Heroics from franchise icons and inspired performances by youngsters have turned the meeting between the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves in the National League Division Series into a classic.
A tie game slipped away from the Braves bullpen in the opener. A few days later, a vintage performance from 38-year-old Adam Wainwright was cratered by Cardinals closer Carlos Martinez in Game 3. Postseason newbie Dansby Swanson had the tying hit for the Braves. Veteran Yadier Molina, who has otherwise struggled in this series, hit a tying single in the eighth inning and a walk-off sacrifice fly in the 10th to stave off the Cardinals’ elimination the following evening.
Now this thrilling best-of-five set shifts to SunTrust Park. Game 5 will either propel the 97-win Braves to the franchise’s first championship series since 2001 or prolong the underdog Cardinals’ October stay.
“All four of these games have just been tremendous,” said Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz, who will return to the mound on regular rest to attempt to replicate the seven scoreless, three-hit innings he threw in Atlanta’s Game 2 win. “I don’t have any nails right now. I mean it’s just edge of the seat.”
The series has been a whirlwind despite the inefficiencies of both offenses. The Braves and Cardinals have hit a combined .182 with runners on base.
St. Louis has kept pace with help from a rejuvenated Marcell Ozuna, who in his first postseason appearance has eight hits and four RBIs. Ozuna has two homers — and so does teammate Paul Goldschmidt, who counts four doubles among his seven hits.
Braves star Ronald Acuna Jr. has eight hits in 16 at-bats and Swanson seven in 14. They both have three doubles, and Acuna has a triple and homer. Off the bench, Adam Duvall has collected three hits and driven in five runs.
But Atlanta’s middle-of-the-order bats have shriveled. Freddie Freeman, probably still not fully recovered from a nagging elbow injury that caused him to miss four games during the final week of the regular season, has only two hits. Outfielder Nick Markakis and third baseman Josh Donaldson have combined for five.
Pitchers have dominated this series. The Cardinals have struck out 36 and posted a 3.00 ERA, the third-lowest mark among postseason teams. The Braves are close behind with 35 strikeouts and a fourth-ranked 3.19 ERA.
A deviation from that trend seems unlikely in the finale, which pits the resurgent Foltynewicz against the Cardinals’ Jack Flaherty, the 23-year-old product of Studio City’s Harvard-Westlake High who held the Braves to one run through six innings in Game 2. He did, however, give up a two-run homer in the seventh to Duvall on his 105th pitch.
Asked before Tuesday’s workouts if he expected another close game, Braves manager Brian Snitker laughed, “You know, after the last few days, yeah.”
“That’s like where we’re going. This has been an unbelievable series. My God. Both teams just banging at each other and the close games and the late-inning heroics. It’s been something. It’s been exhausting, but it’s been a heck of a series for both sides.”