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 Phillies plan to spend money and “maybe even be a little bit stupid about it”

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In an age in which even baseball’s richest teams talk about tight budgets and keeping payroll low, it’s pretty rare to hear anyone connected with a front office talking about freely spending money. Phillies owner John Middleton, however, offered up something rare about the team’s approach to free agency.

“We’re going into this expecting to spend money, and maybe even be a little bit stupid about it,” he told Bob Nightengale or USA Today. He then added, “we just prefer not to be completely stupid.” That save aside, it was a pretty unusual sentiment these days.

“Stupid” could certainly mean Bryce Harper, who the Phillies have long been expected to pursue. It could even mean Harper and Manny Machado. Why not? At the moment the Phillies’ payroll for 2019 is looking to be just a shade above $100 million, so even adding, say, $70 million to that would not put them in an unreasonable position compared to other competitors. And that’s before you figure in any sort of back-loading or deferred money that Harper and/or Machado might agree to.

Or, even if they didn’t get one or both of those guys, they could spend that same kind of money on multiple free agents. Patrick Corbin? Marwin Gonzalez? A handful of others? We counted down the top 100 free agents last week and any number of them could be acquired given the sort of payroll flexibility a large market team like the Phillies appear to have. It merely requires the will to do it. A will which, it seems, John Middleton possesses.

How novel.