Cardinals rally past Braves in NLDS opener

By Sports Desk October 03, 2019

The St Louis Cardinals are 1-0 up in the National League Division Series (NLDS) after a 7-6 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Thursday.

Atlanta led 3-1 in the eighth, but a string of actions from earlier in the game and an unfortunate injury leading up to the start of that fateful inning forced the contest out of control.

Ronald Acuna Jr. and Freddie Freeman gave a valiant effort to tie the game in the night with a two-run homer and solo shot respectively, but the deficit was too much to overcome in the final half-inning.

Now the Cardinals send Jack Flaherty to the mound for Game 2 on Friday and the Braves are chasing.

Three takeaways from Cardinals' comeback Game 1 win over Braves

Over-managing costs Braves

The playoffs are all about getting pitchers out of the game too early rather than too late as well as matching up certain relievers with specific batters down the line. But the Braves simply overdid it in Game 1.

Now, it was not entirely their fault because setup man Chris Martin suffered an injury in the eighth inning, forcing manager Brian Snitker to put in Luke Jackson, which eventually led to Atlanta blowing a 3-1 lead, but Jackson could have been avoided entirely had Snitker just backed off a bit.

It started with Dallas Keuchel. He was taken out after just 74 pitches when the Cardinals had not made much hard contact on him the entire game. The Braves then only used Darren O'Day for one batter and brought in Shane Green to start the sixth. Atlanta were three pitchers in during the seventh inning and brought in starter Max Fried in relief. But then the Braves only left him in for one inning and then went to Martin.

This one was simple but you have to trust Keuchel to keep going in that situation. He is a veteran who knows how to battle in the postseason and the Cardinals had not figured him out yet. Their one run came on an infield hit, stolen base and ground ball.

This is a game Snitker would like to have a do-over on, but it is too late. Now the Braves are down 1-0 in the series and it is all because he did not trust his veteran lefty.

Everything changes in the playoffs

It is a cliche to say "everything gets turned up a notch in the playoffs" but it is also true. Nothing a player did in the regular season matters in the playoffs because adrenaline is running high, the pressure is increased and a lot of players' mental games change.

This was never more clear than in Game 1 of the NLDS. Just look at the first inning for the Cardinals. Miles Mikolas walked 32 batters all season (1.3 per nine innings). He walked the first two batters of the game. Yadier Molina's pop time this year was relatively mediocre for him at over two seconds. He caught Acuna stealing easily. Kolten Wong made nine errors all year and posted 14 defensive runs saved above average, according to Baseball Reference. He made an error that allowed a run to score.

Then in the fifth inning for the Braves, Keuchel – who did not allow a stolen base all year long – forgot about Harrison Bader at second which resulted in a steal of third and led to the Cardinals' first run of the game on a Dexter Fowler groundout.


The Cardinals allowed Keuchel to nibble

There is a formula to beating Keuchel – make him throw the ball in the strike zone. If a team do not do that he will beat them every single time.

During the regular season, Keuchel threw a mere 33.6 per cent of his pitches in the zone. The league average is around 45 per cent. When teams let him work out of the zone that plays into his advantage. The Cardinals did just that, routinely swinging at deliveries either just outside the zone or a good bit out which led to inning-ending double plays in both the third and fourth.

Keuchel tossed four scoreless innings to begin the game and allowed just one run in 4.2 innings pitched. Keuchel is a tough pitcher to crack because of the way he skirts the outside of the zone so it is hard to lay off of that stuff, but the Cardinals did not do themselves any favours by swinging at far too many borderline pitches.

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