ATLANTA -- When the Braves and Cardinals played the entirety of their season series in May, Atlanta was just starting to surge away from a rough start and St. Louis was squandering a hot start by enduring its worst month of the season.
Now the two teams will resume their postseason rivalry in the National League Division Series. This marks the fifth time the two teams have met in the playoffs. The most recent occasion was the 2012 Wild Card Game, which Atlanta fans infamously remember as the Infield Fly Game.
Here are some of the questions surrounding Game 1:
When is the game and how can I watch it?
Today, 5 p.m. ET/4 p.m. CT on TBS
All games telecast on MLB Network, TBS and FOX will be available to MLB.TV subscribers who are authenticated subscribers to the applicable network through a participating pay TV provider
What do the starting lineups look like?
Cardinals: Manager Mike Shildt said on Wednesday that Kolten Wong (left hamstring strain) is available to start the series.
Braves: This was one of the National League’s most potent lineups for much of this season and could continue to be if Freddie Freeman’s recently bothersome elbow cooperates. Ronald Acuña Jr. finished three steals shy of a 40/40 season. Freeman and Donaldson finished just shy of realizing their own 40-homer seasons. The key to this series might be Ozzie Albies, who enters as Atlanta’s hottest hitter.
Who are the starting pitchers?
Cardinals: Although he struggled with consistency this year, Mikolas (9-14, 4.16 ERA) has shown flashes of the dominance that led him to an 18-win 2018 season. His last start came on Sept. 22 against the Cubs, and he held them to one earned run over 7 2/3 innings and finished the four-game sweep at Wrigley Field. Mikolas has allowed a career-high 27 home runs this season, but he has kept his walks (32) to a minimum, compared to 144 strikeouts.
Braves: The Braves are banking on experience by giving their Game 1 start to Dallas Keuchel (8-8, 3.75). Keuchel has produced a 2.84 ERA in his previous nine postseason starts, which included Game 1 of the 2017 American League Championship Series and Game 1 of the 2017 World Series. The veteran lefty produced a 0.97 ERA over six starts from Aug. 14-Sept. 11 and then stumbled in two of his final three regular-season outings. The .794 OPS he has surrendered against right-handers highlights the concerns surrounding this assignment against a right-handed-heavy Cardinals lineup.
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Cardinals: The Cardinals’ biggest strength this year has been their bullpen. After not making the Opening Day roster, Giovanny Gallegos burst onto the scene and has been lights out, holding batters to a .170 average with the ability to get right-handers and left-handers out. Left-hander Andrew Miller has been inconsistent at times, but he will be relied on for left-on-left spots and has come up big in those situations before. And Carlos Martínez has transitioned smoothly to the closer role after Jordan Hicks had season-ending Tommy John surgery. Tyler Webb is another left-handed option, and John Brebbia can take care of right-handers while giving the Cardinals length if needed. Depending on how the Cardinals line up their rotation, Dakota Hudson could be valuable out of the bullpen in the first two games if he doesn’t start until Game 4.
Braves: It took a little more than four months, but the Braves finally possessed a reliable bullpen over the regular season’s final six weeks. Closer Mark Melancon, Shane Greene and Chris Martin initially struggled after being acquired before the July 31 Trade Deadline. But each posted a sub-2.00 ERA dating back to Aug. 15. Darren O’Day’s September return from a year-long stint on the injured list has added quality depth to this relief corps. Max Fried is a potential Game 4 starter, but the young lefty could come out of the bullpen to be used in a key spot within the first few games.
Are there any relievers who are unavailable?
Cardinals: Except for Hicks, the Cardinals’ flamethrower who had Tommy John surgery at the end of June, the Cardinals’ bullpen has been healthy all year.
Braves: The Braves lost closer Arodys Vizcaino to shoulder surgery in April and Jonny Venters’ arm did not allow him to extend his inspirational story. But now that O’Day has returned, the relief corps is at full force.
Any injuries of note?
Cardinals: Wong was injured while running the bases on Sept. 19 and sat out nine games in preparation to be 100 percent healthy at the start of the postseason. Starter Michael Wacha has been shut down from throwing for a week with a right shoulder strain, and it’s unlikely he will be available for this series.
Braves: Ender Inciarte (right hamstring), Johan Camargo (right shin fracture) and Charlie Culberson (facial fractures) will not be on the roster. Acuña missed the regular season’s final four games because of a tight left hip, and Freeman’s right elbow has been bothered by a bone spur. But both have felt good and had no limitations, taking batting practice and participating in simulated games this week.
Who is hot and who is not?
Cardinals: Jack Flaherty is the hottest pitcher in baseball right now, posting a 0.91 ERA in the second half. He pitched Sunday in the Cardinals’ must-win Game 162 and held the Cubs to two hits over seven scoreless innings on 69 pitches. Edman also had a solid September, batting .350/.417/.660, with six of his 11 home runs coming in the last month. His defensive versatility and ability to hit at the top or bottom of the order will come in handy.
DeJong hit .175 in September and has struggled with runners in scoring position. Ozuna had a horrid September, batting .160/.282/.340. He likely won’t be benched because of it, but the Cardinals will need him to get hot, especially in that cleanup spot.
Braves: Albies recorded a .949 OPS in September and produced the NL’s ninth-best fWAR (2.0) over the season’s final two months. Matt Joyce has a .960 OPS dating back to Aug. 17, when he began being used as the left-handed portion of an outfield platoon. Mike Foltynewicz has constructed a 1.73 ERA over seven starts dating back to Aug. 23. The only NL pitcher with a better mark during that span is Flaherty, who will likely match up against Foltynewicz in Game 2.
Freeman has not homered since hitting his 37th and 38th on Sept. 1, and he has tallied just one extra-base hit while hitting .128 with a .440 OPS over his past 49 plate appearances dating back to Sept. 11. Dansby Swanson has a .552 OPS since returning from the injured list on Aug. 26, but he had a four-hit game in Kansas City last week and followed that with a three-hit night against the Mets on Friday.
Anything else fans might want to know?
Chipper Jones will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 1.
The Braves have finished extending their netting from the ends of the dugouts to both foul poles.