Distribution of positions of the Wild Cards-Dodgers NL card game
It doesn’t get much better than this: two of Major League Baseball’s most legendary franchises each turn into a veteran ace in a win-win showdown at one of the sport’s most famous venues.
And that’s exactly what awaits you when Max Scherzer and the Dodgers host Adam Wainwright and the Cardinals in Wednesday’s NL Wild Card game at Dodger Stadium.
While the Dodgers (106-56) have won 16 more games than the Cardinals (90-72) in the regular season, no team has been as hot as St. Louis. And now it all comes down to one game to determine which club has the right to qualify for the NL Division Series to face the Giants with 107 wins.
Obviously, anything can happen in the playoffs – especially in a one-game-win battle – but let’s try to break down the Cardinals-Dodgers game position by position.
It’s hard to measure up against a veteran receiver with as many accolades as Yadier Molina. After all, the 39-year-old Cardinals legend is a ten-time All-Star, nine-time Gold Glove Award and two-time World Series champion in his 18-year career – and his familiarity with Wainwright cannot be overlooked on the bigger stage. But Molina has also posted just a .667 OPS this season (and a .662 in the shortened 2020 campaign).
Will Smith, on the other hand, logged in for 25 home runs and posted an .860 OPS – and the Dodgers will look to him to help make up for Max Muncy’s potential absence midway through the roster. Although Smith, 26, isn’t as playoff tested as Molina, he did manage a five-hit game in the Dodgers NLDS tie-breaker last year before adding a homerun in the championship series. the NL and the world series. No one will ask you if you prefer the Molina experience, but we’ll give Smith the advantage of his considerable offensive advantage this season.
It would have been one of the toughest calls to make before Muncy left Sunday’s regular season final with a left elbow injury. Now, with Muncy “highly unlikely” to play on Wednesday, the Dodgers’ first baseman job likely goes to Cody Bellinger, who has reached .165 with just 10 home runs and a .542 OPS this season – just over half of that. his 1,035 OPS from his season 2019 NL MVP Award. It’s also a big drop from Muncy, who hit 36 home runs and was the National League MVP candidate for much of the season before calming down a bit in the second half.
Goldschmidt, meanwhile, took the opposite approach. After slashing 0.265 / 0.335 / 0.432 (0.767 OPS) in the first half, he has been one of the hottest hitters in the game since the star break, posting a slash of 0.330 / 0.402 / 0.618 (1.020 OPS ). line with 18 home runs in 70 games.
Tommy Edman has proven he can shake things up within the Cardinals roster, especially with his speed. The 26-year-old has accumulated 30 stolen goals this season, while being a constant presence for St. Louis – as evidenced by his 641 NHL-leading hitters in 159 games.
But the nod here has to go to Trea Turner. Acquired from the Nationals – alongside Scherzer – by the trade deadline, Turner has been unstoppable since arriving in Los Angeles. He finished the regular season with a 0.328 lead in the MLB, including posting a 0.338 mark with an OPS of 0.950 in 52 games with the Dodgers. Turner also paced the NL with 32 stolen goals and didn’t touch one, but of them grand slams during the last weekend of the season.
It’s hard to find a better double play combination than Turner and Corey Seager right now. As Turner worked his way to a batting title, all Seager did was .335 with a 1,009 OPS and 12 homers in 58 games after returning from the 60-day injured list on July 30. Seager missed two and a half months after fracturing his right hand in a May 15 game against the Marlins, but he’s been doing nothing but punching since joining the roster there. at two months.
Edmundo Sosa has emerged as a reliable day-to-day option this season, slashing .271 / .346 / 0.389 in 113 games. The versatile 25-year-old infielder also played above-average defense down center, while making appearances at shortstop, second and third – and even one down center.
Justin Turner has had a phenomenal year for the Dodgers, posting a .832 OPS and tying a career-high 27 home runs (the third time he’s clubbed 27 home runs). The 13-year-old veteran also had plenty of great playoff moments with the Dodgers, including winning the 2017 NLCS MVP award.
As for the Cardinals, Nolan Arenado has had an eventful first season with Saint-Louis, but he remains one of the most dynamic players on both sides of the ball. His .807 OPS is actually 25 points below Turner’s mark, but Arenado has made 34 home runs this season and he remains one of the Majors’ most prolific defensive players.
