It appears on paper that the Braves have a tremendous advantage over the Cardinals in their one-game wildcard play-off Friday in Atlanta.
First, you can't get past the fact the winner-take-all game for the right to make it to the real post season, will be played in the Braves home ballpark in front of their fans. Atlanta doesn't have the best record of supporting its team. A few years back I was able to buy tickets to a St. Louis playoff game at Turner Field and was surprised when I arrived to find about a quarter of the audience was made up of Redbirds rooters who took advantage of plentiful tickets to make the trip.
And then there is the little fact that the Braves beat the Cardinals five times in six tries during the 2012 regular season.
Atlanta swept the Birds in May at Busch Stadium. At the time St. Louis was coming off a four-game winning streak and a sweep of a pretty good Diamondbacks club and had a 20-11 record. St. Louis lost two of three in Atlanta a couple of weeks late and left Georgia with a 27-24 record. Obviously the Cardinals were going through a bad time at that point. So, hopefully, the results were more of a result of the circumstances than they are a sign of the teams' overall abilities. I think it's also important to remember that these teams haven't seen each other in more than four months and a lot has changed since then.
Braves starter Kris Medlen has looked untouchable this season. He was a no-brainer for Atlanta for the wildcard game. Meanwhile St. Louis had some hand wringing to do, deciding to start Kyle Lohse over Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter. Lohse doesn't have a very good record against the Braves, either. But, on the Cardinals side of the ledger, Medlen is 26 and he has exactly 30 major league starts under his belt -- about one season's worth -- and NONE of them have come in the playoffs.
The Cardinals may be beaten down by injuries with Lance Berkman and Rafael Furcal absent from the playoff roster. But this is still a team that has been tested by fire. David Freese is the 2011 World Series MVP. Allen Craig had the winning hit in two World Series games last year. And almost everyone else on the St. Louis roster has significant post season experience. Atlanta only has Chipper Jones -- potentially playing his last game -- left from its post season glory days.
So, while Atlanta certainly has some advantages, I don't think the Cardinals can be written off. In a one-game playoff, the first team to make a big mistake is going to be the one to lose. And there is a lot more pressure on the Braves, who bear the weight of their colossal choke that kept them from the play-offs last year.
All the Braves had to do last year was win one game on the last day of the season to force a one-game playoff with the Cardinals... And they couldn't do it.