The Minnesota Twins' Rocco Baldelli and St Louis Cardinals' Mike Shildt were named Managers of the Year in tight votes on Tuesday.

Baldelli became the eighth rookie manager to win the award after the Twins claimed the American League (AL) Central title before falling short in the AL Division Series.

The 38-year-old finished with 106 points to win AL Manager of the Year, just ahead of the New York Yankees' Aaron Boone (96), while the Tampa Bay Rays' Kevin Cash (33) was third.

"You take on a responsibility, and it's one that you take seriously when you take on the role of manager," Baldelli said, via the Twins' website.

"You don't do it for anything that points back to yourself. You don't do it for awards. You do it to bring a group together in the best possible way you can.

"When you do get acknowledged for something individual, it's an interesting feeling, but you are certainly floored by being acknowledged in that way."

The National League race was also close, with Shildt (95 points) finishing ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers' Craig Counsell (88) and Atlanta Braves' Brian Snitker (45).

The Cardinals reached the NL Championship Series before being swept by eventual World Series champions the Washington Nationals.

St Louis Cardinals manager Mike Shildt has signed a three-year contract extension, the MLB franchise announced.

Shildt's new deal is through to the 2022 season after leading the Cardinals to the National League Championship Series.

The 51-year-old was hired as interim manager to replace Mike Matheny in July 2018 before being appointed on a permanent basis a little over a month later.

Shildt – whose initial contract ran through 2020 – led the Cardinals to a 91-71 record in 2019 and St Louis' first NL Central title since 2015.

The Cardinals defeated the Atlanta Braves in the NL Division Series before falling to eventual champions the Washington Nationals in the NLCS.

President of baseball operations John Mozeliak signed a new deal on Tuesday, while St Louis also exercised a 2020 option on general manager Mike Girsch, who penned a two-year extension.

"What Mo and his group have accomplished since he took over in 2008 as the head of our baseball ops is pretty impressive," Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said.

"We've been in the playoffs seven times. We've had 12 consecutive winning seasons, two pennants, a world championship. ... We continue to have a robust farm system, which is not easy to do.

"When you have winning seasons, you don't draft high. But we've got a very strong scouting and player development group."

Max Scherzer was delighted to have proven the critics wrong as the Washington Nationals reached the MLB World Series for the first time with a 7-4 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series.

The win completed a 4-0 sweep for the Nationals, who face the winner of the Houston Astros and New York Yankees in the showpiece, the former leading 2-1 in the American League Championship Series.

In-form Washington scored seven runs in the first inning with RBIs from Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Yan Gomes, before Patrick Corbin's 12 strikeouts seeing them through.

Remarkably, the Nationals held a 19-31 record in May, prompting speculation around the future of manager Dave Martinez and Scherzer, who was rumoured to be on the trade block, but the veteran pitcher was confident the team's experienced heads would steady the ship.

"We knew we were going to be the oldest team in the league," Scherzer said.

"Everyone said that was a negative. We looked at it as a positive.

"I'm one of the old guys and old guys can still play. I think the older guys bring a lot of value to the clubhouse. The experience we bring, the emotions we bring... all that helps."

The Nationals have been a hard-luck story in playoffs over the years but general manager Mike Rizzo, who has been with the franchise for over a decade, always kept the faith in Washington.

"I think every year we're going to the World Series," he said on the field post-game.

"We've been in the playoffs five times in eight years and have won more games than any team in the majors except the [Los Angeles] Dodgers in that time.

"So, every year we head to spring training expecting to win the World Series. Get to the playoffs and you've got a puncher's chance."

The Washington Nationals will feature in their first MLB World Series after topping the St Louis Cardinals 7-4 in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series.

Tuesday's victory over the Cardinals secured a NLCS sweep for the high-flying Nationals.

Thanks to an early surge of offense and some excellent work on the mound, the Nationals were able to see off the Cardinals 4-0.

Washington will now await the winner of the Houston Astros-New York Yankees series as they chase their title dreams.

