October 5, 2012
National League Wild Card Game (UPDATED)
The last time the Cardinals met the Braves in the postseason, in 2000, St. Louis swept a three-game series by outscoring Atlanta 24-10. Only six players from that series remain active and two, Rafael Furcal and Chipper Jones, will attend this one. Fresher on the minds of both squads and their fans is what happened last year, when the Cardinals made a late-season surge and stole away the Braves’ postseason ticket on the season’s final night. Consider this Atlanta’s opportunity for revenge.
The Cardinals scored more runs than every National League team except the Brewers. This is a tough lineup, even without Lance Berkman and Rafael Furcal. Jay is close to being a prototypical leadoff hitter: he hits for average, gets on base, and is the team’s best stolen base threat, in terms of volume and efficiency. Following Jay is a slate of well-rounded hitters. From Beltran through Freese you have players capable of doing it all at the plate. The seven-through-nine spots are the closest thing an opposing pitcher has to a reprieve, especially if Kozma’s uncharacteristically good offensive production ceases.
Atlanta might have the weaker lineup overall, but they do have some small advantages over St. Louis. Namely, the Braves have the best two basestealers in the series, in Bourn and Heyward. The Braves can also run out a more balanced lefty-righty lineup, making it tough for the Cardinals to play matchups in the later innings. Atlanta led the NL in walks drawn and was near the top of the league in strikeouts as well; Uggla does a lot of both. The decision to start Ross over McCann actually improves the lineup, given McCann’s otherwise down season.