Stephen Dunn - Getty Images
Kris Medlen and the Braves have a big challenge awaiting them on Friday night as the Cardinals come to town.
The St. Louis Cardinals were one of the better offensive teams in the National League this past season despite numerous injuries and the departure of Albert Pujols. The club ranked second in the NL in terms of runs scored, second in team batting average at .271 and tied with the Brewers for the best wRC+ at 107 (95 was about average in 2012; read more here).
As for the Cardinals lineup, there are very few easy outs. Five players hit 20 homers or more: Carlos Beltran (32), Matt Holliday (27), Allen Craig (22), Yadier Molina (22) and David Freese (20). St. Louis does not run much, with Jon Jay leading the team with 19 steals.
As for their projected lineup for Friday night, look for first-year manager Mike Matheny to use this lineup:
Jon Jay - CF
Carlos Beltran - RF
Matt Holliday - LF
Allen Craig - 1B
Yadier Molina - C
David Freese - 3B
Daniel Descalso - 2B
Pete Kozma - SS
Kyle Lohse - P
As for shortstop Pete Kozma, he has come out of nowhere to provide a huge boost following Rafael Furcal's season-ending injury. He's benefitted from a highly unsustainable BABIP of .410, but a triple-slash line of .333/.385/.580 is pretty impressive. Keeping him under control at the bottom of the order will be big for Atlanta.
The weakest link in the order is Descalso. If the situation warrants it and the Braves need to find an out to escape a jam, look for Fredi Gonzalez to pitch to the young second baseman if possible. Descalso batted just .227/.303/.324 this year and is not much of a threat on the base paths.
All in all, this is a very tough lineup with plenty of playoff experience following their title run in 2011. Kris Medlen is going to have his work cut out for him Friday evening.