 

Here are three takeaways from the Nationals' win:

Nationals got the ball rolling early

It is no secret that Washington's offense have been on fire lately, but nobody expected them to explode like they did in the first inning of this critical closeout game. The Nationals scored all seven of their runs in the first inning thanks to RBIs from Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto, Victor Robles, and Yan Gomes. Then they coasted from there.

Even after amassing so many early runs, Washington kept fighting for more even though they ultimately could not add to their lead. The Nationals only struck out seven times in the contest after forcing St Louis to yank their starter Dakota Hudson after he recorded just one out.

Washington's pitching was on another level

The Nationals' starters have been phenomenal in the postseason as of late, and Patrick Corbin picked up right where Stephen Strasburg left off on Tuesday. Corbin notched 12 strikeouts through five innings just one day after Strasburg tallied 12 of his own against the Cardinals.

Corbin still gave up four runs in his showing, but Tanner Rainey, Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson kept St Louis scoreless for the remainder of the contest. Washington's rotation held the Cardinals to five hits in the game and only allowed them to score 1.5 runs per game in the series. Consistently being able to limit the opponent's offense made Washington's road to the World Series significantly less difficult.

Top of St Louis' order continued to struggle

The Cardinals needed big contributions from their heavy hitters to avoid elimination, and they still did not get that in Game 4 of the NLCS. The first six men in St Louis' batting order combined for three hits and 11 strikeouts. While this group did account for all four of the Cardinals' runs, three of the players were held hitless — including Paul Goldschmidt, who failed to record a hit in either of the last two games.

St Louis' top six did not capitalise on opportunities while generating nearly 70 per cent of the team's at-bats and the rest made the most of what they had. When it is all said and done, big-time players have to make big-time plays. That did not happen for the Cardinals.

The Washington Nationals are on the verge of a MLB World Series berth after easing past the St Louis Cardinals 8-1 in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series.

Washington lead the NLCS 3-0 and are one win away from a trip to the World Series following Monday's victory.

The Cardinals' backs are against the wall, and they have little time to turn things around.

 

Here are three takeaways from Washington's win:

Strasburg was electric

Stephen Strasburg was flat-out dominant against St Louis. The right-handed ace threw a season-high 117 pitches and struck out 12 batters in seven innings of work. He mowed down the Cardinals with his off-speed pitches consistently as they tried to anticipate his choices all night.

St Louis' lone run against Strasburg came after Juan Soto slipped while trying to make a throw from the outfield and missed the cut-off man. This mistake snapped the Nationals starters' streak of more than 20 innings without giving up a score in the series.

The Cardinals tallied seven hits on the night and only one was an extra-base hit. That is what good pitching can do.

Washington's "old guys" made a big difference

The Nationals have a host of seasoned veterans on their roster, including 36-year-old Howie Kendrick and 35-year-old Ryan Zimmerman. Both had impressive performances in Game 3. Kendrick went three for four with three RBIs on three doubles while Zimmerman went two for four with two RBIs. Max Scherzer could not have been more right when he said "old guys can still do it," last week.

Washington's experience could prove to be vital again in Game 4 on Tuesday, and sweeping the Cardinals will give them more recovery time as they prepare for a World Series push.

Cardinals' stars failed to show up

It is easy to see no Cardinals player had a great showing when the box score shows zero RBIs, but too many of their top performers had no impact on the game offensively. Paul Goldschmidt, Kolten Wong and Dexter Fowler went a combined 0 for 12 against the Nationals. 

Goldschmidt and Fowler combined for seven strikeouts in their eight at-bats and unfortunate performances like that will almost always lead to defeat.

The top of the Cardinals' line-up will have to be better and create some momentum if the team hope to put up a fight against Washington.

Former World Series champion and MVP David Freese announced his retirement from MLB after 11 seasons.

Freese, 36, called it quits on Saturday following the Los Angeles Dodgers' National League Division Series loss to the Washington Nationals.

"Family friends, team-mates, coaches, and fans that handed out support especially when your lives were already full, you helped me more than you know," Freese wrote in a statement via Twitter,

"You took a 23-year-old kid out of college and pushed him to 36 ... As I more forward with the next phase of my life, I am forever grateful to all of you and the game of baseball."

