Braves-Cardinals: Who holds the play-in edge? Flip a coin

Michael Bourn after a circuit clout against the Cards back in May. (AP photo)

Michael Bourn after a circuit clout against the Cards in May. Circuit clouts never hurt. (AP photo)

If the playoffs are a crap shoot, the newly minted play-in game is a coin flip. There’s really no handicapping the Braves-Cardinals game. There’s only “heads” or “tails.”

And yet: We wouldn’t be doing our duty if we didn’t make the attempt at determining what might (and might not) be important. So here, as the saying has it, goes nothing, even as we know full well such factoid-finding might indeed amount to nothing.

Hitting: This isn’t close. The Cardinals lead the Braves in runs, batting average, home runs and on-base percentage. The Cardinals have also struck out 99 fewer times than the Braves, which might sound like a big deal but probably isn’t. (It means St. Louis batters have whiffed, on average, .61 fewer times per game.)

The Braves have drawn 43 more walks than the Cards, but since Kyle Lohse, who has walked only 38 batters over 211 innings, is scheduled to start Friday, that nugget could be rendered just another pebble. This, however, might be of substance: The Braves entered their 162nd ranked last among National League teams in hitting with runners in scoring position; the Redbirds were fourth.

If the game comes down to a manufactured run, the Cardinals have the better track record. But the most famous play-in game ever — Yankees 5, Red Sox 4 in 1978 — was decided by a three-run homer hoisted by a No. 9 hitter who’d hit four home runs over 162 games, which is how Bucky Dent came to be handed a new middle name by bitter Bostonians.

Starting pitching: Lohse won 16 games and finished with the league’s fifth-lowest ERA. But he’s not a knock-the-bat-out-of-your-hands pitcher. (He had 143 strikeouts in those 211 innings.) Because of his control, his WHIP (walks/hits per innings pitched) is excellent (1.09), and opponents have hit only .239 against him. That said, the Braves did muster five earned runs on nine hits and two homers in their one outing against Lohse, who took a no-decision in a game his team would lose 10-7 here on May 30.

The Braves haven’t lost a Kris Medlen start since May 23, 2010. His WHIP is a flyspeck 0.91, and opponents have hit .208 against him. But the Cardinals, as fate would have it, have hit him pretty well. (Albeit when he was a reliever.) In 5 2/3 innings against him this season, they managed six hits and three earned runs. But the most recent of those games was Memorial Day.

In a one-game setting, you’d have to give the edge to the man who never loses, but it must be noted that, in 2007, San Diego started Jake Peavy, who would win the Cy Young Award that year, against Colorado’s Josh Fogg, who finished the season 10-9 with a 4.94 ERA. The Rockies won the play-in game 9-8 in 13 innings, neither starter figuring in the decision. But Fogg did yield one fewer earned run (five) than Peavy (six).

Relief pitching: This one isn’t close, either. The Braves finished with the league’s second-best bullpen ERA, the Cardinals with the 10th-best. The Braves’ closer is Craig Kimbrel, whose regular season has been of historic proportions. Kimbrel struck out more than half the batters he faced (116 of 231), and according to Eric Seidman of FanGraphs, no pitcher with 30 or more innings in a season has ever come close to that staggering rate.)

Kimbrel has blown only three saves in 42 chances. The Cardinals’ closer is Jason Motte, who’s good (41 saves, seven blown saves), but he’s not Kimbrel. Nobody is.

But we return to the 2007 play-in: The Padres handed Trevor Hoffman, who was the career leader in saves until Mariano Rivera passed him last season, the ball with a two-run lead in the bottom of the 13th. He faced five Rockies. One walked. Three got hits. One of the best ever had his worst night and blew the postseason for his team. It can happen.

