© Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves kicked off the NLDS on Thursday in a thrilling back-and-forth Game 1 clash that came down to the final out.

Atlanta jumped out early in front of its home crowd with the help of an error by Kolten Wong. After navigating through danger early, St. Louis finally got to Dallas Keuchel in the fifth with an RBI groundout to tie the game.

Errors haunted them again in the sixth inning and gifted two runs to Atlanta. Then on the brink of getting a win, everything changed when Braves reliever Chris Martin left without throwing a pitch. St. Louis jumped on Luke Jackson upon his entrance and tied it in a matter of minutes.

The Cardinals seized on the new life and claimed their first lead of the game in the ninth with a four-run inning to silence the crowd. Atlanta stormed back with blasts from Ronald Acuña Jr and Freddie Freeman, but fell just short in a thrilling finish.

Here are the biggest takeaways from the Cardinals’ 7-6 win over Atlanta in Game 1.

St. Louis’ bats come alive in the clutch

There’s something about St. Louis in October. Even when its roster changes, new stars don the Cardinals’ colors and come through in clutch situations. Paul Goldschmidt got it started in the eighth with a monster blast to get the dugout rocking and his teammates followed in his footsteps.

After delivering in big moments throughout the regular season, Ozuna did it again in Game 1. It gave St. Louis a two-run lead and Wong tacked on two crucial insurance runs that ultimately decided the game. Even when the Cardinals seem on the brink of defeat, this team always finds a way to stay alive.

Atlanta’s pitching remains a concern

While Keuchel limited St. Louis to one run, his pitching style and the decision to start him in Game 1 are part of Atlanta’s problems. Keuchel relies on generating contact and when he’s hit around, he can’t last five innings.

The Braves were forced to dip into their bullpen early and that became a problem. After Martin’s departure, Jackson and closer Mark Melancon allowed six runs in two innings to doom Atlanta. Now after burning six relievers and losing a seventh to an injury, the Braves are in serious danger for the rest of the series.

Cardinals’ infield hurts itself repeatedly

One mistake can make all of the difference in the postseason and St. Louis made multiple at the worst moments. It started in the first inning on Wong’s butchered double-play attempt that drove in a run. Then just when it seemed like the Cardinals put it behind them, the defensive miscues returned at the worst possible time.

This is the last thing fans would expect from St. Louis. It entered with only 64 errors committed during the regular season and now everything is falling apart. If this becomes a tendency over the remainder of the postseason, which we’ve seen happen to teams in the past, these miscues will end the Cardinals’ season early.

Ronald Acuña Jr. flashes greatness, room to grow in postseason

After collecting three hits in his first 16 postseason at-bats in 2018, Acuña Jr. is already dominating this season. The 21-year-old shined defensively and at the plate with three hits, including a huge two-run blast in the ninth. Now he must improve on the bases.

Acuña Jr. admired a deep drive to right field hoping it would be his first playoff home run. The ball stayed in the yard and Acuna’s slow trot cost him an easy double. After advancing to second on a ground out, he got caught heading for third on a liner for an inning-ending double play. Once he cleans up his issues on the bases, Acuña Jr. is an MVP candidate in October.

Matt Johnson
NFL, MLB & college football writer for Sportsnaut. Graduated from San Diego State University with BA in Journalism, 2019. Grew up in Sacramento, now based in Indianapolis. Seen on MSN. Previously: eDraft, The Connection, With the First Pick