Like the Braves, the Cardinals announced their Game 1 starter on Tuesday afternoon. It will not be their ace Jack Flaherty, who pitched on Sunday, toeing the rubber on Thursday night against Dallas Keuchel. Instead, Miles Mikolas will receive the ball for Game 1 as the Redbirds hope to steal one at SunTrust Park before heading home for Games 3 and 4.
Mikolas was initially drafted in the seventh round by the San Diego Padres, where he made his MLB debut as a reliever in 2012. He appeared in 25 games and recorded a respectable 3.62 ERA in 36.2 innings as a rookie. However, he only appeared twice for San Diego the following year, and during the next offseason, he was traded twice. First, the Padres dealt him to Pittsburgh; then, the Pirates moved him to Texas, where Mikolas tried his hand as a starting pitcher. Although the results left much to be desired.
In 10 starts for the Rangers, Mikolas went 2-5 with a 6.44 ERA, which led to him falling off the radar for years to come. Texas released him at the end of the 2014 campaign, and he was forced to head to Japan to continue his professional baseball career, but that might have been the best thing to happen to him. Mikolas turned into a superstar overseas, boasting a 31-13 record and 2.18 ERA in three seasons with the Yomiuri Giants, which eventually led to the St. Louis Cardinals calling.
Following the 2017 season, the Cardinals signed Mikolas to a two-year deal worth $15.5 million. The journeyman began the year as a part of their starting rotation and never looked back. He went on to make the All-Star game in 2018, winning 18 games compared to only four losses. His ERA sat below three, and just like that, he was the ace of a major league rotation.
Mikolas hasn’t been as impressive in his second year with the Cards, but he’s been reliable nonetheless. His ERA is a hair above four for the year, and he leads the National League in losses with 14. However, Mikolas has come alive down the stretch, looking like the All-Star pitcher from a year ago.
In his last six starts, the Cardinals are 4-2, and Mikolas’ ERA is 3.06. His final outing of the season was 7.2 innings of two-run ball in a critical matchup with the Chicago Cubs. This is a pitcher that is hitting his stride at the right time, as is the rest of the Cardinals’ rotation. However, Mikolas does have notable splits that favor his game at Busch Stadium. In St Louis, he has a 3.01 ERA. Away from home, it’s a much more encouraging (if you’re a Braves fans) 5.40 ERA.
Mikolas’ repertoire consists primarily of three pitches – a fastball, curveball, and slider. Occasionally, he will mix in a changeup or a splitfinger pitch. According to FanGraphs, Mikolas throws a low to mid-90s fastball just over 50% of the time and mixes in his curveball and slider pretty evenly. He isn’t afraid of contact either, surrendering a National League-leading 186 hits in 2018 and upped that number to 193 this season. However, Mikolas does two things very well: he keeps the ball in the yard, allowing just 1.3 home runs per nine innings, and he doesn’t walk batters. Mikolas led the National League in walks per nine innings last year, giving up just 1.3 free passes. That number is up slightly to 1.6 in 2019 but remains a phenomenal rate.
The Braves are going to have their hands full in this series with the Cardinals, but they have the edge in Game 1. Dallas Keuchel has loads of postseason success, has been money at SunTrust Park, and will be facing a pitcher who is making his first playoff appearance and has not been as effective on the road. You would think if the Braves are going to put their NLDS woes behind them, they are going to have to hold serve in Game 1.