The St. Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves are playing in the first ever National League Wild Card play-in game Friday afternoon, but that's not the story. The story is that Kris Medlen is pitching. On a team that built its mid-90s dynasty around unusual-looking aces, the Braves' 26-year-old swingman finds himself 10-1 with an ERA of 1.57 and a strikeout-to-walk ratio on the Roy Halladay side of five. With 138 innings on a surgically repaired elbow, he's the media's Stephen Strasburg replacement and their excuse to talk about Stephen Strasburg, all at the same time.
And he's pitched extraordinarily well. Since joining the rotation on July 31 he's made 12 starts, thrown 84 strikeouts against 10 walks in 84 innings, and carried an ERA of 0.97. He's also won nine decisions—the Braves won the other three games he started after he left.
So—justifiably—whatever happens Friday, whether it's a blowout Cardinals win or a narrow loss, will be filtered through Kris Medlen's performance. Did somebody finally get to him? Is he still invincible? Is he as good as everybody said?
I don't think anybody's as good as everybody's said about Kris Medlen, or as Medlen has pitched over the last two months. But I'm sure that whatever happens next, he's become one of those great stories that baseball throws off every few years—the stories that transcend the season, and the rest of the player's career, and even the Braves and the Cardinals and this Wild Card game, to become a touchstone.