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Inaugural Wild Card playoff games sees Braves host Cardinals

The St. Louis Rams scored an upset victory on Thursday night and now the city’s Cardinals will be looking to do the same as they travel to Atlanta to play in the very first Wild Card playoff game.

The contest is a culmination of 162 hard-played games but will end in misery for one club. All that hard work will be erased on the back of this one solitary game. The stakes are high to say the least.

Meanwhile, Texas hosts Baltimore in the American League’s equivalent Wild Card game.

Road to the Postseason

Having impressed for the last two months of the season, Kris Medlen will start for Atlanta in Friday's inaugural Wild Card playoff game.

For Atlanta (94-68, 48-33 home), the postseason has been a realistic goal since early in the season. In what promises to be veteran Chipper Jones’ final go-around, the Braves have looked strong throughout the season, only trailing the surprising, and very good, Washington Nationals.

For St. Louis (88-74, 38-43 road) things have been a little less clear cut. The Cardinals stumbled out of the blocks and watched as Cincinnati and Pittsburgh took an early lead in the NL Central. Injuries to crucial players plagued the club, but by August the Red Birds were back in the hunt. By September it was a case of hanging on for dear life.

The Los Angeles Dodgers chased until the very end (well, nearly), only falling out of contention on the penultimate day of the season. For the second straight year St. Louis could celebrate a Wild Card berth, only this year things are a little different.

Win Or Go Home

Friday’s game (5 PM ET) will be both team’s toughest challenge. The concept of a one-game playoff means there’s practically no margin for error, and one silly mistake could be the difference between playing Washington in the NLDS and going home.

Both teams have managed their starting rotations to full effect though. By design, Kris Medlen (10-1, 1.57 ERA) – and not Tim Hudson – will go for the Braves. Medlen’s numbers are even better when you look at him as a starter. Since his first start on July 31, he has a 9-0 record with a phenomenal 0.97 ERA. More importantly, the Braves have historically won 23 straight games with Medlen as a starter.

Add to that the impressive, Cy Young-like numbers of closer Craig Kimbel (42 of 44 saves, 1.01 ERA) and you have the recipe for success.

But St. Louis starter Kyle Lohse (16-3, 2.86 ERA) is no slouch and the Cardinals are used to playing the role of underdog. It’s how the team got to, and won, the World Series last year and few are quite ready to write off the club just yet.

Atlanta won the season head-to-head 5-1, with a 2-1 series win at Turner Field.

Atlanta is favorites to win outright (-170) while St. Louis will enter as underdogs (+150). The over/under is 7.

Odds of Atlanta winning the National League pennant currently stand at 13/2 with World Series odds at 12/1. St. Louis has the lowest odds of winning the NL (7/1) and the World Series (15/1) of any team left in contention.

AL Sees Orioles Visit Texas

Texas rookie Yu Darvish has found his form at the right time, and now looks to lead the Rangers to a Wild Card win over Baltimore.

In the American League, the unfortunate Baltimore Orioles (93-69, 46-35 road) and Texas Rangers (93-69, 50-31 home) – both losers on the final day of the season – will contend the first ever AL Wild Card playoff later on Friday (8:30 PM ET).

Both sides were looking at division championships heading into the final stretch, with Baltimore narrowly missing out to the Yankees and Texas being stunned in game No. 162 by Oakland. Now the pair faces the distinct possibility of an early trip home.

After Buck Sholwater’s team used its top pitchers late in the season, it will be down to Joe Saunders (9-13, 4.07 ERA) to take the mound for the Orioles. Saunders record is a much improved 3-3 with a 3.63 ERA since joining Baltimore from Arizona, and includes a win in his last start, against Boston on Sunday.

Texas counters with Yu Darvish (16-9, 3.90 ERA) who, after a tricky start to his rookie campaign, has played his best baseball down the stretch, including a 5-1 record in his last eight.

Texas won the season head-to-head, and the right to host the game, on the back of a 5-2 record, including a 2-1 series win at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

Texas is favorites to win outright (-190) with Baltimore once again starting a game as underdogs (+165). The over/under is 9. The winner will host the New York Yankees in the best-of-five ALDS, starting Sunday.

Having been favorites for much of the later stages of the regular season, odds of Texas winning the AL pennant have dropped to 13/4 while the Rangers are 7/1 to win the World Series outright. Baltimore is 7/1 and 15/1 in those respective categories.

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