Cardinals, Braves face off in NLDS Game 1


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.

Jacob deGrom, oft-injured Rangers ace, to have season-ending right elbow surgery

rangers degrom
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

ARLINGTON, Texas — The Texas Rangers signed Jacob deGrom to a $185 million, five-year deal in free agency last winter hoping the two-time NL Cy Young Award winner could help them get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2016 and make a push toward winning a World Series.

They also knew the risks, with the pitcher coming off two injury-plagued seasons with the New York Mets.

Even with deGrom sidelined since late April, the AL West-leading Rangers are off to the best start in franchise history – but now will be without their prized acquisition until at least next year. The team said Tuesday that deGrom will have season-ending surgery next week to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.

“We’ve got a special group here and to not be able to be out there and help them win, that stinks,” deGrom said, pausing several times with tears in his eyes. “Wanting to be out there and helping the team, it’s a disappointment.”

General manager Chris Young said Tuesday the decision on surgery came after an MRI on deGrom’s ailing right elbow, but the extent of what is required might not be determined until the operation is performed next week.

Tommy John surgery, in which the damaged ligament is replaced, is often needed to fix a torn UCL, but Young and the Rangers didn’t go as far as saying the pitcher would have that particular procedure. After being drafted by the New York Mets in 2010, deGrom made six starts in the minors that summer before needing Tommy John surgery and missing all of 2011, three years before his big league debut.

DeGrom last pitched April 28 against the New York Yankees, when he exited early because of injury concerns for the second time in a span of three starts. The announcement about surgery came a day after deGrom was transferred to the 60-day injured list.

Young said the latest MRI showed more inflammation and significant structural damage in the ligament that wasn’t there on the scan after deGrom left the game against the Yankees.

“The results of that MRI show that we have not made progress. And in fact, we’ve identified some damage to the ligament,” Young said. “It’s obviously a tough blow for Jacob, for certainly the Rangers. But we do feel this is what is right for Jacob in his career. We’re confident he’ll make a full recovery.”

Young and deGrom, who turns 35 later this month, said the goal is for the pitcher to return near the end of next season. Both said they were glad to have clarity on what was wrong with the elbow.

Texas won all six games started by deGrom (2-0), but the right-hander threw only 30 1/3 innings. He has a 2.67 ERA with 45 strikeouts and four walks. He threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings against the Yankees in his last start before leaving because of discomfort in his arm.

The Rangers went into Tuesday night’s game against St. Louis with a 39-20 record, the first time they were 19 games over .500 since the end of 2016, their last winning season.

Before going home to Florida over the weekend for the birth of his third child, deGrom threw his fifth bullpen last Wednesday in Detroit.

“I’d have days where I’d feel really good, days where I didn’t feel great. So I was kind of riding a roller coaster there for a little bit,” deGrom said. “They said originally there, we just saw some inflammation. … Getting an MRI right after you pitch, I feel like anybody would have inflammation. So, you know, I was hoping that that would get out of there and I would be fine. But it just didn’t work out that way.”

DeGrom spent his first nine big league seasons with the Mets, but was limited by injuries to 156 1/3 innings over 26 starts during his last two years in New York.

He had a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021 before missing the final three months of the season with right forearm tightness and a sprained elbow.

The four-time All-Star didn’t make his first big league start last year until Aug. 2 after being shut down late in spring training because of a stress reaction in his right scapula.

His latest injury almost surely will trigger Texas’ conditional option on deGrom’s contract for 2028.

The option takes effect if deGrom has Tommy John surgery on his right elbow from 2023-26 or has any right elbow or shoulder injury that causes him to be on the IL for any period of 130 consecutive days during any season or 186 days in a row during any service period.

The conditional option would be for $20 million, $30 million or $37 million, depending on deGrom’s performance during the contract and health following the 2027 season.

“I feel bad for Jake. If I know Jake, he’ll have the surgery and come back and finish his career strong,” second-year Mets manager Buck Showalter said. “I know how much it means to him. He enjoys pitching. It’s certainly sad news for all of us.”