Braves players don’t like the new do-or-die Wild Card playoff game that effectively reduces a 162-game season into one nine-inning contest to determine which team advances to a postseason series.
But if they were destined to play in the first-ever Wild Card game, the Braves were glad the opponent would be St. Louis.
“I’m excited to get a chance to face these guys,” said Braves pitcher Kris Medlen, who makes his first postseason start Friday night against St. Louis, after 9-0 with an 0.97 ERA in 12 starts since moving from the bullpen on July 31. “ It’s fitting that it’s them, especially with how they caught us last year and they did their thing last year.”
A year ago, back when only one wild-card team from each league advanced to the postseason, the Cardinals trailed Atlanta by 10-1/2 games in the wild-card standings after the games on Aug. 25. Five weeks later, they overtook the Braves on the final night of the season, completing a 23-9 run after Aug. 25 while the Braves went 10-20.
“I’m glad we’re playing them,” Braves catcher Brian McCann said. “Last year we just let it slip away. It wasn’t necessarily they took it from us. We felt like we let it slip away, and we kind of want to redeem ourselves.”
The Cardinals went on to win the World Series after squeaking into the postseason as the NL wild card.
“Defending champs,” said Medlen, who has previously faced the Cardinals in five relief appearances but no starts. “It’s almost like it’s supposed to happen, for us to play against them. They’ve got [Kyle] Lohse going and he’s a tough guy to get some runs off of. And that lineup is pretty good, too. I’m just going to approach it the same as every other start.
“I’ve had 11, 12 starts this year, and they really don’t matter anymore. It’s a Game 7 thing. Just go out and don’t talk, you just go do.”
That’s how the Braves have approached the Wild Card game, as if it were Game 7 of a best-of-seven series. Nine innings, winner advances, loser goes home.
“As simple as that may seem, it’s Game 7,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “You can imagine we’ve played six, and they’ve won three and we’ve run three. It’s Game 7. I’ve never experienced Game 7 as a manager, so I can’t tell you how that feels. But it’s Game 7, really.”
A standing-room-only crowd of about 50,000 is expected, and the first 45,000 through the gates will receive foam tomahawks. The atmosphere figures to be electric, much like it was when more than 150,000 turned out for retiring third baseman Chipper Jones’ final three-game homestand last weekend.
“It was a nice preview,” Gonzalez said. “I know it’s kind of a weird starting time, at 5 o’clock on a Friday. But I hope the people come out. I’m so proud of this team to win 94 games. And I think the fans should feel the same way and come out and support us. I think if we played in the American League we might have won a couple of divisions with 94 wins.
“It just so happens that this year, Washington has got four or five more wins that we do. But yeah, I hope they come out. It’s a good feeling when you hear that chop going, and it energizes the guys. It’s fun to play behind that stuff.”
Braves right fielder Jason Heyward was asked about approaching it as a Game 7.
“Do I have a choice?” he said, laughing, then turned serious. “We set out every night to win a ballgame and that shouldn’t change tomorrow night.”
Heyward returns to the postseason for the second time in his three major league seasons.
“Oh yeah, it’s going to be fun,” he said. “Looking forward to the opportunity. You can never take something like this for granted, because everyone doesn’t get a chance every year. We’re just fortunate to be one of the teams this year that does.
“Got to take the same mindset that we’ve had in the other games, come out here and have some fun, relax. No extra added pressure. We have good pressure on us – the fact that we want to win. That’s the kind of pressure you want to have.”
The Braves weren’t expected to announce their 25-man Wild Card game roster until Friday, when it was due at 10 a.m. Gonzalez said he was leaning toward having nine pitchers (three starters, six relievers) and 16 position players on the roster, but hadn’t ruled out 10 pitchers.
Medlen will be joined by Tim Hudson and probably Mike Minor among starting pitchers, with Hudson and Minor on the Wild Card roster only in case of emergency – Hudson to start in case something happened to Medlen, and Minor in case the game goes deep into extra innings.
If the Braves win, they would likely go with 11 pitchers and 14 position players for the division series that would start Sunday against Washington at Turner Field. Hudson is scheduled to start the division series opener, and Minor seems a likely Game 2 starter Monday at home before Medlen would start Game 3 Wednesday at Washington.