The Braves will officially play the Cardinals in the NLDS, the same team that beat them during the infamous 2012 National League Wild Card Game. That was the last time these two teams matched up during the postseason. Atlanta went 4-2 against St. Louis this season, going 2-1 in each series (home and away). Those games, however, were played back in May. A lot has changed since then. So let’s break down the NL Central Champions.
John Gant: 11-1, 3.66 ERA in 66.1 IP, 60 K
Jack Flaherty: 10-8, 2.85 ERA in 189.1 IP, 225 K
Dakota Hudson: 16-7, 3.45 ERA in 169.2 IP, 126 K
Adam Wainwright: 14-9, 3.98 ERA in 167.1 IP, 150 K
Giovanny Gallegos: 3-2, 2.25 ERA in 72 IP, 93 K
Carlos Martinez: 4-2, 3.30 ERA in 46.1 IP, 51 K & 24 Saves
St. Louis boasts a strong group of ground ball pitchers, and Dakota Hudson has a nasty sinker that the Braves have already seen once this season. The usual suspects of Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, and Miles Mikolas haven’t been the aces this season, and Jack Flaherty is the new alpha of this pitching staff. He already shut the Braves down once this season and has been the best pitcher in baseball since the All-Star break. In 14 starts, Flaherty is 6-2 with a 0.97 ERA.
Former Brave John Gant had a sub 2.00 ERA around the All-Star break but has seen some regression. Although 11 wins as a reliever proves he’s been money in high leverage situations. Carlos Martinez is the closer following the injury to Jordan Hicks, and he joins diamond in the rough Giovanny Gallegos in a stout Cardinals pen. Andrew Miller is still a force in the playoffs as well, and finally, watch out for Adam “Uncle Charlie” Wainwright; I know he still has something left in the tank
Paul DeJong: .235/.317/.762, 29 HR, 77 RBI
Kolten Wong: .285/.361/.784, 11 HR, 24 SB, 59 RBI
Paul Goldschmidt: .259/.346/.821, 33 HR, 95 RBI
Marcell Ozuna: .242/.328/.807, 29 HR, 88 RBI
Yadier Molina: .270/.307/.709, 10 HR, 56 RBI
However, with the hitters, it IS the usual suspects for the Cardinals. Besides Kolton Wong’s breakout, these are the guys who are the big-time producers for St. Louis. DeJong is liable to go yard at any moment. Paul Goldschmidt broke out of his funk and is back to being a threat every time he steps in the box. Ozuna is always dangerous, and Yadier will be there defensively no matter what he does with the bat.
So how do you beat these guys? In essence, the Braves just need to do what they have done so far. If they can prevent the long ball, these guys don’t have spectacular averages. If the Cardinals don’t hit home runs, they struggle (much like the Braves used to be like). If Atlanta can string together hits on their staff, who are almost all contact pitchers, they have an excellent chance to advance to the NLCS.