Baseball fans were treated to two winner-take-all postseason games on Wednesday in the National League.
It began in Atlanta, where the Braves attempted to advance to the NLCS for the first time since 2001. Instead, the St. Louis Cardinals sent the fans at SunTrust Park home early with a 10-run first inning as they coasted to their first NLCS since 2014.
The Cardinals joined the rest of the baseball world not long after to watch the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers battle it out. Fortunately, it proved to be quite the thriller.
After Los Angeles jumped out to a 3-0 lead, Washington stormed back late to tie it. It all came down to extras when Howie Kendrick stunned everyone with a grand slam to send Washington to its first NLCS appearance.
Now with the NLDS wrapped up and an exciting best-of-seven NLCS looming, let’s take a look at six things we learned from Wednesday’s MLB postseason action.
Marcell Ozuna is scorching hot at the perfect moment
Ozuna came into October feeling good after posting a .804 OPS with 29 home runs and 12 stolen bases in 485 at-bats during the regular year. He flashed his game-changing power in the regular season and would get a chance to shine in the postseason.
The Cardinals’ outfielder carried this lineup early in the NLDS with eight hits, including three doubles and two homers, in the first four games. He tacked on his fifth RBI of the series on Wednesday and now carries a 1.335 OPS into the NLCS. Talk about the perfect timing for a slugger headed for free agency.
Ronald Acuña Jr. isn’t to blame for Atlanta’s playoff exit
Fingers are being pointed at Acuña for Atlanta’s postseason exit due to some inconsistent energy during the series. Meanwhile, Acuña’s 1.454 OPS in the NLDS is higher than Freddie Freeman (.673) and Josh Donaldson’s (.641) OPS combined.
Acuña is one of Atlanta’s only hitters that produced against the Cardinals. Nick Markakis (.372) and Brian McCann (.484) dragged the middle of this lineup down even further. A 21-year-old made the same mistakes young players do, but he performed. The blame must fall on the All-Star veterans who never showed up when the games started.
St. Louis should’ve saved Jack Flaherty for NLCS Game 1
Everything went right for the Cardinals in the first inning. They tore into Atlanta’s pitching, got to the bullpen and sat on a nine-run lead with one out in the first inning. It’s at this point that manager Mike Shildt should have warmed up his bullpen and saved Flaherty for Friday.
St. Louis built the playoff roster to accomplish it. Daniel Ponce de Leon made eight starts during the regular season and could easily cover four innings. It then could have turned to Genesis Cabrera to cover another two-plus innings and then mix in two more relievers. Saving the ace for Game 1 of the NLCS was the smarter long-term play, now Shildt must hope his decision doesn’t hurt St. Louis on Friday.
Howie Kendrick gets his sweet redemption
Kendrick’s postseason before the 10th inning would have been remembered for three costly errors. Now everyone will forever remember a different moment from Kendrick against his former team.
The Dodgers challenged him. They walked Juan Soto to load the bases with no outs and put all the pressure on Kendrick. The 36-year-old, who spent nine years with the Los Angeles Angels and two with the Dodgers, delivered the biggest hit of his career. The Dodgers cruised to a division crown and seemed like the overwhelming favorites to win the NL pennant. It now all ends thanks to one swing by Kendrick.
Clayton Kershaw can’t stop his postseason demons
When Kershaw struck out Adam Eaton in the seventh inning with two runners on, Dodgers’ fans hoped this could be his big postseason moment. The eighth inning arrived and everything fell apart in a matter of seconds.
Back-to-back home runs by Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto silenced Dodger Stadium and erased any remaining confidence fans held in Kershaw. He now holds a 4.33 career ERA in the playoffs and this will follow him to the Hall of Fame ballots.
Juan Soto is MLB’s next Mr. October
We’ve seen plenty of big performances and memorable moments throughout the start of the 2019 postseason. It feels like Soto is responsible for at least a quarter of them. The 20-year-old outfielder is experiencing the postseason for the first time and seems born for the pressure.
Soto delivered the game-winning single to win the wild-card game and offer a glimpse of what was coming. He delivered a two-hit performance with a two-run homer in Game 3. Finally, he shined once more with Washington’s season on the line launching a game-tying blast in the eighth inning. When the Dodgers walked him in the 10th to face Howie Kendrick, that backfired too.