If you were expecting the St. Louis Cardinals to look any different in the playoffs than they did in the regular season, they quickly disabused us of that notion Thursday night against the Atlanta Braves.
The Cardinals added significantly to my already impressive gray hair collection in the early innings by leaving runner after runner on base. Then they made me pull out a bunch of my hair with a torturous ninth inning.
Fortunately, through it all, the Cardinals were able to steal a win in the first game of the National League Division Series, guaranteeing they’ll have a chance to win the series in St. Louis. Drawing first blood is a tremendous advantage when it comes to postseason series — especially the five-game variety.
It’s an odd situation for the Cardinals to be in, because they’ve historically been in the playoffs often. But, after three years of disappointing Octobers, St. Louis has a bunch of players not used to the postseason. Tommy Edman, Harrison Bader, Randy Arozarena, Paul DeJong, Yairo Munoz and even Marcell Ozuna and Paul Goldschmidt have limited or no experience in the playoffs. Pitchers Dakota Hudson, Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas, Ryan Helsley and John Brebbia could be included in that group. So getting a win to take away some of the nerves is a really big deal.
If you look at things that way, maybe it’s a good thing that the Cardinals made some mistakes early and then had to battle back to tie the game in the eighth and then take a seemingly commanding lead in the top of the ninth — only to see three-quarters of it evaporate away before the Cardinals and makeshift closer Carlos Martinez were able to put the game away. Otherwise, it was tough to watch the Cardinals leave 10 runners on base and go 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position before the ninth inning.
Most of the “experts” seemed to think the back end of the Braves bullpen was going to be a deciding factor in this series. Yet the Cardinals, who plated one run in the first seven innings of Game 1 on the NLDS, managed to score six times in the last two frames to walk away with an improbable victory.
Tommy Edman and the offense
Those who aren’t already impressed with Edman should be now after he bounced back from a tough error that gave Atlanta a 3-1 lead to turn in a strong 2-for-5 night at the plate. Besides his dynamic bat and his incredible speed, Edman is a gamer. By starting him, not only did the Cardinals field a stronger defense than they would have with Matt Carpenter at third base, but the veteran Carpenter was available from the bench as a pinch hitter. From there, he delivered one of the most important blows of the game.
One fortunate deviation from the way St. Louis played in the regular season is that it wasn’t stingy with the offense.
The Birds pounded out 14 hits against some pretty tough pitchers. Edman, Goldschmidt, Ozuna, DeJong and Kolten Wong each had a pair of hits. The only starter who didn’t collect at least one hit was catcher Yadier Molina. Even starting pitcher Mikolas had a big double early in the game. Hopefully the Cardinals have the bats going for the rest of the series — and deep into the postseason.
Miles Mikolas magic
While we’re talking about Mikolas, I thought he should have been left out of the starting rotation because of the way he pitched during the regular season. His shaky start, letting the first three batters he faced reach base, seemed to confirm that. But after he got off the hook with only one run scored, he settled down and did a pretty nice job of keeping a dangerous Atlanta offense in check.
Hopefully, St. Louis can take two of the next four games, But I don’t think this is the last we are going to see of the tomahawk chop.