Back in May, the Braves and Cardinals played each other six times and as far as their regular season matchup went, that was all. They got their season series done and dusted across a two-week period, which means that we haven’t seen St. Louis in a long time. I think we all know that a lot of stuff can change in baseball between May and October, and these two teams are living proof of that fact.
When Atlanta welcomed St. Louis into town for their first game of the season series, the Braves were just one game over .500 and this was the fourth game since Brian Snitker had come to his senses and put Ronald Acuña Jr. back at the top of the batting order. It didn’t help them in the first game, as the Cardinals came into town and clobbered the Braves 14-3. According to FanGraphs’ Game Score V2, this was Mike Foltynewicz’s worst start of the season as he gave up eight runs over 4.2 innings. He gave up three homers and things went downhill basically as soon as the game started, which is when Marcell Ozuna hit a three-run shot in the first inning to put the Cardinals ahead early. Things got worse from there and that was one of the earlier signs that Folty was not in a good place to start this season.
As bad as Folty was in that first game, that’s how good Mike Soroka was in that second game. He tossed seven shutout innings and only gave up three hits in the process, which was your prototypical boring-but-beautiful start from Mike Soroka. The first runs came from Acuña scoring after a bizarrely bad defensive play from Michael Wacha and a home run from Austin Riley. Now, this an especially unique dinger since it was Riley’s debut, so this just added to the lore of his early days as a major leaguer. Charlie Culberson added a pinch-hit homer in the eighth to make it 4-0, then Luke Jackson got the final six outs of the game to lock down the shutout win for Atlanta.
The Braves then proceeded to win the rubber game in a 10-2 laugher. To put this game in perspective, Julio Teheran drove in as many runs as the Cardinals did. Freddie Freeman punctuated things with a solo homer in the eighth inning to give the Braves double-digits on the night, and that also managed to give the Braves the edge on runs scored as well. While this was before the Braves would turn their offense into the buzzsaw that it would become eventually, you probably figured that good things were on the way for this team at the plate when they gave up 14 runs in the first game and still managed to outscore St. Louis 17-16 over the three game series in Cobb County.
10 days later, the Braves made the trip to visit the Cardinals in the shadow of the Gateway Arch. The game that took place on the unofficial D.C. Opening Day of May 24 was interesting on multiple levels. Mike Foltynewicz exacted revenge on St. Louis by throwing six inning without giving up an earned run (the Cardinals scored their lone run off of Folty after a triple from Harrison Bader followed an error) and he got a real-life, honest-to-goodness base hit in the cheekiest way possible. Then, Dansby Swanson’s second career multi-homer game gave the Braves enough offense to push past St. Louis in a 5-2 victory. This was one of the few bright spots for Folty during his initial stint in the majors in 2019.
The next game in St. Louis came down to the bullpen as both Dakota Hudson and Mike Soroka held their opposition at bay while they were on the mound. It was only when Carlos Martinez entered the game for the Cardinals that the Braves broke through and turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead thanks to back-to-back doubles from Ozzie Albies and Tyler Flowers. However, the Braves ended up losing the game 6-3 after Dan Winkler came on for the eighth and gave up four runs — including a three-run shot at the hands of Jedd Gyorko. Dan Winkler will be nowhere near this playoff series, as he was part of the trade that brought Mark Melancon to Atlanta. Everything happens for a reason.
May 26 ended up being a good night for the Braves, as they beat the Cardinals 4-3 and won the season series 4-2. This was a come-from-behind effort for the Braves, though — Julio Teheran gave up three runs over five innings, while Atlanta couldn’t figure out Jack Flaherty, John Gant and Carlos Martinez for eight innings. The Braves offense finally came alive in the ninth, which is when the first four batters all reached base and RBI knocks from Josh Donaldson and Austin Riley brought the Braves within one. The tying run was brought in by Ozzie Albies and extra innings were somehow on the way. An inexplicable turn of events led to the Braves “driving in” the winning run with a single and three walks — the second walk was an intentional walk to Austin Riley (which should tell you just how much of a threat Riley was at the time) and the third walk was just an old-fashioned walk. Tyler Webb was not a popular man in St. Louis that night, but the Braves were sure glad that he was not in his best form then.
Once the season series between the two teams ended, the Braves were 30-24 and beginning to make their push towards the top of the NL East. By the time June 26 rolled around, the Braves were 48-33 and never looked back from that point as far as the division was concerned. Meanwhile, the Cardinals finished that series with a 26-26 and were tied for third in the division with — get this — the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cardinals didn’t really get going until after the All-Star break, as they ended up being the last team standing compared to a disappointing Cubs team, a Brewers team that fell victim to a nasty injury bug, and a Pirates team that went south in a hurry.
The main thing to take away from this jaunt down recent memory lane is that there’s been a lot of change since the last time these two teams met. The Braves were only just coming into their own and developing into the 97-win team that we now know them as and the Cardinals were a long way from finally turning their car on and driving towards a divisional title of their own. Winning both regular season series in both venues may not be hugely relevant in the postseason, but the Braves should at least go into this series knowing that they can pick up wins both at home and in Missouri. History isn’t everything, but the Braves will go into this divisional series knowing that it’s on their side.