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SunTrust Park, Atlanta, Georgia Attendance: 42,631
Braves rely on Keuchel in NLDS opener vs. Cards
St. Louis Cardinals at Atlanta Braves
- This will be the fifth season in which the Cardinals and the Braves square off in the postseason. The last time was in the inaugural NL Wild Card game in 2012, which St. Louis won by a score of 6-3. The game was notable for featuring a notorious infield fly rule call made by Sam Holbrook, which caused the game to be played under a protest that was ultimately denied. Holbrook will be the crew chief in this series.
- The Cardinals ended a three-year stretch of missing the postseason by winning their 11th NL Central title. Since the division was formed in 1994, the other teams in the NL Central have combined for 14 division titles, with no other team notching more than five.
- Atlanta won 97 games in the regular season en route to its second consecutive NL East title. The Braves, however, have not won a playoff round since winning the 2001 NLDS over the Astros. Atlanta has failed to advance in the playoffs in nine consecutive rounds, including the 2012 NL Wild Card Game.
- The Braves were one of 15 teams to set a single-season franchise home run record in 2019, hitting 249 in the regular season. Three different Braves had 35+ home runs this season: Ronald Acuna Jr. (41), Freddie Freeman (38) and Josh Donaldson (37). The only other team in MLB this year with three guys with 35+ home runs was the Dodgers: Cody Bellinger (47), Joc Pederson (36) and Max Muncy (35).
- The Cardinals had a 3.39 ERA post-All-Star break, second lowest in MLB over that time (Dodgers -- 3.37). St. Louis pitching also registered an MLB-high 11 shutouts after the All-Star break.
- With a career 3.31 ERA across 10 postseason appearances (nine starts), Dallas Keuchel will get the nod in Game 1 for Atlanta. Keuchel has a 5.04 ERA in his last five postseason appearances after posting a 1.69 ERA over his first five playoff outings (all as a member of the Astros).
- Miles Mikolas will be making his postseason debut for the Cardinals in Game 1. Mikolas had a 5.40 ERA on the road this season, though that number was a far more palatable 3.64 after the All-Star break. Mikolas has made three starts against Atlanta since his return to the majors in 2018, pitching to a 2.95 ERA with an 8.0 strikeout-walk ratio (16/2) in 18.1 IP.
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The Atlanta Braves will lean on a veteran arm, while the visiting St. Louis Cardinals' starter will make his postseason debut when the clubs open the National League Division Series on Thursday.
Central Division champion St. Louis (91-71) and East Division champion Atlanta (97-65) have not played since May. The Braves went 4-2 against the Cards, winning both three-game series during the regular season.
The teams last met in the playoffs in the 2012 wild-card game, which the Cardinals won. The Braves have lost nine straight playoff rounds, one short of matching the Chicago Cubs' record for futility.
Atlanta sends left-hander Dallas Keuchel (8-8, 3.75 ERA) against St. Louis right-hander Miles Mikolas (9-14, 4.16) to begin the best-of-five series.
It will be the 11th career postseason appearance for Keuchel, who was expected to fill this role when he was signed as a free agent in June. He went 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA in his previous playoff games with the Houston Astros.
Over his past eight starts, Keuchel is 5-3 with a 2.87 ERA, but he lost his final three outings. The primary concern has been home runs; he allowed two long balls in two of his final three starts. He gave up four runs over five innings in his final tune-up on Sept. 27 against the New York Mets.
"The main key is getting out there and pitching in a meaningful game," Keuchel said. "This is what you play for starting on Thursday. We're going to be ready to go. That's when the fun starts."
Keuchel did not face the Cardinals this year and is 0-2 with a 10.03 ERA in three career appearances (two starts) against St. Louis.
Mikolas won 18 games a year ago when the Cardinals missed the playoffs. He was moved into the role as the Game 1 starter when St. Louis used ace Jack Flaherty to clinch the NL Central crown on Sunday.
Mikolas is 2-1 with a 3.03 ERA over his last six starts, striking out 35 in 35 2/3 innings. In his last start on Sept. 22 against the Chicago Cubs, Mikolas allowed one run over 7 2/3 innings but did not get a decision.
He is 1-2 with a 2.61 in four career appearances (three starts) against Atlanta. He lost his only start against the Braves this season despite allowing only three runs over seven innings on May 24.
"It's been ups and downs," Mikolas said. "Maybe if I had pulled my weight a little bit more toward the beginning of the season, maybe we would have locked this up a week ago. That's how baseball is. Ups and downs. It's been a learning year. Frustrating at times. Enjoyable at times."
Health is an issue for both teams.
Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong has been out since Sept. 19, when he straining his left hamstring running the bases, but he is expected to be in the starting lineup, manager Mike Shildt said. Right-hander Michael Wacha is not in the NLDS rotation because of a shoulder injury.
The Braves are banking that first baseman Freddie Freeman (right elbow) and center fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. (hip) will be back to full strength. Acuna had one at-bat in the final week of the season. Outfielder Ender Inciarte, out since Aug. 17 with a right hamstring issue, has been ruled out.
--Field Level Media
Updated October 2, 2019