While the Braves won six more games than the St. Louis Cardinals during the regular season, Atlanta is not in an enviable position, needing to win their next game to make the true playoffs. My next two posts will break down the Cardinals season, with the offense today, followed by Lohse and the bullpen tomorrow.
Kris Medlen will be facing one of the top two NL offenses, as the Cardinals and Brewers each put up a team line 6-7% above average. They have the highest team OBP in the majors, not just the NL. They don’t strike out a lot, and they still can hit the ball out of the park. They are probably a bit better than the Braves in the middle of the order, but they have a couple bigger holes at the bottom of the order.
Leading off for the Cardinals is centerfield Jon Jay, showing a very similar offensive game to his counterpart Michael Bourn. The big difference is that Jay strikes out 1/3 less than Bourn, which gives the Cardinal a good .305/.373/.400 line. The lefty has an interesting pre-swing load, dropping his hands much lower than usually advised. This extra movement can create some timing problems, though his 87% contact rate does not show that. He has hit cutters the best this year, as the tweener pitch does concur with my analysis.
After a hot start, Carlos Beltran ended up having a similar season to Jason Heyward, an unremarkable average and walk rate, but very good power. His .269/.346/.495 line was most affected by his increase in strikeouts. After spending the past ten years or so around 15%, that figure jumped to 20% this season, a big reason for the dip in AVG and OBP. This shows their lineup’s depth, as he’s been the Cardinals’ fifth best hitter this year, while Heyward was only topped by Chipper Jones.
The run of righties begin with their big-ticket left fielder Matt Holliday. He put up a very under-the-radar .295/.379/.497 line, a small decrease in production but still better than any Brave. He is known as a mistake hitter who crushes offspeed pitches in the zone, so Medlen will have to pound the fastball in to get through the #3 hitter.
With Lance Berkman out with an injury, Allen Craig has been the main first baseman and cleanup hitter for St. Louis down the stretch. Despite the constant injuries, Craig has put together some of the best rates in the game. His .307/.354/.522 slashline is near his career average, and the right-handed hitter has a clutch reputation, coming up with a couple big homers in last year’s playoffs.
Starting behind the plate, Yadier Molina has turned himself into a really good hitter. He’s maintained his aggressive nature, swinging 51% of the time, though his 45/55 BB/K ratio shows good discipline. The big changes have been the increase in line drives and homers, resulting in a .315/.373/.501 slashline. His willingness to go to right field makes him a tough out, so changeups away and fastballs in are probably the best method to get him, and most any hitter, out.
Last year’s playoff hero David Freese is down in the sixth slot, despite a formidable .293/.372/.467 line. The NLCS and WS MVP has mostly avoided his own injury bug, playing 144 games this season. He constantly squares up the baseball, posting a .350+ BABIP each of his first three seasons. He’s a good fastball hitter with just as much power to right field as he does to the pull side. If the Braves have to face the 3-6 hitters in the 7th or 8th inning, it will be interesting to see who will be in to face them if Medlen can’t make it that long.
Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma, replacing Rafael Furcal at SS, round out the lineup as the keystone combo. Both of them are essentially replacement-level bats, though Kozma has been an extra-base machine in September. The Braves do not have any hitters this poor, though you never know who will come up big on a certain night. Matt Carpenter is the only above-average bat off the bench, as they continue the Tony La Russa way, lining the rest of the bench with a bunch of scrappy players.
The right-handed heavy middle of the order will likely determine the outcome of this game. Medlen is as good against lefties as he is against righties, and the top setup pitchers for the Braves are left-handed, possibly making that fourth time through the order very dicey. It’s hard to expect the Braves scoring more than four runs, so the bullpen will likely have to keep this game in check, not easy to do against the best offense in the National League.