Which is pretty much the point: In any one baseball game, anything can happen. It never hurts to be at home, which the Braves will be, and it helps if you catch the ball, and the Braves have made 20 fewer errors than the Cardinals. And it says a little something that the Braves took five of six from St. Louis this season and were, on the record, a better team over the six-month season. Still, you could outrank the opponent in every category from WHIP to BABIP, and if you have a bad day at the ballyard you can lose.

As much as we like to believe sports serve to measure skill and will, they don’t always. Sometimes it comes down to luck. Sometimes you just need to call “heads” and be blissfully right.

By Mark Bradley

137 comments Add your comment

Paul Wehner

October 3rd, 2012
12:35 pm

First! (Note to my boss: this is on my lunch hour!)

Oh Dear

October 3rd, 2012
12:36 pm

We’re boned.

greydawg

October 3rd, 2012
12:37 pm

Brendan

October 3rd, 2012
12:53 pm

Braves hold the edge. Chipper will hit a walkoff 9th inning HR to propel the Braves into the next round, and exact a fair measure of revenge on the Redbirds for last season’s debacle. So let it be written. So let it be done!!

Bobby Coccyx

October 3rd, 2012
12:59 pm

The only hope is if the Braves’ pitching staff throws a shut-out.

Heisenberg

October 3rd, 2012
1:07 pm

What a coincidence, Bucky Dent and Aaron Boone have the same middle name.

Ostrich Racer

October 3rd, 2012
1:10 pm

I hope Fredi gives Chipper tonight off, too. He has obviously been hurting at the plate — he’s not striking out, but he’s not driving anything, and that seems like sore legs. A move out of the cleanup spot couldn’t hurt, either.

Heisenberg

October 3rd, 2012
1:10 pm

Wonder what Bobby Valentine’s middle name is these days?

Peter

October 3rd, 2012
1:10 pm

Cards are the Champs until they get Knocked out……. They are a better pressure team in my opinion…….But that is just an opinion for sure.

Mistakes have been costly for the Braves…… Our errors are way down compared to last year, that is a huge plus..the base running mistakes cannot bite us if we are to win in the post season.

Medlen can hold them down…..but the bats are my biggest worry for the Braves. If they score 3-4 runs I think the braves win this one with the bullpen holding down the end of the game.

Otis

October 3rd, 2012
1:11 pm

We’ll get our customary one run, but unless the score is 1-0, we lose.

dawgnation1

October 3rd, 2012
1:11 pm

All of y’all are so freaking pessimistic. Have you seen Medlen pitch? You’ve just got to put up a couple of runs against an above average pitcher and the braves are in the next round. MB, what’s your pick?

Ivan Drago

October 3rd, 2012
1:11 pm

You vill lose

Mark Bradley

October 3rd, 2012
1:13 pm

Kudos, Paul.

gtt

October 3rd, 2012
1:14 pm

I’d rather it be anyone but the Cardinals. They seem to have our number lately.

UGADawg16

October 3rd, 2012
1:17 pm

Yep, right on MB, and that’s what stinks about a one game play-in. Give it at least 3 games don’t ya think? 3-5-7 – kinda makes sense doesn’t it?

Matt Ryan's Dad

October 3rd, 2012
1:22 pm

What’s the over/under on Medlen pitching a perfect game?

Hankie Aron

October 3rd, 2012
1:30 pm

gtt- Did you read the article? The Braves won 5 of 6 from the Cards this year. And we haven’t played them lately so it would be hard for them to be holding our number don’t you think?

joet

October 3rd, 2012
1:30 pm

!.Bourne 2. Prado 3. Heyward 4. Freeman 5. Jones 6. McCann 7.Uggla 8.Simmons 9.Medlen. That should be the line up.

WhoCares?

October 3rd, 2012
1:31 pm

Good column. Hard to forecast, and a single game like this can go either way. Still, I’ll take the home team and Medlen’s streak.

Hankie Aron

October 3rd, 2012
1:31 pm

UGA- I agree

BravesFan79

October 3rd, 2012
1:33 pm

Sonny Clusters

October 3rd, 2012
1:43 pm

Flip a coin. Tip a cap.