Freese made his debut with the St Louis Cardinals in 2009 and is best known for his dominant performance in the 2011 postseason, where he hit .397 with five homers and a playoff record 21 RBIs.

He won NL Championship Series and World Series MVP for the Cardinals, hitting the game-tying triple and walk-off home run in Game 6 of the World Series to help St Louis capture their 11th championship.

Over the course of his career, Freese played for the Cardinals, Los Angeles Angels, Pittsburgh Pirates and most recently the Dodgers, where he hit .315 with 11 homers and 29 RBIs in 79 games this season.

Freese – an All-Star in 2012 – finishes his career with 113 home runs, 535 RBIs and a slash line of .277/.351/.423.

The Washington Nationals are in control of the National League Championship Series after defeating the St Louis Cardinals 3-1 in Game 2.

Washington will return to the American capital with a 2-0 lead thanks to Saturday's victory in St Louis.

Max Scherzer did not give up a hit until the seventh inning, while Adam Eaton plated two with a double in the top of the eighth to all but put the game away.

Now, the Nationals send another ace to the mound in Stephen Strasburg – who is coming off two great starts against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Division Series.

The Cardinals will counter with their ace Jack Flaherty in the MLB playoffs.

 

Three takeaways from the Nationals' Game 2 NLCS win over the Cardinals

Where has all the hitting gone?

The Cardinals have forgotten how to hit. There is no nicer way to put it. It took St Louis 7.6 innings in Game 1 to get a hit and they had just one in nine innings. Then in Game 2 on Saturday, they took six innings to register their first hit once again. But the failures do not stop there. Even in St Louis' 13-1 win against the Atlanta Braves in Game 5 of the NLDS, the Cardinals had their struggles. They failed to tally a single hit over the final five innings of that game.

Now, the question here is, should we have seen this coming? That is a hard declaration to make. However, St Louis were 23rd in MLB in hits and batting average this season and 19th in runs scored. Hitting was not the team's strong suit, so they were bound to have some struggles against a Nationals team that were eighth in baseball in hits allowed and seventh in opponents' on-base percentage.

But one thing the Cardinals can hang their hat on is they are not alone in not being able to hit Scherzer in Anibal Sanchez. While going five innings over the first two games of a postseason series is bad, the Boston Red Sox did the same thing in the 2013 ALCS against the Detroit Tigers. What is amazing about that though is it was the same two pitchers in Scherzer and Sanchez. You cannot make this stuff up.

The postseason isn't always about the stars

Bucky Dent, Geoff Blum, Steve Pearce and David Eckstein. Absolutely none of these men are household names but every single one of them had an impact on postseason series, and sometimes World Series as Pearce and Eckstein were named MVPs of the Fall Classic.

Michael A. Taylor was supposed to be the Nationals' next big thing a little more than five years ago, but injuries and poor performance got him passed up by Victor Robles. But with Robles' injury in the NLDS this year, Taylor was thrust into a starting role and boy did he make use of it in Game 2. Taylor smacked a home run off Adam Wainwright in the third inning to open up the scoring and give the Nationals some early confidence on the road.

He went two for four in the game. And yes, he made a defensive mistake in the bottom of the eighth, but it ultimately did not hurt the team too bad.

Taylor also was a mini hero at the end of the NLDS when he made a wonderful diving catch to end the series. Taylor might not be getting paid $200million when he possibly becomes a free agent after the 2020 season, but this performance could earn him a decent payday when he gets his chance.

Turn back the clock

To say Adam Wainwright's performance this postseason has been a revelation is far from hyperbole. After tossing 7.6 innings of shut-out ball in Game 3 of the NLDS, he turned around and worked into the eighth inning again in Game 2 of the NLCS on Saturday.

This is the guy who was throwing 83 mph when coming back from a rash of injuries over the last few years. He is the guy who pitched 28 innings in 2015, 40.3 innings in 2018 and 123.3 innings in 2017. He is 38 years old. And while he was OK this year breaking the 170-inning mark and posting an ERA of 4.19, it is pretty fair to ask where this came from.

