Atlanta Braves pitcher Mike Soroka throws at SunTrust Park in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by David John Griffin/Icon Sportswire)

The St. Louis Cardinals will make their first trip to the postseason since 2015, and they’ll be underdogs against the Atlanta Braves, the National League East champions for the second straight year, in a best-of-five National League Division Series that begins Thursday, October 3. Here’s how these clubs stack up.

Starting pitching

St. Louis was sixth in starter ERA this year at 3.81, while Atlanta was 12th at 4.19. Jack Flaherty (11-8, 2.75 ERA) and Dakota Hudson (16-7, 3.35 ERA) anchored the St. Louis rotation in the regular season, but neither is battle tested in the playoffs.

The same can be said for the Braves’ Mike Soroka (13-4, 2.68 ERA) and Max Fried (17-6, 4.02 ERA). However, Atlanta has a relatively fresh Dallas Keuchel (8-8, 3.75 ERA) ready to pitch, as well, and could even turn to veteran righty Julio Teheran (10-11, 3.81 ERA) if it wants to.

Edge: Braves

Bullpen

The Cardinals lost fireballer Jordan Hicks in June but cobbled together a fine season out the bullpen (fifth in ERA at 3.83). The Braves were close behind, despite a slow start (10th in ERA at 4.15). Giovanny Gallegos and Carlos Martinez (24 saves) are St. Louis skipper Mike Shildt’s best options.

Atlanta traded for relief help at the deadline and the moves paid off, as Shane Greene and Mark Melancon (11 saves) have been terrific. Their combined strikeout/walk ratio since the All-Star break is 6.4.

Edge: Braves

Lineup

Offense is where the Braves have the biggest advantage over the Cardinals. Atlanta was ninth in batting average (.258) and 10th in homers (245) during the regular season, while St. Louis was 23rd (.245) and 24th (207), respectively. First baseman Paul Goldschmidt tallied the most hits for the Cardinals during the regular season (155), but the Braves had three players who went for at least 175 hits, including second baseman Ozzie Albies (189), first baseman Freddie Freeman (176) and center fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. (175).

Atlanta’s lineup is also significantly deeper, with third baseman Josh Donaldson (.900 OPS) and outfielder Nick Markakis (.776 OPS). St. Louis’ complementary pieces, like shortstop Paul DeJong and left fielder Marcell Ozuna, have gone into the tank. They’ve batted a combined .161 (36-for-233) over their last 30 games.

Edge: Braves

X-factor: Mike Foltynewicz

Mike Foltynewicz was Atlanta’s ace in 2018, when he produced a 2.95 ERA and .195 opponent batting average. However, he was rocked in games 1 and 4 of the NLDS against the Dodgers. Foltynewicz’s 2019 campaign began belatedly because of injury, and he suffered some miserable starts early on.

But “Folty” has been a whole new man since the All-Star break, with a 6-1 record and a 2.65 ERA. He is just one of many reliable arms manager Brian Snitker can turn to in this series.

Betting trends

The Braves were 50-31 at hitter-friendly SunTrust Park in 2019 and took four of six from the Cardinals in the season series. St. Louis was a modest 40-39 on the road this year and went 6-13 in games following at least one day off.

Pick: Braves in three games


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