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NL Wild Card Game Preview: Do the Cardinals stand a chance?

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The Matchup: St. Louis Cardinals (88-74) at Atlanta Braves (94-68)

The Time: Friday, 5:07 PM Eastern

The Starting Pitchers:  Kyle Lohse (16-3, 2.86 ERA) vs. Kris Medlen (10-1, 1.57 ERA)

The Breakdown:  Yes, the headline is meant to be tongue-in-cheek. Any team stands a chance in any one game.  This is baseball for crying out loud. The Houston Astros won nearly five dozen games this season, and they stink on ice.  Trying to handicap a single baseball game is madness when the very pinnacle of the sport requires a team to only win four of seven. Anything can happen.

Which isn’t to say that we can’t look at the matchup and glean … something from it.  And the something I glean is that the Braves are really well set up for a one-game series.  Kris Medlen gets the ball for Atlanta and he hasn’t lost a start since 2010. This year, since moving to the rotation from the pen, he is 9-0 with an 0.97 ERA. At the other end of the game is Craig Kimbrel, the Braves’ beastly closer. He struck out 16.7 batters per nine innings. No, that is not a misprint.  If the Braves have a late lead, the Cardinals are going to be in big trouble.

But there’s nothing to say that they’ll have a late lead. Kyle Lohse has not been as dominant as Medlen, but he has been nearly as consistent this year. Has only lost one start since June, and he’s facing a Braves lineup that’s sputtering a bit of late, even if the team did finish strongly overall.  And the Cardinals bats may not be too intimidated by Medlen. They scored three runs off of him in five and two thirds relief innings against him this year.

The Prediction:  Ultimately you have to give the edge to the Braves. They have hit Kyle Lohse very well overall, and as long as Kris Medlen pitches like he’s capable of, it’s gonna be a tough evening for the Cardinals. And a short one if Medlen is able to hand off a lead to that Atlanta bullpen. Let’s call it, oh, I dunno … 5-2, Braves.

But of course, in one game, anything can happen.

The Nationals acquire Marc Rzepczynski from the Athletics

ARLINGTON, TX - JULY 25:  Marc Rzepczynski #35 of the Oakland Athletics throws against the Texas Rangers in the fifth inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington on July 25, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The Nationals have acquired left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski and cash considerations from the A’s in exchange for minor league infielder Max Schrock.

Schrock is a 21-year-old second baseman who has been pretty darn impressive in A-ball this year, but the Nats can be excused for giving up promise in 2018 or whatever for some bullpen help come playoff time. Rzepczynski walks a few too many guys for my taste but he strikes ’em out at a pretty decent rate for a LOOGY and the Nats could use another southpaw reliever apart from Oliver Perez. This is especially true given how many tough lefty hitters they may face in the playoffs.

On the basic merits, sure, Rzepczynski for Schrock may look pretty dang good for the A’s in a few years. But this October the A’s will be watching on TV from home while the Nats will be trying to win it all, making the trade pretty darn understandable from their point of view.

 

Video: Minor leaguer dives over the wall to rob a home run

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Meanwhile, in Tulsa, Zach Welz of the visiting Arkansas Travelers made a spectacular catch. It was the catch Torii Hunter tried to make on that famous David Ortiz homer in the playoffs a few years back except Welz made it.

Watch as he topples over the wall to come up with the would-be dinger off the bat of Tulsa Drillers first baseman Cody Bellinger: