Where: Busch Stadium, St. Louis, Missouri
The St. Louis Cardinals are still alive with a chance to defend their World Series after a disputed victory over the Atlanta Braves in the first ever wild card game.
Their reward for winning that contest is a date with the top-seeded Washington Nationals in the National League Division Series. The Nationals finished with the best record in the majors at 98-64 and will send Cy Young candidate Gio Gonzalez to the mound in Game 1 on Sunday.
The team of destiny last October, St. Louis appears to have carried some of that luck into 2012. The Cardinals took advantage of three errors to score three unearned runs in the wild card game and had to play the final two innings under protest after a disputed infield fly rule was called to their advantage.
The Nationals will be making the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs since the Montreal Expos lost the 1981 NLCS. Washington, D.C. has not hosted a playoff game since the Senators in 1933 and it will have to wait until Game 3, with the series beginning in St. Louis. The Nationals will be without ace Stephen Strasburg, who was shut down in September, but have an offense that can make up the difference – a group led by surging rookie Bryce Harper.
PITCHING MATCHUP: Nationals LH Gio Gonzalez (21-8, 2.89 ERA) vs. Cardinals RH Adam Wainwright (14-13, 3.94)
Gonzalez led the majors in wins while ranking sixth in the NL in ERA and tied for fourth in strikeouts with 207. The left-hander did not allow more than three earned runs in any of his last 10 starts and has had plenty of rest, making his last start in a win at Philadelphia on Sept. 27. Gonzalez pitched his lone career shutout against St. Louis on Aug. 31, surrendering five hits and walking three while striking out eight. He recorded 13 groundouts in that effort.
Wainwright snapped a five-start winless streak in his last outing of the regular season, allowing one run on five hits in six innings to top Washington on Sept. 28. That was a stark contrast from his previous start against the Nationals opposite Gonzalez on Aug. 31, when he was lit up for six runs on nine hits in just 2 2/3 innings.
The right-hander was well-rested but was passed over in favor of Kyle Lohse in the wild card game and could take two turns in the division series.
1. Washington took four of the seven meetings between the teams this season. The Cardinals won two of three in St. Louis from Sept. 28-30, grabbing the two victories by a combined 22-6 and dropping the other game in extra innings.
2. Harper hit .341 with a .690 slugging percentage over the last 34 games of the regular season. In seven games against St. Louis, the rookie went 12-for-28 (.429) with a pair of home runs and six RBIs.
3. Cardinals LF Matt Holliday homered in the wild card game and is a career .328 hitter with 12 home runs and 43 RBIs in 53 games against Washington.