By: Nate McMullen
Well, here we are. NLDS Game 5. St. Louis Cardinals versus Atlanta Braves. Winner advances, loser goes home. Let’s go.
Moneyline: STL -101, ATL -109
Runline: STL +1.5 (-210), ATL -1.5 (-190)
O/U: 8 (O +102, U -112)
First Pitch: 5:02 PM ET, SunTrust Park, Atlanta, GA
St. Louis Cardinals:
Let’s give credit where it’s due. The Cardinals have taken a 97-win Atlanta team to the brink, dominating in some instances and finding ways to win in others. In fact, barring a Carlos Martinez collapse in Game 3, the Redbirds would be soaked in champagne by now. But that’s the nature of baseball, and so we find ourselves with the second-most exciting two words in baseball: Game 5.
The Cards come into this game with all the momentum. An ice-in-his-veins performance from Yadier Molina—which he manufactured from a lucky oppo poke and a routine sac fly—has St. Louis rolling into Atlanta with confidence. Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna are out of their minds, smashing five hits and three homers collectively in Game 4. Goldy also scored the tying run in the 8th on Yadi’s base hit. The Redbirds’ bats woke up in a big way on Monday, and they’ll look to stay hot and take the series.
Would it be dramatic to say that St. Louis’s hopes lie on the back of Jack Flaherty (11-8, 2.75)? Maybe, but regardless, Flaherty is the key to a Game 5 win on the road. After spending the second half as a bona fide assassin, Flaherty saw the Braves come scrape out eight hits and three runs in Game 2. Can he buckle down in the biggest game of his career? The Cardinals simply don’t have the firepower to overcome a Braves outbreak, so if they want a chance, Flaherty needs to lock it down.
The Braves are ostensibly in a good spot: win-or-go-home in their ballpark with starter Mike Foltynewicz (8-6, 4.54) coming off an incredible start. It doesn’t feel like that, though. After the bullpen blew another lead, this time Shane Greene and late roster addition Julio Teheran yielding the tying and winning runs to Yadier Molina, they come into Game 5 on their heels. Momentum is everything in the playoffs, and the Braves don’t have it.
What they do have, though, is a superstar. Ronald Acuna Jr. continues to prove he’s the best player on the field, collecting four hits in Game 4 to raise his 2019 playoff average to .500. Unfortunately for Atlanta, Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman, and Josh Donaldson couldn’t do anything with Acuna on base, and the 21-year-old was stranded all four times he reached. Aside from Acuna, Dansby Swanson is the only Braves starter doing anything at the plate. Getting Freeman going would give the offense a huge boost, but with bone spurs in his elbow and a tiny sample size, the big first baseman might not be the guy tonight. Heck, they just need somebody to be the guy. After going 0-9 with runners in scoring position on Monday, the Braves need to figure out how to capitalize on baserunners.
It’s all hands on deck in division series Game 5, and the Braves are in good shape there. They saved closer Mark Melancon, so he’ll be fresh. If Brian Snitker decides to go all-out, Soroka is also a potential option in the middle innings if Folty can’t last. Snitker often gets criticism for his bullpen management, so that’s a storyline to follow in the most important game of the season.
Analysis and Prediction:
I agree with the oddsmakers: this one’s a coin toss. Does Flaherty come out firing? Does Folty repeat his dominant Game 2? Can the Braves finally get some hits with runners in scoring position? There’s absolutely no way to know. What I do know is this has been one of the most exciting playoff series in recent memory, blessing fans with multiple comebacks, legendary performances, and spiked heart rates. If the previous four games are any indication, Game 5 will be amazing.
I’m going to go with my gut here. The Cardinals have the momentum, they have the ace, they have the mean three-four punch of Goldy and Ozuna. The Cardinals are out there to win, the Braves playing not to lose. Anything can happen in the playoffs, and St. Louis is going to topple the NL East champs.