But we are not complaining. This was a reminder of the guy who struck out Carlos Beltran to send the Cardinals to the World Series and the man who was on the mound when St Louis beat the Tigers to clinch a championship. This has been fun to watch and we are here to thank Mr. Wainwright because we enjoyed every minute.

Anibal Sanchez threatened to earn a slice of history as the Washington Nationals beat the St Louis Cardinals 2-0 in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series on Friday.

The Nationals starter tossed 7 2/3 no-hitting innings and came within four outs of recording the third no-hitter in postseason history.

It was not meant to be as Jose Martinez singled to center to break up the no-hit bid, but it was the exact start the Nationals needed to go up 1-0 in the series.

Washington upset the Los Angeles Dodgers to reach the NLCS for the first time in their history and will now send Max Scherzer to the mound for Game 2 on Saturday.

 

Three takeaways from the Nationals' win over the Cardinals in NLCS Game 1

Anibal Sanchez gave the Nationals what they needed

When thinking about particular pitching matchups in the NLCS, Cardinals fans likely circled Sanchez's name.

The 35-year-old is the one pitcher in the Nationals rotation that can be looked at as a potential weak link. Add the fact Daniel Hudson was on paternity leave for Game 1 and this felt like a chance for St Louis to both get a win and even possibly give the Nationals' bullpen some hell without one of their better relievers back there.

But Sanchez is a wily vet and the perfect example of experience in the postseason. Pitchers like CC Sabathia and Adam Wainwright on paper seem like guys who should be vulnerable in a big spot at an older age, but in actuality, they use their experience to make things happen and get big outs.

Sanchez did that and then some before handing the ball off to Sean Doolittle in the eighth inning.

Andrew Miller vs. the three-batter minimum

Baseball is all about matchups. A good pitching staff against a great lineup, a big-time closer against the heart of the order and a LOOGY against a dominant left-handed bat. These matchups are what make the game great as any one of them can determine the outcome of a game.

In Game 1 of the NLCS, Andrew Miller came in to get one batter out. He was called upon to get left-haded hitting 20-year-old Juan Soto out. What happened next was an intense battle that went to a full count and resulted in Miller giving Soto his absolute best slider and sitting him down on strikes.

But after this year, this will not happen ever again because MLB has instituted a three-batter minimum. No more will be the days of the LOOGY and Miller will never get the chance to take on Soto in a high-intensity at-bat in a critical moment. Baseball is the worse for it.

Yan Gomes trade: Worth it

When the Nationals acquired Yan Gomes for two prospects in the offseason the storyline was more focused on the Cleveland Indians getting rid of payroll than it was on Washington getting a solid player, but Game 1 reminded us that Gomes is not just a trade piece, he is an All-Star, a Silver Slugger, and a solid defensive catcher.

While Gomes was not great in his first season with the Nationals, he was thrust into a starting role after Kurt Suzuki was hit by a pitch on the hand and helmet in Game 5 of the NLDS.

Gomes made the most of it, going 2 for 3 with a walk and drove in the first run of the game on a double in the second inning.

If the Nationals are to go on to win this series, that is a big moment for the team. Gomes got them going and made an impact when it mattered even if he had his struggles. Often, success in the postseason can make people forget a player at his worst. Pablo Sandoval got a massive contract almost solely off playoff success.

Gomes made an impact when the Nationals needed him to. So for at least one night, acquiring him was completely worth it.

The St Louis Cardinals made light work of the Atlanta Braves as they reached the MLB's National League Championship Series for the first time since 2014.

St Louis humbled Atlanta, cruising to a crushing 13-1 victory in Game 5 of the NL Division Series in Atlanta on Wednesday – sealing a 3-2 success.

The Cardinals got on top 4-0 before Braves manager Brian Snitker pulled starter Mike Foltynewicz. And when the first inning was all said and done, St Louis led 10-0.

The game was over at that point. The largest comeback in a Division Series game is six and there was virtually zero chance the Braves were going to come back from 10 down.

