There have been many stories in these three entertaining games, but the biggest is the Braves’ starting pitchers. Over the regular season, this rotation had an ERA of 4.20, seventh-best in the 15-team National League. The Cardinals’ starters had an ERA of 3.78, third-best.
In this NLDS, the St. Louis rotation has been excellent. Its ERA is 1.83, the Braves having scored four runs off it. The Braves’ starters have been fabulous — an ERA of 0.83, yielding 10 hits and three walks over 18-2/3 innings. The Cardinals have scored two runs off starting pitchers, neither on a hit. (The first was on a groundout, the second on a sac fly.)
Yeah, it’s a teeny-tiny sample size, but this is the rotation the Braves waited all season to see. Much went wrong. Mike Soroka, Mike Foltynewicz and Kevin Gausman began the regular season on the injured list. Sean Newcomb was relegated to the bullpen. Foltynewicz was demoted to Gwinnett. Gausman was waived. Keuchel wasn’t signed until June.
At the All-Star break, the Braves’ rotation had the 11th-best ERA among NL clubs. It was a wonder — and a tribute to their hitting — that they were in first place, but you knew that for this team to do anything come October their starters would have to do better.
It’d be tough to do better than Foltynewicz and Soroka did in Games 2 and 3. For those of a certain age, this was reminiscent of Steve Avery and John Smoltz against Pittsburgh in the 1991 NLCS — two youngish pitchers throwing the best games of their careers in the crucible of postseason. And this, not to put too fine a point on it, is the sort of pitching that can carry a team to the World Series.
One caveat: The Cardinals didn’t hit much over the regular season, and they’re hitting even less now. Six of their eight runs came against Luke Jackson and Mark Melancon in the calamitous eighth and ninth innings of Game 1. They’re batting .242 for the series; their OPS is .650. They have one home run. It’s reasonable to expect the Dodgers or the Astros or the Yankees — maybe even the Nationals — to make the Braves’ pitchers work a bit harder.
When this series began, it was possible to envision the Cardinals simply outpitching the Braves. That hasn’t happened yet. If it doesn’t happen today, it never will.