As the postseason opens with its first-ever wild-card games, Alex Remington takes a look at the statistics that might make a difference in each do-or-die contest. First up: The National League game featuring the St. Louis Cardinals visiting the Atlanta Braves. First pitch is scheduled for 5:07 p.m. ET with the game broadcast on TBS.
23 The number of consecutive Kris Medlen starts that the Braves have won. That's the most in history — Whitey Ford and Carl Hubbell were each tied with 22. Kris Medlen has pitched parts of four seasons, and in 315 2/3 career innings he has a 2.85 ERA. After spending the first half of the 2012 season in the bullpen, Medlen was moved to the rotation, and in his 12 starts he pitched 83 2/3 innings (averaging seven per start), with an ERA of 0.97, a WHIP of 0.80, and 84 strikeouts against just 10 walks. He may not actually be the best pitcher in baseball, but no one in baseball is pitching better than him right now. Except possibly the guy who could close out the game, Craig Kimbrel.
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.764 The Cardinals' team OPS against teams with a winning percentage of .500 or greater, tied with the Rockies for the best in all of baseball. The Cardinals offense is formidable and it doesn't fold when facing stiff competition. Some people counted out the defending world champions after Albert Pujols signed with Los Angeles in the offseason. But here they are, hitting just like old times.
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50 percent The percentage of batters faced by Craig Kimbrel (231) who have struck out (116). That's an all-time record, as Eric Seidman points out at Fangraphs. The previous record, among pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched, was held by Eric Gagne, who struck out 44.7 percent of the batters he faced in 2003. Kimbrel has been so good that he's started to receive some Cy Young chatter, with the memory of Gagne's Cy Young Award in 2003. If anything, he's actually been more dominant than Gagne.
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43 percent The percentage of attempted basestealers Yadier Molina and Cardinals catchers have cut down in their tracks, second-most in baseball, behind only the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Cards were also second only to the D-Backs in the number of overall steals that other teams attempted against them. That will be important in shutting down the running game of their playoff opponents, particularly the fleet feet of Atlanta's Michael Bourn, who had 42 steals, second-most in the National League.
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.697 The Braves' OPS with runners in scoring position, seventh-worst in baseball and by far the worst among playoff teams. The Braves are third-worst in baseball with their .703 OPS with a runner on third with less than two outs. Their situational hitting looks particularly bad when you consider that their overall team OPS is .709. They actually hit more poorly more when they have runners in scoring position than they do the rest of the time. Medlen and Kimbrel are tough to score on, but you can't win a 0-0 game.
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22 The number of blown saves by the Cardinals pen, tied for third-most in baseball and the most among playoff teams. Closer Jason Motte blew seven; setup man Mark "Scrabble" Rzepczynski blew five; and Mitchell Boggs and erstwhile closer Fernando Salas blew three more each. Unsurprisingly, the Cardinals' 3.90 bullpen ERA is the worst among playoff teams.
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10 The uniform number of Chipper Jones, who's retiring at the end of the year, having never played for a team other than the Braves. He'll march into Cooperstown in five years, but he won't unlace his cleats until the Braves get eliminated from the playoffs. This October, whenever it ends for the Braves, will be more emotional than usual in Atlanta.
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7 The usual number of homegrown starters in the nine spots of the Cardinals during the last three weeks of the season: C Yadier Molina, 1B Allen Craig, 2B Daniel Descalso or Skip Schumaker, 3B David Freese, SS Pete Kozma, CF Jon Jay, and pitchers Lance Lynn, Jaime Garcia, Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller. It's hardly surprising that the Cardinals have a good farm system, considering that Branch Rickey literally invented the entire modern conception of the minor leagues when he ran the Cardinals. It's still amazing, especially considering that a lot of their production is coming from players like Craig and Jay who were hardly considered top prospects when they came up through the farm. The Cardinals know what they're doing.
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.301 The batting average of Martin Prado, who played five different positions and started in 156 games — but had to check the scorecard extra close to make sure what glove to wear. He appeared in 119 games in left field, but also played four games at 1B, 25 games at 3B as an injury replacement for Chipper Jones, 10 games at 2B while the slumping Dan Uggla was benched, and 13 games at short to fill in for the injured Andrelton Simmons and Paul Janish — a position at which he had literally never started a single game in the majors and only played a single game in the minors. Ordinarily, you wouldn't ask a 28-year-old left fielder to start a game at shortstop for the first time in his career. But Prado is anything but ordinary.
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12 The number of bases Yadier Molina stole this year, in 15 attempts. (He only allowed 38 steals in 73 attempts.) Immediately after signing a $75 million contract in the offseason, the youngest Molina brother immediately set about proving his worth by having by far the best season of his career. Molina's the best player on the Cardinals, arguably the best hitter and certainly the most important defensive player. He's the second-best catcher in the NL, behind only Buster Posey. That $75 million contract he signed last spring looks extremely reasonable.
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