Now the Cardinals await the winner of the Los Angeles Dodgers-Washington Nationals series that will be decided later on Wednesday.

 

Three takeaways from the Cardinals' series-clinching NLDS Game 5 win over the Braves

Flaherty shut it down

Let's be honest, Jack Flaherty did not have to do much in this game as he came in with a 10-0 lead, but that does not change the fact that he was great. After a Game 2 performance where he allowed three runs in seven innings of a 3-1 loss, Flaherty came back and was even better in Game 5 – allowing just one run in six innings of work. 

More importantly though, after that 10-run first inning, he left absolutely no doubt. He came out and worked around a single and a walk to post a scoreless inning, and immediately got rid of any idea that he would give the Braves an opportunity like the Cardinals were given in the top half of the inning.

Flaherty was fantastic to end the year and he has carried that into the playoffs. He is this team's ace and there is no doubt about it.

What year is it?

When 10 runs are scored in an inning, it must come with at least one home run right? In 2019 when MLB broke the home run record once again, that has to be the assumption. But believe it or not, that was not the case in Game 5.

The Cardinals, in fact, scored 13 runs through seven innings and did it without a single homer. That cannot be all that common. Especially for 2019. But it was not the most this season. St Louis were actually the team to pull that off as they scored 17 without a home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 9, according to NBC Sports Chicago.

However, it is not nearly the most ever scored without a run. In 1923, the Cleveland Indians scored 27 runs without a home run, according to Baseball Reference. But for 2019, 13 is one heck of a big number.

The beating goes on

It is tough being an Atlanta sports fan. Forget this miserable loss in a winner-take-all game but think about the longevity for a second. With this defeat for the Braves, Atlanta have now lost 10 straight postseason series.

The last win came in the 2001 NLDS when the Braves beat the Houston Astros in four games.

But the Braves have not really been all that close to winning a series either. Until this year, the last time they had a chance to win a Division Series was in the 2004 NLDS against the Astros which they lost in five games. Other than that, they had not won more than one game in a series until 2019.

It has been a rough go of it for Braves fans, and honestly, we feel for you.

The St Louis Cardinals levelled the National League Division Series and forced a deciding game after outlasting the Atlanta Braves 5-4 after 10 innings.

Monday saw the Cardinals survive a must-win showdown in St Louis to set up a mouth-watering Game 5 against the Braves in the MLB playoffs.

The Cardinals prevailed in extra innings thanks to a clutch performance from Yadier Molina.

 

Three takeaways from the Cardinals' Game 4 win over the Braves

Molina is clutch

We have said it once and we will say it again: Molina is clutch.

The Cardinals needed something, anything to stay alive in Game 4. Who better to deliver than Molina? He has been great when called upon and his at-bat in the bottom of the eighth, and again in the 10th, was exactly what St Louis needed.

When he stepped to the plate with the tying run on second base and two outs in the eighth, the Cards needed a big hit — and they got it.

Molina scored Paul Goldschmidt on a single. 

When the game went into extra innings, Molina stepped up to the plate in the 10th with the walk-off run waiting on third base. There was just one out when Molina sent a sacrifice fly to left field. It scored Kolten Wong and that was that.

Molina finished one-for-four with two RBI.

Swanson has been the star of the show for Atlanta

It has been quite a couple of days for the Braves shortstop. 

Dansby Swanson hit the game-tying RBI on Sunday and came out again to score Atlanta's first run on Monday. He is not only hitting but hitting with power. Each of Swanson's three hits Sunday had an exit velocity greater than 100 mph, according to MLB.com. While his bat was not as powerful Monday, Swanson still got on base three times, and scored twice.

He was brought home on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Ozzie Albies to put the Braves on the board in the third inning.

Swanson has had a great series for a player who missed last year's playoffs with an injury. He has seven hits in 14 at-bats.

Braves took advantage of another three-run inning

In Game 3, Atlanta staged a three-run rally in the ninth to tilt the series in their favour. Monday, the Braves again used a three-run inning to tilt the game in their favour.

