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.

Anderson shines, Braves shut out Reds again to sweep series

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
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ATLANTA — Ian Anderson dazzled during another shutout performance, as the Braves won a playoff series for the first time in almost two decades thanks to 5-0 victory against the Reds.

Ronald Acuna Jr. had three hits for the NL East champions, including a run-scoring double in the fifth. After winning Wednesday’s series opener 1-0 in 13 innings, Atlanta broke open Game 2 on two-run homers by Marcell Ozuna and Adam Duvall off Raisel Iglesias in the eighth.

Anderson struck out nine in six innings as the Braves snapped their record-tying string of losses in 10 consecutive postseason rounds since their last playoff series win in 2001. Atlanta will face Miami or the Chicago Cubs in the NL Division Series in Houston.

Just like in 2001, when Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz helped lead the way, Atlanta’s pitching staff delivered.

The 22-year-old Anderson allowed two hits and walked two in his playoff debut after six regular-season starts. Will Smith, Chris Martin and Mark Melancon each threw one perfect inning.

Cincinnati wasted a solid performance by Luis Castillo, who struck out seven in 5 1/3 innings in his first postseason start. Trevor Bauer struck out 12 in 7 2/3 scoreless innings in the Reds’ Game 1 loss.

Atlanta jumped in front in the fifth. With two outs, Austin Riley took off from first base on a pitch Acuna lined into the gap in left center. Riley scored easily and Acuna stood on second base, pumping both fists in the air in celebration.

Cincinnati left 13 runners on base Wednesday, and its scoring frustrations continued.

Anderson’s second walk of the second, to Freddy Galvis, loaded the bases with two outs. Tucker Barnhart‘s groundout to second base ended the inning.

The Braves had been 0-7 in their last seven potential clinching games in the postseason, including 0-2 in their NL division series loss to St. Louis last year.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Reds: C Curt Casali, who normally starts with Castillo, was held out due to a sore wrist before entering the game in the eighth. Barnhart, who has split playing time with Casali, was the starting catcher.

Braves: After sitting out the final two regular-season games with a sore quadriceps, Riley had no setback in the series opener. That doesn’t mean Riley is fully recovered. “I think he’s sore,” manager Brian Snitker said. “I don’t think this is something that is just going to go away. … He’s just going to have to manage it. I think he’ll be all right. He just has to be careful out of the box and on certain plays.”

UP NEXT

Reds: Will play the Cleveland Indians in their 2021 spring training opener on Feb. 27 in Goodyear, Ariz.

Braves: Will face Miami or the Chicago Cubs in Game 1 of the NL division series in Houston on Tuesday.