AJ Pollock has quietly been one of the league’s most dangerous hitters for the past three months. Though often overshadowed by other names in the powerful Dodgers lineup, Pollock hit .345 with a 1,039 OPS in the last 57 regular season games dating back to July 7. He’s also had 13 homers and 40 RBIs in that streak, which is working. at a rate of 37 home runs and 114 RBIs in 162 games.
So, this one was actually a lot closer than it looks at first glance – but Tyler O’Neill’s breakout season for the Cardinals was just too hard to ignore. After launching the Gold Glove defense in the abridged 2020 campaign, O’Neill finally got it all in place in ’21. The 26-year-old outfielder reduced .286 / .352 / .560 (.912 OPS) with 34 homers and 15 stolen goals, while continuing to play stellar defense in left field.
Bellinger’s struggles have led the Dodgers to mix and line up a lot in center field this year, including giving Gavin Lux – who has only made one appearance in center field in minors – six consecutive departures in the middle of September 23-29. That said, Los Angeles will likely look to Chris Taylor, who has had 20 homers and 13 stolen goals in 148 games across six positions this season.
Harrison Bader posted similar offensive numbers for the Cardinals (16 homers, nine interceptions), although he did it all in just 103 games. Bader also has a significant defensive advantage, as his 14 above-average strikeouts rank second among all center fielder, behind Kansas City’s Michael A. Taylor (15).
Dylan Carlson has taken a big step forward this season after a disappointing performance during his brief stint in the big leagues last year. He only hit 0.200 with a 68 OPS + over 35 games in the shortened 2020 campaign, but Carlson, who turns 23 later this month, slashed by 0.266 / .343 / 0.437 with a 117 OPS + and 18 home runs in 149 games this season.
Of course, the Dodgers have a guy named Mookie Betts who patrols the right field. The two-time World Series champion and 2018 AL MVP may not have had his best season (.854 OPS, 23 homers, 10 goals stolen), but he’s proven time and time again that he can on his own. alone take control of an entire series – and it can do so in several ways. Look no further than the 2020 World Series, when Betts had a home run and two goals stolen in Game 1, stole two more goals in Game 3 and provided a big insurance run with a home run. clutch at the end of the decisive World Series game in Los Angeles. 6 victory.
Neither Wainwright nor Scherzer are strangers to pitching in big games, including win-win confrontations. The last time we saw Wainwright take the mound in a do-or-die situation, he allowed just one point en route to a full game win – although that did come in the 2013 NLDS against the Pirates. Scherzer has started four win-win games from the Jewel of Wainwright, including the 2019 NL Wild Card Game and the seventh game of the ’19 World Series as a member of the Nationals.
As for this season, both pitchers were in vintage form. Wainwright, 40, was 17-7 with a 3.05 ERA and tied for the MLB lead with three full games, while eclipsing the 200 innings mark (206 1/3 innings) for the first time since 2014. Scherzer was 15-4 with a 2.46 ERA in 30 starts between the Nationals and Dodgers, though he didn’t look so sharp down the home stretch. The 37-year-old right-hander went 7-0 with a 0.78 ERA in his first nine starts with Los Angeles before being scored for 11 runs (10 earned) in 10 1/3 innings in his last two outings. It’s hard to go wrong with either of these veteran aces, but count on Scherzer to rediscover that August and early September form in this one.
Being a one-game showdown, everything is on the table for these teams when it comes to mapping the nine innings (or more) of their respective pitching teams. That said, the Dodgers had one of the best bullpen all season. The Los Angeles reliever box ERA placed second in the Majors, behind just San Francisco’s 2.97 – and well ahead of St. Louis’ 3.93. Kenley Jansen played a big part in that, bouncing back from a tough 2020 playoffs posting a 2.22 ERA and racking up 38 saves in 69 innings.
It’s hard to choose against a team that have so recently won 18 straight wins and start a Wainwright-Molina battery for another title race – but it’s even harder to choose against Scherzer. Losing Muncy is a blow to the Dodgers, but there’s still plenty of firepower in a lineup that includes Betts, Seager and the Turners. The deal that brought Scherzer and Trea Turner to Los Angeles ahead of the trade deadline could just make the difference in pushing the Dodgers to the NLDS.