They were trailing 3-1 with two outs in the top of the fifth when Swanson scored on an error and two batters later Albies hit a two-run homer to put Atlanta ahead.

Unfortunately, it would be part of the team's losing efforts, but one thing is clear: The Braves thrive under pressure.

In both games, the Braves' three-run rally came with two outs. They have outlasted the Cardinals before and could likely do so again with the crowd on their side in Atlanta for Game 5.

Game 5 is scheduled for Wednesday.

The Atlanta Braves produced a dramatic late rally to edge the St Louis Cardinals 3-1 and take a 2-1 lead in the National League Division Series (NLDS) on Sunday.

Mike Soroka and veteran Adam Wainwright engaged in a pitcher's duel but ultimately the Braves came back to win after a late, and very impressive, rally with their backs against the wall.

The 22-year-old rookie Soroka impressed in his postseason debut and was virtually unhittable to help push the Braves ahead.

 

Three takeaways from Braves' late comeback

First, the rookie

While the Braves' offense was certainly impressive late, especially considering the blown lead in Game 1 of the NLDS, Soroka was the star of the show early.

It was a tall task for a first-year pitcher but Soroka took it in stride. He pitched a solid seven innings, allowing just one run on two hits while striking out seven and walking none.

The extra rest Atlanta gave him seemed to have worked. Soroka brought his great outings from the regular season into the playoffs and if the Braves move on, he will likely be a difference maker going forward.

Wainwright once again steps up in the postseason

Wainwright is no stranger to the postseason. He made his 13th career playoff start and 25th postseason appearance on Sunday. His experience helped St Louis skate through most of Game 3 with a narrow lead.

His career stats, ERA, WHIP, are all better in the postseason than his regular-season numbers. It breaks down to a 3.03 ERA in the postseason compared to a 3.39 career ERA in the regular season and a 1.09 WHIP in the postseason versus 1.23 in the regular season. 

That postseason mastery continued on Sunday, as Wainwright pitched 7.2 shut-out innings, striking out eight and giving up only four hits to a powerful Atlanta offense.

Wainwright was eventually pulled in the eighth after 120 pitches. His exit came after two consecutive walks, his only walks on the day, and to a standing ovation from a happy St Louis crowd. Wainwright, and those fans, deserved a better fate in the end.

 

The Braves capitalise on their final opportunity

After being shut down all game by Wainwright, the Braves made Cardinals closer Carlos Martinez pay for their frustration.

The Braves roughed up Martinez, with three hits and two walks fuelling a three-run rally, all of them coming with two outs.

After an intentional walk to Brian McCann, Dansby Swanson seemed to take that free pass personally, and drove in the tying run with a clutch double to left.

Adam Duvall then singled home Swanson and pinch-runner Rafael Ortega for the final margin.

The Braves looked overmatched at the plate most of the game, but they kept fighting and they now lead the NLDS 2-1 as a result.

The Atlanta Braves evened up the Nationals League Division Series (NLDS) against the St Louis Cardinals after a 3-0 win in Game 2 on Friday.

Jack Flaherty was very good for the Cardinals, but Mike Foltynewicz was even better for Atlanta.

The two teams will now head to St Louis for Game 3 on Sunday.

 

Three takeaways from Braves' series-tying Game 2 win over Cardinals

Sometimes a demotion is a good thing

When Foltynewicz was demoted in June after posting a 6.37 ERA through 11 starts, he was candid with reporters.

"I've got a 7 ERA on a first-place team," Foltynewicz said then. "It's just tough. I'm battling every night. It's just tough. It's just the person I am. I'm going to wear that stuff on my sleeve, especially when things aren't going my way. It's just tough. It's all my fault, too."

For a pitcher who was an All-Star in 2018 it was a seemingly tough moment, but he took it in stride and came back to be one of the Braves' best pitchers down the stretch.

Foltynewicz posted a 1.50 ERA in five September starts and then built on his performance with a stellar start in Game 2 on Friday as he went seven innings while allowing three hits and no runs while striking out seven and walking none. One day after the Braves used eight pitchers and lost one (Chris Martin) for the NLDS due to injury, Atlanta needed a start like this.

