The Nationals will begin Washington’s first major league postseason in 79 years in St. Louis against the defending World Series champion. The Cardinals beat the Atlanta Braves, 6-3, tonight in first-ever one-game, wild card playoff, a game played under protest after a disputed infield fly rule call in the eighth inning.
The 88-win Cardinals won 10 fewer games than the Nationals this year, but that does not detract from how tough an opponent the Nationals face in the NLDS. The Cardinals outscored opponents by 117 runs, the fourth-best run differential in the major leagues. The Nationals went 4-3 against the Cardinals this season, but last weekend the Cardinals took two of three from the in St. Louis, outscoring them, 26-12, in the process.
Against the Cardinals, the Nationals’ likely rotation will be Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler. The Cardinals went 31-17 against left-handed starters, third-best in the major leagues, which gave Jackson the edge of Detwiler to be the Nationals’ third starter.
The Cardinals are expected to use a rotation of Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Chris Carpenter and Kyle Lohse, who started the play-in game in Atlanta. Those four starters combined for a 7.71 ERA against the Nationals this year.
The Cardinals are playoff zombies. The have come back from the dead as underdogs the past two years, winning five consecutive elimination games since the start of last October. The Nationals won 10 more games than the Cardinals this year, and now their season will come down to a best-of-five sprint against them.
In the aftermath of the Cardinals’ victory, Braves Manager Fredi Gonzalez said the league had already denied the Braves’ protest of a hotly disputed call. In the eighth inning, with runners on first and second and the Braves trailing, 6-3, Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons lofted a fly ball to left field. Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma and left field Matt Holliday converged, then let the ball drop.
The Braves seemingly had loaded the bases with one out. Instead, the umpires called for an infield fly rule, despite the ball landing about 60 feet from the infield dirt. Fans littered the field with garbage, delaying the game for 19 minutes, as the Braves were given two outs with runners on second and third.
According to Dave Cameron of FanGraphs.com, the decision swung the Braves from having a 22 percent chance to win the game to holding only a 9 percent shot at victory.
The Braves filed a protest, but the league denied it even before the end of the game. The Nationals plan to leave Washington on Saturday at noon, bound for St. Louis and their first ever postseason. First pitch is at 3:07 p.m. Sunday.