The Philadelphia Phillies made sure that the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals didn't have to play a one-game wild card playoff last season. Yet Phillies fans like myself wished they hadn't when the Cardinals eliminated us a week later. But as Philadelphia sits out the 2012 postseason, Atlanta and St. Louis will now get their final showdown after all.
Of course, Bud Selig is more responsible for that than the Braves and Cardinals are. If not for his extra wild card kicking in this season, Atlanta would already be in the NLDS while St. Louis would be out of the playoffs with Philadelphia. Instead, the Braves and Cardinals will finally have their wild-card playoff game on Oct. 5 - with Atlanta much more equipped to handle it this time.
If the Phillies hadn't swept the Braves at the end of the 2011 regular season, Atlanta would have likely still been in bad shape for a playoff game with St. Louis. The Cardinals had to be red hot just to take advantage of the Braves' collapse, which they were. As such, even if the Braves got to a one-game showdown, the Cardinals would have been the heavy favorites.
But maybe Atlanta would have caught fire one last time and held off St. Louis if it had the chance - and also made Philadelphia's playoff road a lot easier. If Selig had put in his new wild card system last season, the Braves would have had that chance regardless. However, it should make Atlanta even more eager to finish the job this time around.
The Braves have been decidedly better than the Cardinals this season, haven't gotten into any September slumps, and are starting the historically hot Kris Medlen for the playoff game. Meanwhile, the Cardinals mainly won the second wild card because the Phillies and Los Angeles Dodgers couldn't take it themselves. The teams may have finished 1-2 in the wild card standings again, but these aren't the same clubs from last year.
The Cardinals are sending out former Phillies pitcher Kyle Lohse, who is 16-3. However, that doesn't negate how the Braves haven't lost all year when Medlen has started. Perhaps the magical 2011 Cardinals could defy those odds, but this isn't 2011.
The Phillies and Cardinals both wish that 2012 looked a little bit more like 2011, while the Braves likely feel the complete opposite. Atlanta's stretch drive this season has been everything that last year's was not, complete with one more shot at St. Louis. That would be an ironic curse if the Cardinals pull off the upset anyway, yet these Braves may not roll over and die that easily.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident who has followed the Phillies since he was eight years old.
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