All it takes is one inning

Legendary manager Earl Weaver once said that many times the winning team will score more runs in one inning than the losing team do in the entire game. It is exactly what happened to the Cardinals on Friday, but simply on a small scale as Weaver was referring to the mythical "big inning" rather than what happened to the Cardinals.

Flaherty was nervous in his first career postseason start. He came out and struggled to find his arm slot for his fastball and saw a few two-seamers dip out of the zone which put him in some bad counts. As a result, after Ozzie Albies reached on an infield single, the second baseman advanced a base on a wild pitch and came around to score later on a Josh Donaldson single.

Flaherty put the Cardinals in a 1-0 hole they would never dig out of. And while the Braves would get to Flaherty for a few more runs in the seventh inning, that one inning got St Louis off to a start they never recovered from.

In the postseason a pitcher has to be on his game from the very beginning, Flaherty simply was not in Game 2.

 

The legend of Adam Duvall is growing

Speaking of players who were in the minors for the Braves this year, Adam Duvall actually started the season in Triple-A for Atlanta. He was then called up in the middle of the year and put up respectable numbers down the stretch.

He was then a somewhat surprising addition to the playoff roster, though with Ender Inciarte's injury, maybe it was not all that surprising. And Duvall made his addition worth it in Game 1 with a wonderful throw to the plate to nab the go-ahead run on a game-tying double in the eighth inning.

He would also add a single in the game in his lone at-bat, but his hitting prowess has not stopped there for the series. Duvall pinch hit for Foltynewicz in Game 2, which at the time could have been seen as a bit of a questionable decision by manager Brian Snitker.

Foltynewicz was only at 81 pitches for the game and with 7-8-9 due up in the order and seven shut-out innings under his belt, taking out the righty was a bold move by Snitker. But Duvall made it worth it as he smacked a two-run home run to center to blow what was a very close game wide open.

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.

The National League Division Series are set.

The Washington Nationals will take on the Los Angeles Dodgers after winning a dramatic wild-card game against the Milwaukee Brewers 4-3.

The St Louis Cardinals will battle the Atlanta Braves for a place in the Championship Series, and we have previewed both match-ups for you.

 

Key storylines

Will Dallas Keuchel be the key to the Braves taking the next step?

This is why the Braves went out and signed Keuchel in the middle of the season. The lefty got World Series experience with the Astros and made multiple appearances in the postseason with Houston. He gives the Braves a veteran for their rotation to send out in Game 1 of the NLDS and possibly for a second time in Game 4 or 5. But will he be what they need to advance to the next round? Or will he struggle as he did in his final few outings in the playoffs for Houston (4.43 ERA last four appearances)?

Can the Nationals hit consistently in their match-up with the Dodgers?

While Max Scherzer can catch some flak for lacklustre postseason performances with the Nationals, it has truly been the line-up that has let Washington down in the playoffs over the last few years. Since 2014, Washington have averaged 3.8 runs per game in the playoffs, scoring three runs or fewer in seven of their 15 games. The Dodgers have a solid pitching staff. Will the line-up do enough to support a rotation that will likely keep the Nationals in all of their games?

Players to watch

Jack Flaherty, SP, Cardinals

The 23-year-old righty might have been the best pitcher in MLB down the stretch in 2019. In the second half, Flaherty put up a 0.91 ERA and 0.71 WHIP in 99 1/3 innings. He will not get to start Game 1 on Thursday, but he will likely pitch Game 2 on Friday and will either have a chance to send the Cardinals back to St Louis tied 1-1 or up 2-0.

Kenley Jansen, CP, Dodgers

The Dodgers decided to stand pat at the deadline and did not go out and get either an additional closer in the market or at least a man who could step in and take over in case Jansen struggled. Los Angeles' closer posted a career-worst 3.71 ERA this year while blowing a career-high eight saves. This could easily be seen as an anomaly with hope that he will get over it in the playoffs, but in the last two years he has had some serious postseason breakdowns. He has posted a 3.55 ERA with four home runs allowed in nine appearances in the World Series over the last two years. Jansen struggled again during the regular season. The Nationals showed in the wild-card game they can get to good closers in the late innings. Will that factor into the series?

