The Daily Redbird Review, Postseason Edition:
FIRST PITCH: Goodness, what a game. And if it’s October, and the Cardinals once again are competing in the postseason, at least one thing is certain: the activity, the drama, will be CRAZY.
So why not get started right away with a wildly insane ride in Game 1 of the NLDS in Atlanta?
Why have a boring, cruise-control type of game when the Cardinals are back at the October ball, ready to fry all circuity, blow all gaskets, smash the preconceived notions and leave their exhausted or exhilarated fans curled up in a fetal positions
Let’s do this damn thing …
The Cardinals, scrounging for runs all day, were down 3-1 going into the eighth inning. And you know what happened? October baseball. That’s what happened.
In their final two innings of at-bats the Cardinals attacked the Atlanta bullpen for six runs to take a 7-3 lead and then hung on in the bottom of the ninth to secure a 7-6 victory in Game 1.
This was a huge win for many reasons.
1-It was so unexpected based on the severity of their predicament. During the regular season the Cardinals won only 11 of 70 games when behind on the scoreboard after seven innings.
On the other hand, the Cards’ 11 wins when trailing after seven were the second most in the majors this season, so relative to the other to the 29 teams they’re pretty good at making late charges.
2-When the eighth inning began, the Braves were humming along with had a win expectancy of 85.7 percent.
3-According to the Elias Sports Bureau, teams that trailed by two runs going to the eighth inning of a postseason game had a record of 32-279, a .103 winning percentage, before this year. But earlier this week the Nationals rallied from a 3-1 deficit going into the eighth to beat the Brewers 4-3. And your Cardinals pulled off the same comeback in Thursday’s Game 1.
4-But this tumultuous 7-6 victory was a big deal for another obvious reason: the underdog Cardinals dramatically enhanced their chances of winning this NLDS.
In the history of the best-of-five format, Game 1 winners have proceeded to take the series 72 percent of the time. And under the current 2-2-1 format for a five-game division series, road teams that prevail in Game 1 have won the 28 of 40 series, or 70 percent.
THE BRAVES AND BAD KARMA: Historically speaking, the Braves and the postseason aren’t exactly chummy. The Braves and October are not very compatible.
Thursday’s defeat to the Cardinals was Atlanta’s ninth consecutive Game 1 loss in a postseason series in a long streak that goes back to the 2001 NLCS. And when the Braves have managed to win won Game 1, they’ve taken 11 of 15 series. But when they lose the opener, they’re lost 16 of 19 series.
BASEBALL HERO: Lot of choices here, and Marcell Ozuna certainly would be a worthy selection. But I’m going with Paul Goldschmidt. His solo homer in the 8th cut the Atlanta lead to 3-2, put a jolt into the Cardinals and shook up the Braves. A few minutes later in the inning, the Cardinals would tie the game 3-3 on a two-out single pinch single by Matt Carpenter.
In the top of the ninth, with one out and two runners on, the Braves wanted no part of challenging Goldy. So ATL closer Mark Melancon issued the old intentional walk that wasn’t an official intentional walk by throwing four pitches that were nowhere near the strike zone. That loaded the bases for Marcell Ozuna, who struck for two-run double and a 5-3 lead that swelled to 7-3 after another two-run double, this from Kolten Wong.
Finally, Goldschmidt’s defense shouldn’t be forgotten. He made two terrific plays at first base in the bottom of the ninth in the middle of the Braves’ attempt at a remarkable comeback that would have crushed the Cardinals. Goldy reached high to stab a high throw on a 5-3 groundout by Ozzie Albies, barely managing to keep his toe on the bag. But he did.
And that out became even more significant a few seconds later when Freddie Freeman blasted a solo homer to cut the STL lead to 7-6. Who knows, without the Goldy save there, it may have been a two-run bomb and a tie game.
With closer Carlos Martinez needing more help, Goldy saved an error with a superb scoop to record a 4-3 groundout for the second out of the inning. Imagine the pressure on Martinez if the errant throw had skipped past Goldschmidt to put the potential tying run on second base. But after Goldy made another glove save, Martinez locked it down with a game-ending strikeout of Nick Markakis.
TURNING POINT: Martin injury… Luke Jackson had to rush… Melancon four-out save… scrambled the Braves’ usual late-inning relief setup for protecting leads upside down; and the Cards took advantage of the chaos. Two runs in the 8th, four in the ninth.
HEY, YOU DID GOOD: Goldy, of course. He continued on his second-half offensive surge by rolling in his first postseason game asa Cardinal.
But let’s also give a tip of the ol’ ballcap to:
1-Miles Mikolas, who competed his tail off in a challenging 27-pitch first inning and held the Braves to one run. This easily could have been a crooked-number inning for Atlanta. Mikolas rebounded nicely, efficiently blanking the Braves over his last four innings.
2-Ozuna had the critically important two-run double, his second of the game, to put the Redbirds ahead to stay. After hitting .160 with a poor slugging percentage in September, maybe Ozuna is reheating. He closed the regular season last Sunday with a two-hit game against the Cubs.
