The playoffs are upon us and with it comes all of the angst built up from previous postseason failures and the desire for the Braves to win their first postseason series since 2001. On paper, it appears as though the Braves have a very good chance to do just that. They just won 97 games and the team they are going up against, the St. Louis Cardinals, does not appear to be as good as them and nearly got ran down in the NL Central by the Brewers which forced them to not rest guys and altered their rotation a bit.
However, anything can happen in the postseason. This series isn’t going to be won on paper and it isn’t like the Braves don’t have some questions coming into the series. Injuries to Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr. have definitely given this series a different feeling going into it.
One thing, though, that many Braves fans have been talking about on social media and elsewhere is potentially exorcising demons from the past with dreams of a World Series run that has the Braves beating the Cardinals, Dodgers, and Yankees...all of whom have contributed to some amount of sadness for the Braves in the playoffs. While much of this playoff history happened decades ago, it is the context that many fans view the playoffs through and they cannot help but include that history when thinking and talking about this team and this series. So rather that focus on the present and future (others on the masthead have been doing a fine job of that), lets take a look back at the playoff history between the Braves and Cardinals.
1982: Swept by Cardinals in NLCS 0-3
Only some of the more well-seasoned Braves fans will remember this series as the late 1970’s and 1980’s were mostly a tough time to be a Braves fan when it comes to wins and losses. However, 1982 was an exception as the Braves got into the playoffs after winning 89 games and winning the NL West behind Dale Murphy’s first MVP season where he slashed .281/.378/.507 with 36 homers, 109 RBIs, and 23 stolen bases. The Cardinals came into the series after winning 92 games and winning the NL East (there were only two divisions back then and the alignments were VERY strange).
This series....did not go well at all for the Braves. They were outscored 17-5 in a three game sweep which saw a rain postponed Game One and Darrell Porter and Willie McGee giving the Braves all sorts of problems (Porter would end up being named the MVP of the series). Some notable participants included Murph as well as Ozzie Smith and Keith Hernandez. Also, Bruce Sutter recorded a win and a save for the Cardinals in the series. Just a few years after that, Sutter would sign a contract with the Braves that would pay him handsomely for the next few decades.
1996: Won NLCS over Cardinals 4-3
These were the good old days where the Braves dominated the NL East and were always favorites to make the World Series from the National League thanks to one of the better pitching rotations you are likely to ever see in Glavine, Smoltz, and Maddux. This particular iteration of the Braves won 96 games which gave them a healthy eight game margin in their division while the Cardinals won 88 games in what looks like a down year for the NL Central as even though the Cardinals only won 88 games, they still won the division by six games. As you will see, just because there was a big margin in the win and losses column for the Braves in 1996 does not mean that the Cardinals playoff devil magic didn’t come perilously close to giving St. Louis the National League pennant over the Braves.
The Braves were certainly favorites in the series and they took down Game One thanks to a strong performance by John Smoltz as well as offensive contributions from Mark Lemke and Javy Lopez. However, St. Louis would go on to win the next three games, two of which were one run games and the other is a game were Greg Maddux got shelled and a costly error from Chipper Jones ended up letting the Cardinals have a big inning. With their backs against the wall and facing elimination, the Braves rallied in a big way as they won three straight games while outscoring the Cardinals 32-1. The series clincher was a 15-0 laugher as the Braves advanced to face the Yankees in a World Series that we are not going to talk about. Javy Lopez was the NLCS MVP as he went 13-24 with five doubles, two homers, and six RBI in the series.
2000: Swept by Cardinals in NLDS 0-3
Now we come to the 2000’s where there is mostly sadness at the hands of St. Louis. The Braves had won a close division battle with the Mets while winning 95 games. St. Louis, while they had the same win total as the Braves, won their division handily by 10 games. Many of the usual suspects were still on the roster for the Braves while this incarnation of the Cardinals had guys like Ray Lankford, Jim Edmonds, and Mark McGwire.
In short, this series was a disaster. Despite the fact that Rick Ankiel literally lost the ability to pitch and got the yips in Game One, another tough outing from Maddux as well as some costly errors let the Cardinals put up six runs in the first inning and the Braves ended up losing 7-5. Game Two saw Tom Glavine get beat up and while Andruw Jones did connect for a homer, the Braves fell 10-4. Game Three saw Kevin Millwood get the start and the Cardinals offense was not going to be denied as they continued to pile up offense and home runs from Jim Edmonds and Fernando Vina highlighted the day as the Braves fell 7-1. This would be the first time since 1991 that the Braves were not at least in the NLCS as the Braves’ pitching staff gave up 24 runs in three games which is....not good. To make matters worse, the team that the Braves outlasted in the National League East, the Mets, took down the Cardinals in the NLCS to advance to the “Subway Series” where they were beaten handily by the Yankees.
2012: Lost Wildcard game - “The Infield Fly Game”
We won’t linger here too long as this pain is still too real, but it is an important part of the history between the Cardinals and Braves. By season’s end, the Braves finished four games back of the Nationals for the division title in 2012, but had a healthy six game lead for a Wild Card spot. However, this was the first season that MLB had two Wild Card teams from each league and they would play a one game playoff to see who advanced. St. Louis edged out the Dodgers (there was a time when the Dodgers didn’t win their division every year) for the second wild card spot. At the very least, the Braves had performed significantly better in the regular season than the Cardinals and got to play an elimination game at home. What could possibly go wrong? The answer is a lot.
Things started out well enough as David Ross hit a two-run homer off of Kyle Lohse and Kris Medlen had pitched well through the early portion of the game. However, in the fourth inning is where things started to go sideways as the Cardinals put up three runs partially because of a throwing error made by Chipper Jones in what was the final game of his career. After a home run from Matt Holliday and a little bit of back and forth scoring later, the Braves found themselves in a 6-3 hole. This brings us to the eighth inning. The Braves offense appeared to be waking up and Andrelton Simmons hit a fly ball that dropped and appeared to load the bases with one out. Instead, enter Sam Holbrook and one of the most controversial judgment calls you are likely to see in a baseball game.
I was at this game and it was absolute insanity. Fans were throwing full beers, sodas, and whatever trash they could get their hands on onto the field. For those of us in field level seats, this proved to be quite dangerous in a hurry. Play was stopped, the Braves played the game under protest, that protest was denied by Joe Torre because it was a judgment call which is technically true, and the Braves ended up losing the game with Dan Uggla recording the final out for the Braves.
Fun fact: Sam Holbrook is the crew chief for this upcoming series with the Cardinals. What could possibly go wrong?
Since the Braves and Cardinals last met in the playoffs, the Cardinals have made it to one World Series (which they lost in 2013) and three National League Championship Series. As many have pointed out recently, the Braves have not won a playoff series since 2001. Since the infamous Wild Card game, the Braves and Cardinals have played 43 games with the Cardinals just edging out the Braves 22-21 in those games.
To say that the Braves have a chance to change a lot of narratives in this series is an understatement. The Cardinals, despite not making the playoffs the last three years, always seem to play well in October. The history in the playoffs against the Cardinals has not gone particularly well for the Braves. We even have the same umpire in this series that made one of the more reviled calls amongst Braves fans against this very team. However, this is a very different Braves team than what we have seen in the past. Here’s hoping that this series is the start of a much brighter part of the Braves’ history...and I don’t mean just against the Cardinals.