10/04/12 2:55 PM ET
Five keys for Braves in the postseason
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
A late-season surge allowed the Braves to claim the National League's top Wild Card spot. On Friday at 5:07 p.m. ET, Atlanta will host the Cardinals in the one-game playoff that will determine who will advance to the NL Division Series.
"We're on a pretty good roll now, and we feel like we match up well with anybody," veteran pitcher Tim Hudson said. "We've just got to keep it going."
Here are five keys for the Braves to achieve ultimate postseason success.
The baseball world has taken notice of Kris Medlen, who enters the postseason as the game's hottest pitcher. He posted a 0.97 ERA in 12 starts this year and helped the Braves win each of the past 23 games he started. But the right-hander is far from the only asset in Atlanta's rotation.
With nine career playoff starts, Hudson is the only member of this rotation who has postseason experience. The Braves have positioned him to make two starts during the NLDS, should they get that far. Between those two starts, they are hoping to see extended success from Mike Minor, who posted a 0.87 ERA in his final five regular-season starts. Dating to July 1, Medlen and Minor rank first and second, respectively, among NL pitchers in opponents' batting average and on-base percentage.
Paul Maholm stands as the oft-forgotten member of this rotation. The veteran lefty posted a 1.67 ERA in an 11-start stretch earlier this year.
The Braves went 17-13 against left-handed starting pitchers after the All-Star break and won five of the final seven games they played against them. Still, they finished the season 30-31 in games that the opposition started a lefty. This will not be a problem against the Cardinals, who are not expected to send their only left-handed starter, Jaime Garcia, to the mound for Friday's Wild Card game, but it is an angle to follow if the Braves advance.
Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward and Brian McCann all hit below .240 against left-handed pitchers this year. The Nationals and Giants both rank among the NL's top five teams in batting average allowed against left-handed hitters.
It was not a coincidence that the Braves' offense fell off when its leadoff hitter, Michael Bourn, slumped during the season's final weeks. While Bourn hit .293 with a .353 on-base percentage in the season's first 119 games, the Braves averaged 4.7 runs per game. When he batted .207 with a .336 OBP in the 34 games he played from Aug. 18 through Tuesday, Atlanta averaged 3.3 runs per game.
There is no doubt the Braves go as Bourn goes; they went 57-17 in games that he scored at least one run.
While second baseman Dan Uggla provided some signs of encouragement during the regular season's final month, McCann extended his struggles during what has been the most frustrating season of his career.
The Braves' lineup will be much more dangerous if one or both of these veterans catch fire during the playoffs. If McCann continues to be bothered by his balky right shoulder, the Braves might have to consider giving David Ross -- who will start Friday's Wild Card game behind the plate -- more playing time than expected.
Based on all that has transpired during Chipper Jones' final season, it certainly would not be surprising to see a storybook conclusion featuring a World Series appearance. Jones homered in his first game of the season and again in his "personal home opener."
Jones went deep on his 40th birthday while playing at Dodger Stadium, the place that housed his favorite team during his childhood. There was also the hit in his last All-Star Game at-bat and the two walk-off homers against the Phillies. If this magic extends into October, the Braves could certainly have some fun this month.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.