Brock

October 3rd, 2012
1:50 pm

Ostrich- Chipper will definitely get the night off cause they’re playing right now

Mr C

October 3rd, 2012
1:52 pm

Has Medlen ever pitched in a playoff game with so more pressure? Playoffs are a different can of worms. It’s win or go home. I won’t be surprised if both pitchers don’t make it past the 5th inning

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Gordon

October 3rd, 2012
2:07 pm

What an absolutely horrible playoff format. The Braves spent 162 games proving they are better than the Cardinals, and it could all be wiped out in one game. There is a reason baseball determines who advances to the next stage in 5 and 7 game series. It is because anything could happen in one game.

Everything is done for money in every sport now. This is awful.

Stinger 2

October 3rd, 2012
2:08 pm

The Braves under the leadership of Fredi G. have won 93 games regardless of what the anti-Gonzalez fans think about him. Yes, he has made some mistakes as all Managers do and he is not perfect. The team will be ready to give its best shot. Win or lose the real Braves fans will tip their caps to Fredi and the Braves.

Ron H.

October 3rd, 2012
2:10 pm

This play-in game will hopefully be a good game. I seriously doubt it’s going to be easy, though. The Cards are a tough team, even if we did beat them 5/6 times this year.

Sure hope Medlen can keep the streak going and get us through to the next round.

Hudson, get ready!

joe

October 3rd, 2012
2:15 pm

Braves win it 2-1

Larry Copeland

October 3rd, 2012
2:15 pm

Phillies fan here… so I’m not officially rooting for either team… but I think it would be nice if Chipper got one more good run through the playoffs… and besides that, the Cards have been there enough times lately. Anyway, two things the author didn’t mention are intangibles… the Cards are hot (10-4 in their last 14), and hot teams are always more dangerous at this time of year. On the other hand, this is a “revenge” opportunity for he Braves, after the Cards snatched the wildcard from them last year at the very end. Should be a great game.

Scoots

October 3rd, 2012
2:16 pm

“I’d rather it be anyone but the Cardinals. They seem to have our number lately.”

Actually, if you’d read the column, you’d know that the Braves won 5 of the last 6 against them.

JW

October 3rd, 2012
2:17 pm

Medlen seems to have the mentality of, “Whatever, it’s all good.” I am not concerned with him regarding pressure. As a matter of fact…I bet he’s chomping at the bit to get to the big stage. It’s time for him to go National!

RNB

October 3rd, 2012
2:18 pm

Still have a hard time trying to understand a one game wild card playoff. I say cut a few games off the regular season and make this series a two out of three.

sidslid

October 3rd, 2012
2:18 pm

Playoffs are littered with pitchers having outstanding regular seasons but stinking in the playoffs. Maddux losing Game 5 to Cleveland in 95 and Philly in 93, The unhittable Dennis Eckersley against a one legged Kurt Gibson. Sub 1 era Hammond getting lit up by the Giants.

I am glad it’s Lohse. If I was Matheny, I would start a lefty. Braves must have close to a .700 record against righties, because we lose to almost every lefty. Matheny gets demerits for not setting up his rotation to have Garcia start.

Scoots

October 3rd, 2012
2:20 pm

I think Medlen will do fine under pressure. He doesn’t appear to be rattled easily

gtg052a

October 3rd, 2012
2:21 pm

Anyone know when game time is going to be posted? Want to be there but can only make it if it’s a night game.

Quack Quack

October 3rd, 2012
2:24 pm

@ Paul Wehner….Note from your boss:You’re Fired!! (just kidding)

Flip of the coin Heads I win, Tails you lose….

GO BRAVES!!!

Weyman C. Wannamaker Jr. (A Great American)

October 3rd, 2012
2:24 pm

Who holds the edge? The team Mark Bradley doesn’t pick to win.

