ATLANTA — After 162 games that earned baseball's best record, the Washington Nationals have to wait. Their National League Division Series opponent hinges on the outcome of Friday's wild card game between the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals.
Either opponent faces one glaring disadvantage thanks to baseball's revamped postseason that put two wild card teams in the one-game playoff. The teams are throwing two of the best starters Friday, Kris Medlen and Kyle Lohse, which means the winner will only be available to pitch once in the Division Series.
That's good news for the Nationals, given 5-to-1 odds to advance to the World Series by a number of oddsmakers including Vegas Insider and Bovada. They won the season series against both teams. But the Braves and Cardinals present different challenges.
Built around a lineup loaded with left-handed bats, the Braves still ranked 17th in baseball in runs and in the bottom third in slugging percentage. One of this left-handers, Brian McCann, is banged-up and slumping. While the Nationals would miss Medlen, veteran Tim Hudson would start twice. And the Braves boast a dominant series of options in the bullpen, led by vicious left-hander Craig Kimbrel.
Would you bet against the final postseason run of third baseman Chipper Jones' career?
The Cardinals, on the other side, didn't miss Albert Pujols en route to assembling a potent offense that ranked in baseball's top-five in runs, batting average and on-base percentage. Ask Edwin Jackson. He surrendered eight earned runs in 1 1/3 innings last week in St. Louis. Plus catcher Yadier Molina may have baseball's best arm, freezing the running game. The Cardinals are accustomed to October baseball, unlike the Nationals. And ace Chris Carpenter is back after missing much of the season because of thoracic outlet syndrome, but has pitched just three big league games.
Would you bet against the defending world champions?
Soon enough, the Nationals will find out.
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