The Cardinals were able to hold off the Braves in a 7-6 win, but both team’s bullpens aren’t great, which could make this NLDS a lot of fun.
The Cardinals have battled all season to get to the postseason, clinching the NL Central division on the final game of the season, fighting off the Cubs and Brewers late to avoid the Wild Card play-in game. With a combination of excellent starting pitching being surrounded by a great defensive club, St. Louis was never truly out of any game.
Since Sept. 1, the Cardinals pitching has posted a 3.38 ERA, good for the 4th best in the league during that span. Factor in a defense that saved 95 defensive runs this season, good for 3rd in the league, the Cardinals managed to win 16 of their final 28 games.
Facing the Braves, the Cardinals gameplan was the same as it’s been since September, as they sent groundball specialist Miles Mikolas to the mound. The veteran starter went five innings allowing just one run and was a muffed groundball away from escaping the 1st inning without allowing that one run. Instead, Gold Glove 2B Kolten Wong makes misses SS Paul Dejong on the throw to second base for an inning-ending double play, and Mikolas is charged with a run.
Wong, who hadn’t played since Sept. 19, was likely just rusty after dealing with a hamstring pull. But that was just one of three errors the Cardinals committed Thursday afternoon. And for a team like the Cardinals, that doesn’t have a great offense and who’s bullpen goes through momentarily command issues, they can’t afford to make mistakes.
So when Tommy Edman and Paul Dejong both couldn’t make a play on a hard one-hopper from Dansby Swanson, extending the Braves lead to 3-1 in the bottom of the 6th, it felt like the Cardinals were done.
But then the Cardinals started to show signs of life when Paul Goldschmidt parked a ball in the left-field stands in the top of the 8th, cutting the Braves lead down to one run. The Cardinals string three straight singles together, with the last coming from Matt Carpenter on a blooper that dropped in left-field, and the game was tied three runs apiece.
Braves closer Luke Jackson was charged with the two-runs, while former closer Mark Melancon was the one who allowed the hit to Carpenter. The 34-year-old Melancon came back in the 9th and gave the game away, allowing the Cardinals to score four-runs off five hits, and the Braves were suddenly down 7-3.
Atlanta would make it close in the 9th with two home runs, first a two-run bomb from Ronald Acuna Jr., and then a solo shot from Freddie Freeman that traveled 460 feet to dead-center. But St. Louis closer Carlos Martinez would get Josh Donaldson to groundout and strikeout Nick Markakis looking to seal a 7-6 win.
And while both the Braves and Cardinals bullpens’ disappointed today, Braves manager Brian Snitker going to closer Shane Greene in the 6th inning may have cost his team the game. Postseason baseball does typical call for teams to go to their best arm in crucial moments, and at the time, the game was tied 1-1.
But Atlanta acquired Greene to close games in the postseason, and with no reliable option behind their closer, Snitker had to turn to Jackson and Melancon to carry them home. And to be fair, Martinez almost blew a four-run lead in the top of the 9th for the Cardinals.
But the Cardinals gifted the Braves this game, they had their moments to really put away St. Louis while they were reeling, but going 1-11 with RISP ends with a Game One loss. And now Atlanta has to face St. Louis’ ace Jack Flaherty in Game Two, who has a 0.91 second-half ERA and hasn’t allowed a run in his last 19 innings of work.
Atlanta has to win Friday’s game with the series heading to St. Louis on Sunday or Cardinals fans will make their postseason short and miserable.