The Cardinals lead the league in ERA post-ASG. Their rotation is No. 1 over that span; their bullpen is No. 2. St. Louis led the NL in ERA in August; it’s second to Milwaukee in September. Since the break, only the Astros have won as many games as the Cardinals (46); the Yankees have won 45, the Braves 42.
Jack Flaherty, who’s a year older than Mike Soroka, has an ERA of 0.97 in five September starts. Wainwright, who’s a year older than Methuselah, has an ERA of 1.69 in five September starts. The Cardinals have won eight of Dakota Hudson’s past nine starts. They’ve won five of Mike Mikolas’ past seven.
Over the full season, St. Louis relievers have a FanGraphs WAR of 5.7, second-best among NL bullpens; the Braves are at 0.5, 12th-best. The Cardinals’ closer is Carlos Martinez, who has blown only three saves this season. Andrew Miller, once the best reliever in baseball, has blown five in his multi-faceted role. Giovanny Gallegos yielded four earned runs from Memorial Day through Labor Day; he has yielded four in September.
The Braves have proved they can hit good pitching. They’ve beaten Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Jacob deGrom, Aaron Nola, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Shane Bieber. They were 4-2 against the Cardinals, though the most recent meeting was in May.
The Braves’ pitching has gotten better over time, but they still hit better than they pitch. They’ll be favored in the series, and given that they won a toughened NL East with relative ease, they deserve to be. That said, best-of-fives are scary. If the Cardinals split the first two games at SunTrust Park, they can close it out without seeing Cobb County again.
The Braves have faced St. Louis four times in postseason. They were swept in 1982: Phil Niekro led Game 1 through four innings when rain interceded. They were swept in 2000, and that was with Rick Ankiel, Tony La Russa’s surprise Game 1 starter, throwing five wild pitches. They lost the 2012 infield-fly wild-card game, about which we say no more. The only time the Braves prevailed was in the 1996 NL Championship Series, when the reigning champs trailed an 88-win opponent 3-1. John Smoltz won Game 5; Greg Maddux won Game 6; Tom Glavine won Game 7. Facing elimination, the Braves outscored the Cards 32-1.
The contemporary Cardinals can’t outslug anybody. If hitters hold sway, the Braves will win. If every game is 2-1 or 3-2, St. Louis has a chance. You might think the Braves lucked out by not having to face the high-profile Cubs. You’d be wrong. The Cubs were a listing team looking for a place to collapse. From the Braves’ perspective, they fell two weeks too soon. The Cardinals are made from stouter stuff.