Quack Quack

October 3rd, 2012
2:29 pm

@JW….I’m with you. I believe Kris has what it takes to do this game right. He’s smart, and studies a lot. I bet he knows each player coming Friday, and everything about their at bats. He will slice and dice the Cards, wait and see.

GO BRAVES!!!

Maxwell the free-range chihuahua

October 3rd, 2012
2:36 pm

you dummies know how this goes down…6-0 cards…braves, like the dawgs and the falcons, collapse on the big stage…prove me wrong…

Sonny Clusters

October 3rd, 2012
2:37 pm

“This is a test of the Baseball Blogging System. The bloggers of your area in voluntary cooperation with the AJC and other authorities have developed this system to keep you informed in the event of a little stalker fella posting right after a Clusters. If this had been an actual emergency, you would have been instructed to turn off your computers and hope the little busy body would go away.”

Mr C

October 3rd, 2012
2:38 pm

@ RNB ….. how does a two out of three game format work? You don’t expect the division winner to wait 5 days before playing the winner of the wild card play in game? I don’t think any MLB team goes three days without playing a game during the entire season!!!

I think the format makes it more important to win your division.If you want to avoid the one game wild card, win ur division.

Now What

October 3rd, 2012
2:45 pm

UGGGGGGGG!
These stats make me scared to death! Do we win for Chipper and go on a run! I know that we will not die or give up no matter what! I just hope MedDog is on his game like he always is!. Do we take muscle from how Wainwright dismissed us? It would be good if we did! I would love to see us get on this run and win 13 games…….Can we do it? Can we do it? We are about to find out on Friday night!

Sonny Clusters

October 3rd, 2012
2:45 pm

Here are some thought starters that will make the pajamas feel a little tight around the neck. 93 wins is pretty good. 97 wins gets you in the playoffs without a one game play-in. All-Star second baseman don’t hit .207 most of the season. When they get “hot” like “hot-hitting Dan Uggla” that goes up as high as .217. Uggla has been a huge hole in the lineup just like Hanson has been a hole in the rotation. True fans can see this just like us unworthy fans who also like to see good baseball and pennants flying. We was a Braves fan when the little stalker was still in baby pajamas and well before he graduated to the Braves winnie the pooh style. Now, how long will it be? Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick . . . .

Dr. Feelgood

October 3rd, 2012
2:45 pm

Post season is different….There is going to be alot of preasure on Medlin for this one game…Remember last year, game five must win against Doc Holliday…Cards won! and then you have Game six of the world series.down to there last strike…(just see David Freese)…..Loshe was there as well who started game one against the Phills….This is a good Cards team that lost alot of close games this year….

Now What

October 3rd, 2012
2:46 pm

My post got ate by the blog filter and I did not say anything negative or bad……now I am sad!

Stinger 2

October 3rd, 2012
2:50 pm

There are some (particularly one) AJC bloggers who think they are so comical that they spout silly garbage thinking that it will enhance their status with a few fellow posters who like such drivel. Such is life for these poor little fellows who don`t have anything better to do. Go Braves!

Stinger 2

October 3rd, 2012
2:54 pm

The comical blogger has struck again. This time funny boy is attacking Uggla and Hanson for the umteenth time. Who will be next? Maybe Fredi again? I would not be surprised.

David Puddy

October 3rd, 2012
3:19 pm

Clearly, the Braves have the edge with Medlen. If he pitches like he has been the Braves need….maybe 2 runs. If he’s off a bit and Lohse is pitching well……it’ll be a good game. I’m from St Louis and have lived in ATL for awhile……I’m good either way.

Dr. Feelgood

October 3rd, 2012
3:24 pm

I’m a Cards fan from St. Louis reading this article…..I just wanted to see what Braves fans were saying about the big game on friday night……..This is going to be a difficult game for my Redbirds to win…………I have watched them play almost every game this year….They have lost a ton of one run games and extra innings games as well..I still dont like our chances for this one game play in..