ATLANTA – A tall task awaits the St. Louis Cardinals with a three-game road series against the NL-leading Atlanta Braves on deck. Looking past the box scores, it’s a key homecoming for two Cardinals and Georgia natives at opposite points in their baseball careers.
For Adam Wainwright, a 42-year-old out of Brunswick, Georgia, this will be his last time facing the Braves, not only his childhood-favorite team, but also the franchise that initially drafted him out of high school in 2000.
For Jordan Walker, a 21-year-old out of Stone Mountain, Georgia, it will be his first go-around in Atlanta since bursting his way to the big-league scene this year.
Wainwright, pushing for 200 career victories, is set to take the mound Thursday at Truist Park. More times than not, when he pitched in his home state as a Cardinal, it came at Turner Field. Between both ballparks, he has a 5-2 record with a 3.38 ERA over 56 innings.
“I’ve loved playing [in Atlanta] over the years,” he said via Mark Saxon’s MLB.com report. “I have to call it my home crowd, kind of, because so many people travel from home down in South Georgia to see us play. It’s been a point of pride for me for sure to play there, and I’ve pitched well there through my years.”
As Atlanta has built a championship-caliber squad, leading to the 2021 World Series title, Wainwright has had some success against their tough lineup near the end of his career. In a Sunday Night Baseball start last year, he went 6.2 innings and limited damage to just two earned runs. In 2019, during the NLCS, Wainwright fired 7.2 shutout innings against the Braves at Busch Stadium, though Atlanta spoiled the dominant outing with late heroics.
From a Cardinals perspective, it’s always intriguing to remember how a childhood Braves fan in Wainwright ended up as a St. Louis icon. In Dec. 2003, the Cardinals traded outfielder J.D. Drew and catcher Eli Marrero to the Braves in a deal that included three pitchers: Jason Marquis, Ray King and a then-prospect Wainwright. It’s widely considered one of the most successful deals in Cardinals history, and it gave the Cardinals a top-end rotation arm for nearly two decades.
Wainwright gets the ball Thursday on extra rest after arguably his best start of the year against the San Diego Padres last week (6 innings, 1 earned run). His sendoff season has been tough, winless and stuck at 198 career victories since mid-June. This upcoming opportunity will be the first of roughly five starts scheduled to close his MLB career.
The timing of the Atlanta trip is impeccable for Jordan Walker, playing some of the best baseball of his young career from late-August into September. During the Cardinals’ recent six-game homestand, Walker crushed three home runs, collected 12 hits and drove in seven runs.
“There are going to be a lot of emotions,” said Walker via John Denton’s MLB.com report. “I’ve already had a lot of my friends who said they’re coming to the game to support me, but they’re still going to rep their Braves. I’m just excited to go back there.”
Walker tried to model his style after Braves Hall of Famer Chipper Jones in his childhood and spent many summers attending Braves games with his dad over the years. He was also named Gatorade’s high school player of the year in back-to-back springs (2019 & 2020) before he was drafted by the Cardinals.
As Wainwright and Walker prepare for their homecoming series, the Cardinals enter it with postseason hopes dashed and on the brink of their first losing season since 2007. The Cardinals (59-78) have a daunting task ahead with the Braves (90-46), and roughly four weeks remain in the 2023 regular season.