This evening the St. Louis Cardinals come to Truist Park for a four-game set against the Braves, culminating in an epic Sunday Night Baseball matchup. At 35-33, the Cardinals are barely above the coveted .500 mark, a goal that’s been as-of-yet unattainable for the Braves this season. (Is this a not-so-subtle teaser for an upcoming article? Absolutely.) The Cardinals are on a bit of a lukewarm streak right now; although they’re fresh off a 3-game sweep against the Marlins, they’re 4-6 in their last 10 games. The St. Louis offense was ice-cold in the Marlins series, putting up only 7 runs in 3 games, but they were fortunate enough to be carried by their brick wall of a defense, which allowed 3 total runs in the series. While the two-game Red Sox set ended up being largely disappointing for the Braves, one overwhelming bright spot was offensive production. The Braves scored 8 runs in each game, but were unable to win either of them.  

Look out for Nolan Arenado, the Cardinals’ all-star third baseman, and Tommy Edman, a former third baseman who moved to right field to make way for Arenado. Both already have a WAR—wins above replacement, used to compare them to an “average” player—of over 2.0. Just over a third of the way through the season, those are phenomenal numbers for demonstrating their value to the team. Acuña is the only Brave with a comparable WAR at 2.6, and he’s having a potentially MVP-caliber season. And of course, there’s Yadier Molina.

Braves reliever Luke Jackson has been the one bright spot of an otherwise unimpressive bullpen, and his season ERA has now dropped to 1.08. Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr.also performed phenomenally against both the Marlins and Red Sox, combining for 8 hits and 7 RBI in the two games against Boston. I have hope that this recent hot streak will lift both Freddie’s spirits and his OPS.

The biggest concern plaguing the Braves right now is the bullpen’s inability to maintain a lead coupled with the offense’s lack of production late in games. If that trend continues, this coming series could be rough. The Cardinals carry an ace closer, Alex Reyes, who has posted an ERA of 0.82 in 31 appearances this season. He also has 17 saves, currently 3rd in the MLB. On the other end, the Braves are currently ranked #28 in scoring during the 9th inning, averaging 0.19 9th-inning runs per game. Reyes will certainly complicate things late in the game, so the Braves’ best chance is to get an early lead and try to hold it. However, with the bullpen struggles and the Cardinals’ starters’ recent dominance, that will only be able to happen if Acuña, Freeman, and even Austin Riley can stay hot.

John Gant will take the mound for St. Louis tonight, and Charlie Morton for the Braves. Gant is not a strikeout pitcher, averaging 3.5 strikeouts per outing, but he’s holding a 3.36 ERA through 12 starts. He might be problematic for the Braves, but since he’s not a strikeout pitcher, he relies on the ball being put into play in order to record outs. This year we’ve seen both Acuña and Dansby Swanson outrun routine ground balls in the infield, so this style of pitching could work to our advantage. Also, as many have pointed out on this site, we haven’t seen these pitchers yet in the new “enforcement” era. Not that I’m accusing anyone of using the sticky stuff, nor am I accusing Gant specifically, but it’s worth noting that many pitcher’s ERAs could suddenly take a steep climb over the next few months. Braves will most likely face Adam Wainwright, who recently admitted to using sticky substances during the 2019 season, on either Saturday or Sunday.

There was 1 transaction of mediocrity today:

And the lineup:

We dislike the Cardinals a lot…why can’t THIS be the turning point, right Jonathan F?