I, for one, am in favor of the 1 game Wild Card shootout. It didn’t seem right that a Wild Card had the same rights and privileges of the Division winners (minus home field, which in baseball is minimal).
Seemed like every other year, there’d be a Game 163 (to settle a regular season tie) that created a huge Game 7 feel right off the bat, really helped fans get in the October spirit. So Bud Selig kills multiple birds with one stone, adds another playoff team (keeping more teams in the race) and gives us two guaranteed “win or go home” games to whet our appetite for 3 more rounds of playoff action.
With that as a backdrop, the NL matchup is set, the St. Louis Cardinals will be visiting the Atlanta Braves on Friday night. One of these teams will be packing their bags for the winter. This one starts at 5:00 EDT so skip out of work early. Which means it will actually end before kids have to go to bed (a novel concept).
But on to the game. It appears both teams are rolling out their most reliable pitchers, Kris Medlen (10-1, 1.57) for the Braves, Kyle Lohse (16-3, 2.86) for the Cards. Both are at or near the top of the Cy Young discussion. Medlen is the discussion point here, after toiling in the bullpen for 2/3 of the season (thus saving innings on his Tommy John recovering arm and making him available for the postseason, hint hint Washington), the team has won all 12 of his starts, he’s captured the “W” in 9 of those. Gotta ride the hot dice. Lohse has been the most consistent pitcher (maybe not with the best stuff) in usually tallying 5-7 IP with 3 or fewer runs.
I give a slight advantage to the Braves when it comes to lineup and magic factor. The opposite was true last year when the Cards stormed past the reeling Braves in the last week (10.5 game lead on August 26, wow). Atlanta is of division winning stock, would have the 2nd best record in the AL (behind Yankees) and seem like the more consistent team. The Cardinals are two games worse than the Angels (Pujols somehow not amused).
So my predict, Medlen slightly outduels Lohse over the first 5 or 6. Both teams pull the trigger on the bullpen early, the Braves seem to have the better bullpen and more clutch hitting. Final, Braves 4, Cardinals 1. That being said, the Cardinals did nothing but prove everyone wrong every round next year. Oh, and did I mention Chipper Jones’ final October curtain call? I’m buying my popcorn early and reserving a space on the couch for this one! We’ll see if the Rally Squirrel makes an appearance!