Mark Wiedmer: Braves ready to Chop Cards

Mark Wiedmer: Braves ready to Chop Cards

October 4th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

It's always dangerous putting too much emphasis on statistics when it comes to postseason baseball.

Baseball in October is all about the unexpected moment, be it the Atlanta Braves' slow-footed Sid Bream scoring from second to win the 1992 NLCS, New York Yankees pinch-hitter Jim Leyritz breaking Braves hearts four years later with a homer in Game 4 of the 1996 Series, or the St. Louis Cardinals' Curt Flood dropping a fly ball in the sun to hand Detroit the 1968 Fall Classic.

And so it is that Braves Nation might not want to become too giddy over Friday evening's pitching foes in its win-one-or-done wildcard playoff against the defending world champion St. Louis Cardinals at Turner Field.

Yes, Redbirds starter Kyle Lohse's lone trip to Atlanta this season resulted in him surrendering five runs over five innings, his worst outing of the season.

Yes, too, the Braves will send their human victory cigar to the plate in Kris Medlen, who's undefeated over his last 12 starts, recording a stunning 0.97 ERA in the process. Atoms would be easier to hit than this guy.

Moreover, the Cards were 1-5 on the season against the Braves while Atlanta has won the last 23 times Medlen's been the starting pitcher, a major league record.

Still, this is the postseason, and it is just one game and the Braves haven't advanced to a later playoff round when playing on home soil since the 2001 division series win over Houston.

True, this isn't a series. It's one game. And unlike that game won before 11,000 empty seats at Turner Field, this one will be sold out, filled with red foam tomahawks and ready to explode whenever the Braves record a hit, a defensive out or run.

"I think our fans have waited a long time for this," said retiring third baseman Chipper Jones last week. "I think they can make a big difference."

If there is poetic justice, this was the match-up that had to be after last year's Braves collapse opened the door for the Cardinals' to win the least likely of their 11 world championships.

Up 9 1/2 games in the 2011 Wild Card race at September's dawn, the Braves fell apart and the Redbirds grabbed the wildcard berth on the final day of the regular season.

Then they won it all for manager Tony LaRussa, who retired a few days after they defeated the Texas Rangers in seven games.

Beset by injuries much of the year, these Cards haven't been as solid or as dangerous as those 'Birds, but they are in the playoffs.

That they arrive with the best on-base percentage (.338) in MLB and the second-most runs scored in the NL for the season behind Milwaukee - which recently swept the Braves in Milwaukee - should also deliver a word of caution to Braves Nation.

But because it's one game and Atlanta has had its way with St. Louis all season, it seems unlikely that the Braves will pack up their gear and say good-bye to Chipper for good late Friday evening.

"They've [St. Louis] got a different team [than last year]," said Atlanta outfielder Michael Bourn earlier this week. "We've got a different team, too. Same players. Different team."

As long as they aren't too different from the team that's beaten the Cardinals five out of six this season, the Braves should advance to Sunday's divisional round, where they'll host the NL East champ Nationals in the first two games of a best-of-five series.

And because this team seems so different than last season, because Chipper deserves a chance at a second World Series ring, don't be surprised to see the Braves win it all on Halloween night, claiming the sixth game of the series to deliver the sweetest treat possible for their future Hall of Famer and tomahawk choppers everywhere.