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.

Brewers on the brink of their first pennant in 36 years

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A series that had swung back and forth twice already swung back in Milwaukee’s favor last night with a convincing win. That it was convincing — it was not at all close after the second inning — is a key factor heading into today, as Craig Counsell has his bullpen set up nicely to shorten the game if his Brewers can get an early lead.

Josh Hader — who, if you are unaware, has not allowed a run and has struck out 12 batters in seven innings of postseason work — did not pitch yesterday or in Game 5. As such, he’s had three full days off. Given that this is a win or go home day and, if they win, he’s guaranteed two more days off before the World Series, he’s good for two innings and could very well go for three. That’s not what you want if you’re the Dodgers.

But it gets worse. Jeremy Jeffress pitched last night but it was only one pretty easy inning, so he could go two if he has to. Corey Knebel pitched an inning and two-thirds but he could probably give Counsell an inning of work if need be. Joakim Soria didn’t pitch at all yesterday. Between those guys and the less important relievers, all of whom save Brandon Woodruff are all pretty fresh, the Dodgers aren’t going to have any easy marks.

But the thing is: Counsell may not need to go that deep given that Jhoulys Chacin, their best starter of the postseason, gets the start. So, yes, in light of that, you have to like the Brewers’ chances tonight, and that’s before you realize that the home crowd is going to be louder than hell.

Not that the Dodgers are going to roll over — it’ll be all hands on deck for them with every pitcher except for Hyun-Jim Ryu available, you figure — but if they’re going to repeat as NL champs, they’re going to have to earn it either by bloodying Chacin’s nose early and neutralizing the threat of facing Hader and company with a lead, or by marching through the teeth of the Brewers bullpen and coming out alive on the other side.
NLCS Game 6

Dodgers vs. Brewers
Ballpark: Miller Park
Time: 8:09 PM Eastern
TV: FS1
Pitchers:  Walker Buehler vs. Jhoulys Chacin
Breakdown:

The most important part of this breakdown — the stuff about the Brewers’ pen — has already been said and, I presume anyway, the starters here will have the shortest of leashes. Chacin’s will be longer, as he has not allowed a run over 10 and a third innings in his first two postseason starts, making him the Brewers’ defacto ace. Every inning he goes tonight makes things much, much harder for the Dodgers once he’s gone as it means Milwaukee will be able to rely more and more on Hader and Jeffress, so the Dodgers had best get to him early.

Buehler has come up weak so far this postseason, having allowed nine runs in 12 innings, including surrendering four runs on six hits over seven innings in Milwaukee’s Game 3 victory. Still, it’s not hard to remember how dominating he was in the second half of the season. If that Buehler shows up and can keep things close, we’ll have a ballgame. If L.A. finds itself in an early hole once again, theirs will be the tallest of orders.