NLDS Game 4 between the Braves and Cardinals purveyed yet another taut affair, as St. Louis prevailed 5-4 (box score), in 10 innings and in walk-off fashion, to force a decisive Game 5 back in Atlanta.
Kolten Wong led off the bottom of the 10th with an opposite-field double off Julio Teheran, who had been pressed into high-leverage relief because of bullpen churn earlier in the game. An intentional walk of Paul Goldschmidt followed, and then Marcell Ozuna advanced Wong to third on a fielder’s choice. Yadier Molina lifted a deep fly ball to left to plate Wong on a game-winning sac fly. Molina also had a game-tying single in the eighth.
Now for seveb key takeaways from this one.
1. Game 4 was a wild one
The win probability chart tracks each team’s chances of winning a given game as that game progresses. Here’s a look at how NLDS Game 4 tracked, courtesy of FanGraphs:
That, as you can see, is a back-and-forth affair that crossed the 50 percent threshold on multiple occasions and in both directions.
St. Louis barged to that early lead against Dallas Keuchel with back-to-back two-out home runs from Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna in the bottom of the first. An effective Dakota Hudson in tandem with the St. Louis middle-infield defense helped that lead stand up, but only for a while.
The Braves put a run on the board in the third thanks to a sac fly, but Ozuna reestablished the two-run lead in the fourth with his second home run of the game. Then came the fifth inning. Dansby Swanson hit a one-out double off the third base bag that Matt Carpenter probably should’ve at least kept in front of him. Swanson advanced on a passed ball by Yadier Molina, and then Carpenter booted a hard grounder from Adam Duvall, which allowed Swanson to score. Then came a two-run blast from Ozzie Albies that gave the Braves the lead for the first time.
In the bottom of the eighth, Paul Goldschmidt dumped a broken-bat double into left field, and with two outs Yadier Molina sneaked a game-tying single just off and over the outstretched glove of Freddie Freeman at first base. Each hit had an exit velocity of less than 70 mph.
The Braves threatened in the top of the ninth with a leadoff double by Ronald Acuna Jr., who had four hits on the day, but Carlos Martinez was able to strand him. In the home half of the ninth, Tommy Edman started things with a sharply hit leadoff single off Shane Greene. Paul DeJong then got behind in the count thanks to a poorly executed (and poorly conceived) bunt attempt but made a well struck out to right field. On the play, Edman was running and nearly got doubled off first on the throw from Nick Markakis, but the ball hit Edman and scooted away from first baseman Freddie Freeman. Edman advanced to second with one out. Then, for an instant or two, it seemed like Dexter Fowler had ended it, but his yanked liner down the line landed just a couple of feet foul. Fowler struck out on the next pitch.
In the bottom of the tenth, though, the Cardinals of course notched the walk-off. Speaking of which …
2. The Cardinals pulled off a rare feat
This was a walk-off, and the Cardinals coming in were down 2-1 in a best-of-five. That means it was an elimination game. As James Smyth points out on Twitter, this is just the third time that the Cardinals have won on a walk-off in an elimination game. The first was on Jim Edmonds’ home run in Game 6 of the 2004 NLCS. The second was Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, when David Freese sent ’em home. The third was Monday night.
Smyth goes on to note that the Braves on four occasions have lost in walk-off fashion in a potential postseason clincher. The most famous of these was in Game 6 and Game 7 of the 1991 World Series against the Twins.
3. The Atlanta bullpen actually did a solid job
The Atlanta bullpen, a source of consternation for much of the season, actually did quality work in Game 4, as five true relievers (i.e., we’re not counting Teheran in the forthcoming numbers) combined to twirl 5 2/3 innings — all of them high-leverage innings — of one-run ball after an ineffective Keuchel was lifted. At one point, Braves relievers, Josh Tomlin among them, retired eight straight. Yes, Greene got tagged with the blown save, but that was in the midst of his longest outing of 2019. Over that span, those actual Atlanta relievers struck out seven, walked one, and allowed just four hard-hit balls.
4. Freddie Freeman is having a rough series
Since that home run in the Game 1 loss, the Braves’ All-Star first baseman has struggled badly, often in key plate appearances. Since Game 1, Freeman has gone 0 for 12 with a walk. Over that same span, he’s left nine runners on base. As well, Freeman made a defensive miscue in Game 4 when he prepared to receive a Markakis throw while positioned behind the baserunner. That allowed the ball to hit Edman, as detailed above, and bounce away. Freeman’s been dealing with elbow problems for some time, and it’s possible that’s affecting him at the plate.
5. Marcell Ozuna is going off
On the other side is Ozuna, who homered twice in Game 4. Across these four NLDS games, he’s now batting .471/.500/.1.000 with five extra-base hits and a team-high four RBI. Ozuna ended the regular season in a slump, but his NLDS surge is just the latest reminder that we shouldn’t read too much into how playoff teams and their players conclude the regular season.
6. Maybe the Braves erred with their rotation
Mike Soroka was the Braves’ ace during the regular season, and he’s likely bound for a top-five finish in the NL Cy Young balloting. On Sept. 29, however, the Braves opted to give Soroka his first start in 10 days, which ruled him out for Games 1 and 2, and thus ruled him out from making more than one full-rest start against the Cardinals. Soroka thrived on the road this season, which is probably why they pushed him back to Game 3 in St. Louis. But what kind of sense does it make to let one season of home-road splits for a young pitcher inform such vital decisions? They went with the veteran hand in Keuchel, and it cost them in Game 4, as he was unable to locate his sinker throughout his brief outing. Going out of your way to give your best starting pitcher only one start is highly questionable.
7. The Cardinals seem to have the Game 5 edge
Mike Foltynewicz, who was brilliant in Game 2, will start for the Braves in the decisive Game 5. The Cardinals will start young ace Jack Flaherty on full rest. The Braves were able to beat Flaherty in Game 2, but that was mostly a reflection of the inability of the Cardinals offense to get anything going.
No matter the outcome, it’ll be appointment viewing.