ST. LOUIS CARDINALS: 88-74
ATLANTA BRAVES: 94-68
The Atlanta Braves haven't lost when Kris Medlen starts a game in more than two years.
The Braves hope that trend continues on Friday when they host the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals in the first-ever one-game National League wild card game at Turner Field.
"It's only one game," Braves outfielder Martin Prado said. "It can go real good or (stink). The only thing we can control there is to play the same game we've been playing all year."
Under the new format the two wild card teams will play one game with the winner advancing to the NLDS and hosting the NL East champion Washington Nationals in the first two games of the best-of-five set starting Sunday.
Atlanta's epic collapse last September allowed the Cardinals to overcome a 9 1/2-game wild card deficit, paving the way for their 11th World Series title. This year, though, it's been a different story for the Braves, who were 20-10 down the stretch and claimed the NL's first wild card spot with a 94-68 record.
A big reason for that success has been the emergence of Medlen.
Since making the conversion from reliever to starter in late July Medlen has pitched to a 0.97 ERA and the team has won each of the past 23 games he has started dating back to May 29, 2010.
"It's your goal to win the game, no matter how," Medlen said. "Like I said, this whole year it's not me by myself. I've given up four or five runs in a start and guys just pull it out for me. My name is in the books or whatever, but it's a team thing. I didn't do it all by myself. That's for sure."
He was 10-1 overall this year with a 1.57 ERA.
Medlen, who missed most of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery, has faced the Cardinals five times out of the bullpen, but this will be his first- ever start. However, St. Louis did reach him for three runs in 5 2/3 innings this season.
"I don't think we could have gone wrong with (Tim Hudson or Medlen)," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "They're good makeup guys and good guys that I think can handle that situation."
The Braves will also have David Ross behind the plate rather than Brian McCann, who is dealing with a hamstring issue.
"I think going forward, I think Mack will catch, obviously in a longer series, a five-game series or a seven-game series if we get that far," Gonzalez added.
Medlen will be opposed by right-handed veteran Kyle Lohse, who was 16-3 this season with a 2.86 ERA in 33 starts this year. His .842 winning percentage was tops in the majors and he set a career high with 211 innings pitched and ranked eighth in the majors with a 2.86 ERA.
Only two NL pitchers finished the year with more quality starts than Lohse's 24.
"It feels real good to know that they trust me enough to go out there and pitch in a one-game playoff," Lohse said. "That's something you dream about as a kid. Now I get to go do it. I've had a good year. I feel like I've done everything I could this year to help get us in this position. I'll do everything I've been doing to help win on Friday."
Lohse allowed a season-high five earned runs and nine hits in just five innings on May 29 at Turner Field in his only start against the Braves this year.
"That was kind of a turning point for me that month," Lohse said. "I figured out some things that I did incorrectly that game. I'll make the adjustments I need to make and go out there and have a good plan."
From that point on, though, Lohse won nine of his next 10 decisions and made 10 straight quality starts and only the New York Mets' R.A. Dickey posted a lower ERA in the NL.
It was a year of adjustments for the Cardinals, who went into this season with a new manager in Mike Matheny following the retirement of Tony La Russa, and without three-time NL MVP Albert Pujols, who bolted to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim as a free agent.
St. Louis for the most part did not skip a beat, winning just two games less than last season, and still finished 88-74. Although, it wasn't quite the furious finish they needed last year, the Cardinals still won 12 of their final 16 games, but did not secure the second wild card spot until the second to last day of the season.
The Braves have won five of the six games played against the Cardinals this season.
"I don't think that has anything to do with the game on Friday, because it's a different environment," Braves outfielder Michael Bourn said. "They'll have the upper hand with the experience. But other than that, I think we'll be just fine. I think everybody in here is looking forward to it."
This will mark the fourth postseason meeting between the Cardinals and Braves. St. Louis swept Atlanta in the NL Championships Series in 1982 and the NLDS in 2000. In 1996, the Braves won an NLCS matchup, 4-3, to advance to the World Series.
Lost a bit in the hoopla of the wild card contest is the fact that this could be the final game in the great career of Braves' third baseman Chipper Jones, who announced in spring training that this would be his final season.
Jones hit .287 this season - his highest mark since a league-leading .364 clip in 2008 - with 14 home runs and 62 RBI in 112 games.