Cardinals, Braves face off in NLDS Game 1

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Every year something weird happens: midway through the Division Series — maybe as early as Game 2 — I think back about the Wild Card games and they seem like they occurred a month ago. They just fade into the past faster than green grass through a goose. Maybe that’s what one-and-done baseball is all about. Maybe it’s simply ephemeral like that.

No more worries on that score, because we now have an actual playoff series on tap. A best-of-five series, that is, with the Cardinals in Atlanta to take on the Braves in the NLDS.

The Game: St. Louis Cardinals @ Atlanta Braves, National League Division Series
The Time: 5:02 PM EDT
The Place: SunTrust Park
The Channel: TBS
The Starters: Miles Mikolas (Cardinals) vs. Dallas Keuchel (Braves)

The Upshot:

On paper this may be the most evenly-matched of the four Division Series, so it’s definitely got that going for it. No alpha teams like the Dodgers or Astros, no historical yips like the Twins have with the Yankees. Just a good old matchup of division winners, each of whom have a lot of team history but neither of whom seem overly-laden with Big Storylines, outsized characters or narrative baggage. Some no-nonsense baseball, one hopes.

The teams met six times this season, with the Braves taking two of three in both of the series, but they haven’t seen each other since May. Dallas Keuchel wasn’t around for that as he was still at home trying to find a job, but he’ll take the ball in Game 1 for Atlanta. Keuchel pitched well for most of the stretch before hitting a few bumps in his final three outings. Mikolas started slowly this season but pitched well down the stretch, full stop, pitching particularly well against contenders. Keuchel is a bit dinger-happy, but the Cardinals were only 12th in the National League in homers. The Cardinals defense is stellar but the Braves hit a lot of home runs and the Cards bullpen and the back end of their rotation walks a lot of guys, so they’re not necessarily poised to play a huge role at certain points. There’s a lot of pressure on Mikolas to go long, get the series to a dominant Jack Flaherty in Game 2 and hope that Braves bats don’t wear the Cards’ lesser arms down. There’s likewise a lot of pressure on the Braves to get to Mikolas with Flaherty looming in Game 2.

Health is worth watching here. Kolton Wong, the Cardinals almost-certainly-Gold-Glove second baseman has been out since September 19, but he’ll be in the lineup in Game 1. For the Braves, Freddie Freeman has been dealing with bone spurs in his elbow that have sapped his power of late but the Braves say he’s good to go. Ronald Acuña Jr. missed the final few games of the season with a tight groin but they say the same for him too. We’ll see if any of those stars are hampered by owies this afternoon.

It’s time for some afternoon playoff baseball, folks.