With the MLB wildcard games now done, with wins for Washington and Tampa Bay, the divisional series begins tonight. Ben Steele previews the first games of the two series in the National League.
St Louis, who won a competitive NL East division despite having one of the lowest batting averages in the majors could struggle facing a rotation as loaded as the one Atlanta have on offer.
Kuechel will kick Braves off with a win
St Louis Cardinals @ Atlanta Braves
Thursday 22:00 BST
The Atlanta Braves host the St Louis Cardinals in Game 1 as they begin their search for a first World Series title since 1993. Atlanta have a young, talented roster and will look to challenge for the next few years. Surprisingly, their first playoff starter isn't Max Fried, Atlanta's leader in wins, or Mike Soroka, the starter with the best ERA in the rotation. Instead, Atlanta will go with Dallas Kuechel who has more playoff pitching experience. Keuchel, who was a member of the Houston Astros when they won the World Series in 2017, had a solid first season in Atlanta and was a handful for opposing lineups down the stretch, posting an ERA of 2.55 across his final nine appearances in the regular season.
St Louis, who won a competitive NL East division despite having one of the lowest batting averages in the majors could struggle facing a rotation as loaded as the one Atlanta have on offer. Paul Goldschmidt will be the main threat for the Cardinals, but he will be matched by the likes of Ronald Acuna Jr and Freddie Freeman so I expect Atlanta to win tonight, and win well, while also going on to win the series comfortably.
Nats a threat to LA
Washington Nationals @ LA Dodgers
Friday 01:35 BST
The Washington Nationals advanced to face the Los Angeles Dodgers with a win in the National League wildcard game on Tuesday night. The Nationals had trailed for long periods of the game before Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Josh Hader blew his chance to close out the game. The wildcard game saw Washington use two of their best pitchers, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg so will be starting Patrick Corbin tonight. The 30-year-old will have to cope with one of the most explosive offences in the league, that features MVP candidate Cody Bellinger, who will look to build on his exceptional 2018 playoff performances. Corbin will face Walker Buehler who finished the season in fine form and, coincidentally, the two pitchers have near identical stats. Both men won 14 games and Corbin's ERA of 3.25 is just 0.01 better than his LA counterparts, so the game could well be close.
I expect the series to be close, mainly due to the quality of Washington's starting rotation, but with the series starting at home and off the back of a record setting season, I fancy Los Angeles, and Buehler, to come away with the win.