Predictions

Braves over the Cardinals in five games

The Braves have an odd advantage in this one: the Cardinals haven't faced Keuchel or Max Fried yet this season. The one pitcher they will definitely face in the playoffs is Mike Soroka and he dominated them to a tune of a 0.69 ERA in 13 innings (two starts) this season. But the Cardinals have had success with their pitching as well, so this will come down to the two line-ups. The Braves' line-up is better. They tasted the postseason last year and their young hitters have more experience under their belt. That will be the difference.

Nationals over the Dodgers in five games

The Nationals' starting rotation looks to strong to think they will lose with the way they are set up. The Dodgers have to face Patrick Corbin in Game 1. He shut out Los Angeles over seven innings in his lone start against them this season and the Dodgers showed massive vulnerability in match-ups against lefties in the playoffs last year. They addressed that by playing Cody Bellinger every day but this year the Dodgers were not as good against lefties as they were righties. But beyond that Los Angeles will have to face Stephen Strasburg in Game 2 and he is an absolute beast in the postseason. The Dodgers could easily be down 2-0 going back to Washington. But the Nationals still have to hit in this series. That is the x-factor. If they do not the Dodgers will win. But it is undeniable how well the Nationals' pitching sets up for the NLDS against the Dodgers.

The St Louis Cardinals claimed the MLB's National League Central title with a 9-0 rout of the Chicago Cubs.

Sunday's victory improved the Cardinals' record to 91-71, and they completed the regular season in dominant fashion to finish two games ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers, who lost to the Colorado Rockies in 13 innings.

Paul Goldschmidt went three for four, hit a home run and tallied two RBIs for St Louis, while Matt Carpenter notched three RBIs of his own.

The Cubs, who before the game fired manager Joe Maddon, managed only three hits, with Jack Flaherty striking out six in seven scoreless innings.

The Cardinals now turn their attention to the National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves, which gets underway on Wednesday.

 

Lynn leads Rangers past Yankees

Lance Lynn tallied 10 strikeouts as the Texas Rangers topped the New York Yankees 6-1.

Brad Miller went four for five and hit two home runs but the Miami Marlins topped the Philadelphia Phillies 4-3.

Matt Thaiss hit a pair of home runs and drove in four in the Los Angeles Angels' 8-5 loss to the Houston Astros.

 

Reds win but Peraza struggles

Jose Peraza went 0 for five as the Cincinnati Reds beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-1.

Washington's Matt Adams went 0 for four in the Nationals' 8-2 win over the Cleveland Indians.

 

Wilkerson with a highlight-reel catch!

Baltimore Orioles outfielder Stevie Wilkerson hauls in arguably the most spectacular catch of 2019.

 

Sunday's results

Washington Nationals 8-2 Cleveland Indians
Texas Rangers 6-1 New York Yankees
Miami Marlins 4-3 Philadelphia Phillies
Cincinnati Reds 3-1 Pittsburgh Pirates
Los Angeles Dodgers 9-0 San Francisco Giants
Boston Red Sox 5-4 Baltimore Orioles
Toronto Blue Jays 8-3 Tampa Bay Rays
Houston Astros 8-5 Los Angeles Angels
Chicago White Sox 5-3 Detroit Tigers
Colorado Rockies 4-3 Milwaukee Brewers
Seattle Mariners 3-1 Oakland Athletics
Arizona Diamondbacks 1-0 San Diego Padres
Kansas City Royals 5-4 Minnesota Twins
New York Mets 7-6 Atlanta Braves
St Louis Cardinals 9-0 Chicago Cubs

 

Brewers at Nationals

Playoff baseball has finally arrived. Nationals ace Max Scherzer (11-7, 2.93 ERA) faces Brandon Woodruff (11-3, 3.62) in the wild-card clash.

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