The Atlanta Braves hold the home-field advantage, boast a superior offense and will give the ball in Game 1 of a National League Division Series to a pitcher with a recent World Series ring.
The St. Louis Cardinals have, well, they have Jack Flaherty. And he won’t start until Game 2 because he pitched Sunday.
Flaherty, a 23-year-old product of Harvard-Westlake High in Studio City, became the only pitcher in MLB history to post an earned-run average under 1.00 after the All-Star break, allowing only 10 earned runs over his final 99 1/3 innings. He anchored a stingy Cardinals pitching staff that ranked fifth in ERA.
Against a Braves team known for its slugging — Freddie Freeman, Josh Donaldson and Ronald Acuna Jr. each hit more than 35 home runs — the ability to keep fly balls inside the fence will be key. The Cardinals will start Miles Mikolas in Game 1.
“Our success is going to be controlling counts,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said.
Braves Game 2 starter Mike Foltynewicz, a right-hander the Dodgers dispatched after scoring four runs in two innings in the opener of last year’s NLDS, spent more than a month in triple-A this summer. He has a 2.65 ERA over 10 starts since being promoted.
Rather than go with the hot hand, Braves manager Brian Snitker will give the ball to Dallas Keuchel, who won the American League Cy Young Award in 2015 and a World Series in 2017 with the Houston Astros.
“That’s why we got this guy,” Snitker said, referring to the one-year deal Keuchel signed in June after spending the first two months of the season without a job. “We signed him because he brought instant credibility. He’s been through this war. He’s a World Series champion.
“And I think when we signed him, we envisioned him making this opening start.”
Keuchel envisioned a similar outcome. He waited out the long spending freeze and joined a team he believed had a great chance of reaching the postseason.
“This is the real season,” said Keuchel, who parlayed his $13-million contract into a 3.75 ERA over 19 starts. “I mean, this is what you play for. When I got my first taste in ’15 of the playoffs, it was like getting that most favorite toy on Christmas, like your most favorite toy ever.”
The Braves will start 22-year-old Mike Soroka in Game 3. The Cardinals didn’t announce their Game 3 starter, choosing instead to withhold that information until the latest possible moment.
The route they take could sway the series. Soroka, whose 2.68 ERA is the best on the Braves, is particularly tough to rattle in road games. He had a 1.55 ERA and held opponents to a .205 average in 16 starts on the road.
Backed by a prolific offense — the Braves rank third in the NL in runs and on-base-plus-slugging percentage and are anchored by first baseman Freeman and second baseman Ozzie Albies, easily among the top producers at their positions — Soroka could have an edge.