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.

Marlins clinch 1st playoff berth since 2003, beat Yanks 4-3

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK (AP) Forced from the field by COVID-19, the Miami Marlins returned with enough force to reach the playoffs for the first time since their 2003 championship.

An NL-worst 57-105 a year ago, they sealed the improbable berth on the field of the team that Miami CEO Derek Jeter and manager Don Mattingly once captained.

“I think this is a good lesson for everyone. It really goes back to the players believing,” Mattingly said Friday night after a 4-3, 10-inning win over the New York Yankees.

Miami will start the playoffs on the road Wednesday, its first postseason game since winning the 2003 World Series as the Florida Marlins, capped by a Game 6 victory in the Bronx over Jeter and his New York teammates at the previous version of Yankee Stadium.

“We play loose. We got nothing to lose. We’re playing with house money.,” said Brandon Kintzler, who got DJ LeMahieu to ground into a game-ending double play with the bases loaded after Jesus Aguilar hit a sacrifice fly in the top of the 10th. “We are a dangerous team. And we really don’t care if anyone says we’re overachievers.”

Miami (30-28), second behind Atlanta in the NL East, became the first team to make the playoffs in the year following a 100-loss season. The Marlins achieved the feat despite being beset by a virus outbreak early this season that prevented them from playing for more than a week.

After the final out, Marlins players ran onto the field, formed a line and exchanged non socially-distant hugs, then posed for photos across the mound.

“I can’t contain the tears, because it’s a lot of grind, a lot of passion,” shortstop Miguel Rojas said. “It wasn’t just the virus. Last year we lost 100 games. But we came out this year with the hope everything was going to be better. When we had the outbreak, the guys who got an opportunity to help the organization, thank you for everything you did.”

Miami was one of baseball’s great doubts at the start of the most shortened season since 1878, forced off the field when 18 players tested positive for COVID-19 following the opening series in Philadelphia.

“Yeah, we’ve been through a lot. Other teams have been through a lot, too,” Mattingly said “This just not a been a great situation. It’s just good to be able to put the game back on the map.”

New York (32-26) had already wrapped up a playoff spot but has lost four of five following a 10-game winning streak and is assured of starting the playoffs on the road. Toronto clinched a berth by beating the Yankees on Thursday.

“I don’t like any time somebody celebrates on our field or if we’re at somebody else’s place and they celebrate on their field,” Yankees star Aaron Judge said. “I’m seeing that too much.”

Mattingly captained the Yankees from 1991-95 and is in his fifth season managing the Marlins, Jeter captained the Yankees from 2003-14 as part of a career that included five World Series titles in 20 seasons and is part of the group headed by Bruce Sherman that bought the Marlins in October 2017.

Garrett Cooper, traded to the Marlins by the Yankees after the 2017 season, hit a three-run homer in the first inning off J.A. Happ.

After the Yankees tied it on Aaron Hicks‘ two-run double off Sandy Alcantara in the third and Judge’s RBI single off Yimi Garcia in the eighth following an error by the pitcher on a pickoff throw, the Marlins regained the lead with an unearned run in the 10th against Chad Green (3-3).

Jon Berti sacrificed pinch-runner Monte Harrison to third and, with the infield in, Starling Marte grounded to shortstop. Gleyber Torres ran at Harrison and threw to the plate, and catcher Kyle Higashioka‘s throw to third hit Harrison in the back, giving the Yankees a four-error night for the second time in three games.

With runners at second and third, Aguilar hit a sacrifice fly.

Brad Boxberger (1-0) walked his leadoff batter in the ninth but got Luke Voit to ground into a double play, and Kintzler held on for his 12th save in 14 chances.

Miami ended the second-longest postseason drought in the majors – the Seattle Mariners have been absent since 2001.

Miami returned Aug. 4 following an eight-day layoff with reinforcements from its alternate training site, the trade market and the waiver wire to replace the 18 players on the injured list and won its first five games.

“We’re just starting,” said Alcantara, who handed a 3-2 lead to his bullpen in the eighth. “We’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing.”

TOSSED

Yankees manager Aaron Boone was ejected for arguing from the dugout in the first inning. Plate umpire John Tumpane called out Judge on a full-count slider that appeared to drop well below the knees and Boone argued during the next pitch, to Hicks, then was ejected. Television microphones caught several of Boone’s profane shouts.

“Reacting to a terrible call and then following it up,” Boone said. “Obviously, we see Aaron get called a lot on some bad ones down.”

ODD

Pinch-runner Michael Tauchman stole second base in the eighth following a leadoff single by Gary Sanchez but was sent back to first because Tumpane interfered with the throw by catcher Chad Wallach. Clint Frazier struck out on the next pitch and snapped his bat over a leg.

SLOPPY

New York took the major league lead with 47 errors. Sanchez was called for catcher’s interference for the third time in five days and fourth time this month.

REMEMBERING

Mattingly thought of Jose Fernandez, the former Marlins All-Star pitcher who died four years earlier to the night at age 24 while piloting a boat that crashed. An investigation found he was legally drunk and had cocaine in his system. The night also marked the sixth anniversary of Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium.

UP NEXT

RHP Deivi Garcia (2-2, 4.88) starts Saturday for the Yankees and LHP Trevor Rogers (1-2, 6.84) for the Marlins. Garcia will be making the sixth start of his rookie season.