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Braves-Cardinals playoff series begins on Thursday

MLB roundup

St. Louis Cardinals’ Marcell Ozuna, left, celebrates with teammate Matt Carpenter after Carpenter hit a three-run home run during the third inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Scott Kane)

By The Associated Press

A look at the best-of-five National League Division Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves:

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SCHEDULE: (All times EDT) Game 1, Thursday, at Atlanta, 5:02 p.m. (TBS); Game 2, Friday, at Atlanta, 4:37 p.m. (TBS); Game 3, Sunday, at St. Louis, TBA (TBS); x-Game 4, Monday, at St. Louis, TBA (TBS); x-Game 5, Wednesday, Oct. 9, at Atlanta, TBA (TBS).

x-if necessary.

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SEASON SERIES: Braves won 4-2.

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Projected Lineups:

Cardinals: RF Dexter Fowler (.236, 18 HRs, 65 RBIs), 2B Tommy Edman (.307, 11, 36) or Kolten Wong (.285, 11, 59), 1B Paul Goldschmidt (.256, 33, 95), LF Marcell Ozuna (.242, 29, 88), C Yadier Molina (.271, 10, 57), 3B Matt Carpenter (.226, 14, 43), SS Paul DeJong (.234, 30, 78), CF Harrison Bader (.207, 12, 39).

Braves: CF Ronald Acuña Jr (.280, 41, 101, 37/46 SBs), 2B Ozzie Albies (.295, 24, 86, 15/19 SBs), 1B Freddie Freeman (.295, 38, 121, .389 OBP), 3B Josh Donaldson (.259, 37, 94, .379 OBP), LF Nick Markakis (.285, 9, 62), RF Matt Joyce (.295, 7, 23) or Adam Duvall (.267, 10, 19), C Brian McCann (.249, 12, 45) or Tyler Flowers (.229, 11, 34), SS Dansby Swanson (.251, 17, 65, 10/15 SBs).

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STARTING PITCHERS:

Cardinals: RH Miles Mikolas (9-14, 4.16 ERA), RH Jack Flaherty (10-8, 2.85), RH Adam Wainwright (14-10, 4.19), RH Dakota Hudson (16-7, 3.35).

Braves: LH Dallas Keuchel (8-8, 3.75, 19 starts, 91 Ks in 112 2/3 IP), RH Mike Foltynewicz (8-6, 4.54, 21 starts), RH Mike Soroka (13-4, 2.68, 29 starts, 142 Ks in 174 2/3 innings), LH Max Fried (17-6, 4.02, 30 starts, 173 Ks in 165 2/3 innings).

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RELIEVERS:

Cardinals: RH Carlos Martinez (4-2, 3.23 ERA, 24/27 saves), RH Giovanny Gallegos (3-2, 2.34), RH John Gant (11-1, 3.66), LH Andrew Miller (5-6, 4.45), RH John Brebbia (3-4, 3.59), RH Michael Wacha (6-7, 4.76 in 29 games, 24 starts), LH Tyler Webb (2-1, 3.76).

Braves: RH Mark Melancon (5-2, 3.61, 12/12 saves in 66 games with Braves and Giants), RH Luke Jackson (9-2, 3.84, 18/25 saves in 70 games), LH Sean Newcomb (6-3, 3.16, 1 save in 55 games), LH Jerry Blevins (1-0, 3.90, 1 save in 45 games), RH Shane Greene (0-3, 2.30, 23/28 saves in 65 games with Braves and Tigers), RH Anthony Swarzak (3-4, 4.56, 4 saves with Braves and Mariners), RH Chris Martin (1-3, 3.40 in 58 games with Braves and Rangers), RH Josh Tomlin (2-1, 3.79 in 78 1/3 innings, 50 games).

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MATCHUPS:

Fifth postseason meeting between the teams. Cardinals swept three games in 1982 NLCS and again in 2000 NLDS and won 2012 wild-card game. Braves won 1996 NLCS 4-3. … Braves have lost nine straight playoff rounds since beating Astros in 2001 NLDS. Only the Chicago Cubs, who lost 10 straight from 1910 through 1998, had a longer streak. … Braves are without Gold Glove CF Ender Inciarte (strained right hamstring) and utility players Johan Camargo (right shin fracture) and Charlie Culberson (broken facial bones). … Freeman was 3 for 24 in last eight games while missing some time due to bone spurs in his right elbow. … Freeman hit .381 with two homers in six games against Cardinals this season. … Donaldson batted .190 with no homers vs. St. Louis. … Keuchel has not faced Cardinals since 2016. He has nine career postseason starts. Foltynewicz, with two starts against Dodgers in 2018 NLDS, is only other Atlanta pitcher with more than one postseason start. … All six games between the clubs this season were played in May. St. Louis went 9-18 overall that month. … Atlanta finished third in National League in runs. St. Louis ranked 11th. … Cardinals had second-best ERA (3.82) in NL behind Dodgers. Atlanta was fourth (4.07).

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BIG PICTURE:

Cardinals: Routed the Cubs 9-0 in regular-season finale to win first NL Central title since 2015. … Division crown came in Mike Schildt’s first full season as manager. ... Braves: Atlanta (97-65) finished regular season with its most wins since 2003 and the NL’s No. 2 seed. … Team didn’t finish strong. With injuries becoming a growing concern, Braves won only eight of last 19 games. … Keuchel lost his last three starts.

… Acuña’s chance for a 40-40 season ended when he was held out late in season due to a left hip injury. … If Acuña is not healthy and with Inciarte already ruled out, Billy Hamilton suddenly becomes a key player for Atlanta after being claimed off waivers from Royals on Aug. 19. Similarly, veteran infielder Adeiny Hechavarría will be asked to fill utility void left by injuries to Camargo and Culberson.

… A key to the lineup is Swanson. While other Braves regulars were rested after the team clinched the NL East, Swanson asked for every at-bat as he struggled to find his stroke after missing 30 games with a bruised right foot. Swanson hit only .188 in his last 30 games. … Soroka had a 1.55 ERA in 15 road starts. His home ERA was 4.14. That’s why the 22-year-old rookie was a good candidate to be held back until Game 3 at St. Louis. But that plan would limit the team’s best Cy Young Award contender to one start in the series.

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Watch For:

— Injury Updates. Wacha has a right shoulder strain and appears unlikely to pitch in this series. Even if he makes the St. Louis roster, he would be used in a bullpen role. The bigger question is Wong, one of the premier defensive second basemen in the game. He’s been hobbled the past couple of weeks with a strained hamstring, leaving Edman to fill his spot in the lineup. Wong hopes to be ready against Atlanta, but his ability to range deep in the hole could be compromised.

— Overlooked Baby Brave. The 21-year-old Acuña has grabbed the headlines while continuing to emerge as one of the game’s top young players. But don’t forget about the 22-year-old Albies, who led the NL with 189 hits while again flashing an impressive combination of power and speed.

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More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/tag/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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