pressure. A year ago, the Braves didn’t look like they were quite prepared for what they were in for in their first game against the Dodgers. As a result, they were walloped and shut out. This year should be different. All of these young guys now have a year of postseason experience under their belt, and they will be led by a seasoned-vet who relishes these moments in Dallas Keuchel.
Meanwhile, Mikolas is making his first career appearance in the playoffs, and he’s doing so on the road, where he has a 5.40 ERA on the season. The Cardinals have some players with postseason experience from their glory days – like Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright – but they are few and far between. Most of their players are relatively fresh to the scene.
If the Braves want to break their losing NLDS trend, Game 1 seems like a must-win. They have a significant advantage on the mound to start and are playing in their own building. Jack Flaherty is also looming in Game 2, so Atlanta has to take advantage of tonight, or they could be staring 0-2 in the face quickly – just like last year.
When the Braves clinched the division, their manager Brian Snitker had some inspirational words for his team regarding his expectations for the postseason. He said something along the lines of, “last time we knocked on the door (to the playoffs), this time I want us to kick that mother****** in.” His Herbs Brook-Esque speech was followed by a round of cheers and flying champagne. But now the moment is here, let’s see if this new wave of Braves’ talent has what it takes to make it through the trials of October, beginning tonight at SunTrust Park.