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LOUIS -- The storyline has a familiar ring to it. It's the same two clubs at it again a year later, eyeing the same -- and final -- postseason spot up for grabs.
This time, however, the Braves and Cardinals will jockey for that chance to the advance to the National League Division Series in an actual head-to-head matchup.
It's the byproduct of baseball's successful push for a second Wild Card team in each league. The absence of that fifth playoff berth cost Atlanta in 2011, when it saw itself caught and then surpassed by the Cardinals on the final day of the season. The Cardinals went on to win the World Series. The Braves were left to lament one of the worst late-season collapses in the sport's history.
This year the Cardinals, direct beneficiaries of the extra Wild Card, get a shot at sending Atlanta home prematurely again. The Cardinals will send Kyle Lohse to the mound to face the Braves' Kris Medlen on Friday in Atlanta.
The Braves earned the chance to host the game by virtue of their better regular-season record. Major League Baseball has set the game time for 4:07 p.m. CT, and it will be televised on TBS.
"They're obviously a really tough match," said cleanup hitter Allen Craig. "They have some really good hitters, and Medlen has been outstanding. He's going to be a tough challenge, and it's going to be a good opportunity for us."
A cursory glance at the season series between the two clubs would give the edge to the Braves. Atlanta won five of the six games and was the only team all season to earn a three-game sweep in St. Louis. All six of those games were played in May, however, a period during which the Cardinals' starting pitchers went through a collective lull.
Atlanta's sweep from May 11-13 featured subpar starts from Jaime Garcia and Adam Wainwright. It was later revealed that Garcia was hurt. Wainwright had yet to find his form in his return from Tommy John surgery. Lance Lynn's six-inning quality start was the best of the bunch.
The Braves outscored the Cardinals, 23-13, in those three games.
"That's a good club," manager Mike Matheny said. "But in my mind, we have a Cy Young candidate going on the mound for us, a guy who has been as consistent as you could ever ask any starter to be. I'm very excited to get him on the mound to face anybody."
The Cardinals' two losses to Atlanta later in the month were much closer, and St. Louis outscored the Braves in that series. Of concern, though, would be Lohse's performance on May 30. In a season that has been the best of Lohse's career, he tied his season-short in innings (five) and his season-high in earned runs allowed (five) in his only start against the Braves in 2012.
Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman each went deep off Lohse and combined for six RBIs in the game. And yet ...
"I don't think a whole lot of that stuff matters," Lohse said. "It's what I go out there with that day. You could look at that game earlier in the season and there were a couple things going on with me -- I don't want to get too much into -- but there were a couple things that weren't working that day."
The Braves long ago announced that Medlen would be their go-to guy on Friday, largely because Atlanta doesn't lose behind him. Atlanta has won the last 23 games Medlen has started. That streak goes back to May 2010.
Medlen is no stranger to the Cardinals, though his three appearances against St. Louis this season all came in relief. He pitched a perfect inning out of the 'pen on May 11 before allowing two hits and one earned run the next day. On May 28, the Cardinals tallied four hits and two earned runs off Medlen in 2 2/3 innings.
Those who had success against the right-hander, however, are no longer around to contribute. The three runs Medlen gave up against the Cardinals were driven in by Matt Adams and Rafael Furcal, both of whom have since gone down with season-ending injuries.
Skip Schumaker and Daniel Descalso were the only other Cardinals to muster a hit of Medlen this year.
"You can't worry about what he's done earlier in the season," Descalso said. "He's obviously been successful, and the Braves have had a good year. But it comes down to one game. The team that executes and plays defense and comes up with some big hits will come out with the win."
This will mark the fourth postseason meeting between the Cardinals and Braves. St. Louis swept Atlanta in the NL Championships Series in 1982 and the NLDS in 2000. In 1996, the Braves won an NLCS matchup, 4-3, to advance to the World Series.