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.

Report: Padres interested in Maikel Franco

Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals
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The Padres may have some interest in acquiring Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco, according to a recent report from Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. It seems unlikely that the team would deal their starting third baseman with J.P. Crawford (fractured left hand) sidelined through July; to that end, however, they signed infielder Danny Espinosa as minor league depth on Friday and have reportedly been eying the Rangers’ Adrian Beltre, among other veteran options.

Franco, 25, entered Sunday batting .255/.297/.425 with nine home runs and a .721 OPS in 229 plate appearances this season. While he has yet to live up to the .280+ average, 1.9+ fWAR he posted during his rookie campaign, he’s been a solid 20+ home run producer over the last few years and shown some stability at the hot corner. He’s also under team control for the next three years and could provide some much-needed insurance behind the Padres’ current third base option, 27-year-old Christian Villanueva.

Rosenthal notes that the Phillies could strike a deal for one of San Diego’s relievers, though no one specific has been connected to the team yet — and the club probably wouldn’t be able to finesse a one-for-one deal given the quality of the Padres’ pitchers. The Phillies’ bullpen has looked downright abysmal over the last month, placing 11th-worst in the league with a collective 5.34 ERA and 0.3 fWAR. Their failure to procure a viable reliever beyond Seranthony Dominguez, Victor Arano and Edubray Ramos lends a certain urgency to any potential deal they make over the next few weeks, though the official trade deadline is still over a month away.