Braves, Cardinals fight for NL Wild Card

The National League Wild Card race goes to the final day with the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals tied at 89-72. The Braves entered Tuesday with a one game lead in the Wild Card, but lost 7-1 to the Philadelphia Phillies, while the Cardinals scored 13 of the game’s final 14 runs against the Houston Astros in a 13-6 win.

In Wednesday’s Wild Card madness, Atlanta’s Tim Hudson gets the call at home against the Phillies (7 ET on ESPN2). Over the last two years, Hudson is 21-9 with a 2.38 ERA at home, including a 2.29 ERA there this season. Last year, Hudson pitched in the final game of the regular season, when the Braves clinched a playoff spot. He allowed four ER in seven IP and got the win over the Phillies.

Braves and Cardinals, This Month

Chris Carpenter will start for the Cardinals against the Astros at Minute Maid Park, where he has not won since September 3, 2005 (he’s made five starts in Houston since that last win). If both teams are still tied after Wednesday, a one-game tiebreaker would be Thursday at Atlanta.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, since 1995, 13 different teams have clinched a playoff spot on the final day of the postseason, not including regular season playoff games. The biggest September deficit ever overcome by a team that made the postseason was 8½ games by the 1964 Cardinals, who went on to win the World Series. The 2011 Cardinals were 8½ out after games of September 5.

Story to Watch

The Braves were 81-55 through September 1 and seemingly in command of the NL wild card race, with an 8½ game lead over the Cardinals. They were leading the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 at home on September 2, but blew the game, losing 8-6. That started their collapse.

Braves NL Ranks
In September

What’s gone wrong for the Braves and who’s to blame? Well, Atlanta is struggling against left-handed pitching during its September to forget. The team is hitting .231/.263/.332 against left-handed pitching this month. The Phillies will start the right-handed Joe Blanton but lefty Cole Hamels is expected to pitch in relief.

Those who were reliable in the Braves bullpen in the first five months of the season have not been in the final month. Jonny Venters has a 6.08 ERA since August 26. Craig Kimbrel has a 6.75 ERA since September 9.

Key Stats

Chipper Jones has hit a wall. He’s 8-for-41 (.195) in his last 12 games. Brian McCann is hitting .180 in 36 games since coming off the DL in mid-August.

With a win, the Phillies would set a franchise record with their 102nd win of the season.

Story to Watch

The Cardinals looked to be out of the Wild Card race, but have won 15 of 19, including a 3-game sweep of the Braves, to move into a tie for the NL Wild Card lead. What’s gone right for St. Louis?

Albert Pujols 2011 Season

Albert Pujols has looked like the Albert Pujols we’ve come to expect at this time of the season. He’s hitting .363 (fifth-best in the NL) with five HR and 19 RBI (tied for fifth-most in the NL) in September. Pujols had one of the biggest hits for the Cardinals, a two-run game-tying single with two outs in the ninth inning of the series opener against the Braves, a game the Cardinals would win in extra innings.

Key Stat

Pujols is hitting .300 with 98 RBI. He has never finished a season batting under .300 (he will do so with a 1-for-4 or worse Wednesday if the season ends) or with fewer than 100 RBI.