3-Applause for Matt Carpenter. His RBI single in the eighth, a dunk into left field, was the result of a swell at-bat. Carpenter always seems to attract the most irrational of haters, so it doesn’t matter if he’s hitting well. And indeed, Carpenter has been turning his season around. In his final 90 plate appearances of the regular season, Carpenter batted .289 with a .389 OBP and .526 slug. The upturn included six doubles, four homers, 11 runs and 13 RBIs and a .940 OPS with runners in scoring position. Carpenter rode that positive wave into the postseason and made an immediate impact off the bench in Game 1.
4-Two hits and a key two-run double for second baseman Kolten Wong. His smash in the ninth inning proved to be the decisive blow. Yeah, Wong made an error in the first — but the run would have scored, anyway. And others will inexplicably blame Wong for getting thrown out at the plate on the back end of Carpenter’s single that tied the score 3-3. That wasn’t on Wong; third base coach Pop Warner, who does an outstanding job, made a rare mistake in judgment by sending Wong in that situation. Wong isn’t quite running at full speed after returning from a strained hamstring.
5-Kudos to Dexter Fowler and Tommy Edman, who ignited the ninth-inning eruption with one out by delivering consecutive singles. That set the energy in motion for all that happened after that, including the two-run doubles by Ozuna and Wong.
6-Except for Carlos Martinez, the Cardinals’ bullpen guys were on it … Tyler Webb, Giovanny Gallegos, John Brebbia, Andrew Miller and Ryan Helsley — good job.
And no, I don’t blame pitchers for being charged with an earned run because of bad-hop singles.
The Cardinals defense in this game has been unfairly criticized.
Only one play not made produced a run for Atlanta.
The wicked-hop ball that handcuffed Edman in the Braves’ two-run sixth never should have been ruled an error; thankfully a fairer person intervened and changed the call to a single.
LOOK, YOU NEED TO DO BETTER: Carlos Martinez. He gave up two homers and three runs in 1 and ⅓ innings. But the most troubling aspect of his shaky performance was the loss of composure in the aftermath of the two-run homer Ronald Acuna Jr. Martinez, angered by Acuna’s blatant showboating, sabotaged his own concentration and effort and gave up another homer. Catcher Yadier Molina had to calm Martinez down. That’s bad form by El Gallo.
LOOKING AHEAD TO GAME 2: In his last 16 starts of the regular season, Jack Flaherty had a glowing 0.93 ERA that led all MLB starters. Over the 16 starts Flaherty, 23, also led all MLB starters in innings (106.1), opponent batting average (.139), opponent onbase percentage (.203), opponent slugging percentage (.217), WHIP (0.70) and was eighth in strikeout percentage.
Because of a lack of run support and a few bullpen lapses, the Cardinals had a 10-6 record in the 16 games. Given Flaherty’s consistent best-in-show brilliance the Cardinals should have won at least 12 or 13 or Flaherty’s 16 quality starts.
Which raises questions about NLDS Game 2. We expect Flaherty to pitch very well, of course. But will the Cardinals hitters help their brother out with some runs? The Cards will face revived Atlanta RHP Mike Foltyniewicz, who had to go back to the minors earlier this season to recalibrate his slider. After making the fix in the minors, Foltyniewicz had a 2.65 ERA in his final 10 starts for the Braves. That includes a 1.73 ERA in his last seven starts of the regular season.
Flaherty aside, the Cardinals can expect to have a fight on their hands against Foltyniewicz and a desperate Braves’ squad.
Unfortunately, the Cardinals have squandered may of Flaherty’s top performances this season.
Consider: Flaherty had 20 quality starts this season.
And the Cardinals’ record in Jack’s 20 quality starts?
And that wasn’t Jack’s fault. His ERA in the nine losses was 1.83.
The Cardinals scored 14 runs, total, when Flaherty’s nine QS ended in a team loss.
That’s appallingly bad. When teams have received a QS from a starter over the last five seasons, they’ve won between 70 percent and 75% of the games, depending on the year.
If (as expected) the Cardinals get another fabulous Flaherty outing on Friday, they have to win this game. The Cardinals can’t waste the work of their most precious pitching commodity.
THE ODDS: FanGraphs gives the Cardinals a 50.3 percent shot at winning Game 2.
SUMMING IT UP: By winning Game 1, the Cardinals moved into a strong position to grab this series. And this was also their first postseason by the Cards since their 4-0 shutout of Jon Lester and the Cubs at Busch Stadium back in Game 1 of the 2015 NLDS.
That was a tremendous start to the series. And then: three consecutive losses by the Cardinals in that NLDS, followed by a three-season absence from the postseason. There isn’t much of a line between triumph and heartbreak.
“For us it’s just (we) have to win and you just have to be getting ready for the game, getting inning by inning, pitch by pitch, at-bat by at-bat,” Ozuna said after Game 1. “And do our best. And they’ve got a good team, too, and we’re batting like a, fight for the team you want and that’s what my team and I’m doing.”
Enjoy the weekend…