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

35 Comments

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.

Zack Cozart thinks the way the Rays have been using Sergio Romo is bad for baseball

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
10 Comments

The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.

In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.

The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.

Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”

It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.

It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.