It would not get a lot better than this: Two of probably the most storied franchises in Major League Baseball every turning to a veteran ace in a winner-take-all showdown at some of the celebrated venues within the sport.
And that is precisely what’s in retailer when Max Scherzer and the Dodgers host Adam Wainwright and the Cardinals within the NL Wild Card Game Wednesday at Dodger Stadium.
Though the Dodgers (106-56) might have gained 16 extra video games than the Cardinals (90-72) through the common season, no crew was as scorching down the stretch as St. Louis. And now all of it comes down to 1 sport to find out which membership earns the precise to advance to the NL Division Series to face the 107-win Giants.
Obviously, something can occur within the postseason — particularly in a one-game winner-take-all battle — however let’s take a crack at breaking down the Cardinals-Dodgers matchup place by place.
It’s arduous to select in opposition to a veteran catcher with as many accolades as Yadier Molina. After all, the 39-year-old Cardinals legend is a 10-time All-Star, nine-time Gold Glove Award winner and two-time World Series champion throughout his 18-year profession — and his familiarity with Wainwright cannot be missed on the largest stage. But Molina additionally posted only a .667 OPS this season (and a .662 mark within the abbreviated 2020 marketing campaign).
Will Smith, however, related for 25 homers and posted an .860 OPS — and the Dodgers will likely be trying to him to assist offset the potential absence of Max Muncy in the course of the lineup. Though the 26-year-old Smith is not practically as postseason-tested as Molina, he did have a five-hit sport within the Dodgers’ NLDS clincher final yr earlier than including a house run in each the NL Championship Series and World Series. Nobody will query you when you favor Molina’s expertise, however we’ll give Smith the sting for his sizable offensive benefit this season.
This would have been one of many hardest calls to make previous to Muncy leaving Sunday’s regular-season finale with a left elbow damage. Now, with Muncy “most unlikely” to play on Wednesday, the Dodgers’ first-base job doubtless falls to Cody Bellinger, who hit .165 with simply 10 dwelling runs and a .542 OPS this season — barely greater than half of his 1.035 OPS from his 2019 NL MVP Award-winning season. It’s additionally a big drop from Muncy, who hit 36 dwelling runs and was an NL MVP candidate for a lot of the season earlier than cooling off a bit within the second half.
Goldschmidt, in the meantime, took the other strategy. After slashing .265/.335/.432 (.767 OPS) within the first half, he is been one of many sport’s hottest hitters for the reason that All-Star break, posting a .330/.402/.618 (1.020 OPS) slash line with 18 dwelling runs in 70 video games.
Tommy Edman has confirmed he could make issues occur atop the Cardinals’ lineup, notably along with his velocity. The 26-year-old racked up 30 stolen bases this season, all whereas being a constant presence for St. Louis — as evidenced by his NL-leading 641 at-bats over 159 video games.
But the nod right here has to go to Trea Turner. Acquired from the Nationals — alongside Scherzer — on the Trade Deadline, Turner has been unstoppable since arriving in Los Angeles. He completed the common season hitting an MLB-leading .328, together with posting a .338 mark with a .950 OPS in 52 video games with the Dodgers. Turner additionally paced the NL with 32 stolen bases and hit not one, however two grand slams on the season’s closing weekend.
It’s arduous to discover a higher double-play mixture than Turner and Corey Seager proper now. While Turner was blistering his technique to a batting title, all Seager did was hit .335 with a 1.009 OPS and 12 dwelling runs in 58 video games after coming back from the 60-day injured checklist on July 30. Seager missed two and a half months after fracturing his proper hand in a May 15 sport in opposition to the Marlins, however he is executed nothing however hit since rejoining the lineup two months in the past.
Edmundo Sosa emerged as a dependable on a regular basis possibility this season, slashing .271/.346/.389 over 113 video games. The versatile 25-year-old infielder additionally performed above-average protection up the center, all whereas making appearances at shortstop, second base and third base — and even one in heart subject.
Justin Turner had an exceptional yr for the Dodgers, posting an .832 OPS and matching a profession excessive with 27 dwelling runs (the third time he is clubbed 27 homers). The 13-year veteran has additionally had loads of massive postseason moments with the Dodgers, together with incomes the 2017 NLCS MVP Award.
As for the Cardinals, Nolan Arenado has had a little bit of an up-and-down debut season with St. Louis — however he stays some of the dynamic gamers on each side of the ball. His .807 OPS is definitely 25 factors decrease than Turner’s mark, however Arenado did hit 34 homers this season and he stays some of the prolific defensive gamers within the Majors.
AJ Pollock has quietly been some of the harmful hitters within the league over the past three months. Though usually overshadowed by the opposite names within the Dodgers’ potent lineup, Pollock hit .345 with a 1.039 OPS over the ultimate 57 video games of the common season courting to July 7. He additionally had 13 homers and 40 RBIs throughout that stretch, which works out to a tempo of 37 dwelling runs and 114 RBIs over a 162-game span.
Thus, this one was really lots nearer than it could appear on the floor — however Tyler O’Neill’s breakout season for the Cardinals was simply an excessive amount of to disregard. After flashing Gold Glove protection within the abbreviated 2020 marketing campaign, O’Neill lastly put all of it collectively in ’21. The 26-year-old outfielder slashed .286/.352/.560 (.912 OPS) with 34 dwelling runs and 15 stolen bases, all whereas persevering with to play stellar protection in left subject.
Bellinger’s struggles led to the Dodgers mixing and matching fairly a bit in heart subject this yr, together with giving Gavin Lux — who made only one look in heart subject within the Minors — six straight begins up the center from Sept. 23-29. That stated, Los Angeles is prone to flip to Chris Taylor, who had 20 homers and 13 stolen bases in 148 video games throughout six positions this season.
Harrison Bader put up comparable offensive numbers for the Cardinals (16 homers, 9 steals), although he did all that in simply 103 video games. Bader additionally has a big edge defensively, as his 14 outs above common ranked second amongst all heart fielders, trailing solely Kansas City’s Michael A. Taylor (15).
Dylan Carlson took a serious step ahead this season following a disappointing efficiency in his temporary massive league stint final yr. He hit simply .200 with a 68 OPS+ over 35 video games within the shortened 2020 marketing campaign, however Carlson, who turns 23 later this month, slashed .266/.343/.437 with a 117 OPS+ and 18 homers in 149 video games this season.
Of course, the Dodgers have a man named Mookie Betts patrolling proper subject. The two-time World Series champ and 2018 AL MVP might not have had his greatest season (.854 OPS, 23 homers, 10 stolen bases), however he is confirmed repeatedly that he can singlehandedly take over a complete collection — and he can do it in any variety of methods. Look no additional than the 2020 World Series, when Betts had a house run and two stolen bases in Game 1, stole two extra bases in Game 3 and offered an enormous insurance coverage run with a clutch homer late in Los Angeles’ World Series-clinching Game 6 win.
Neither Wainwright nor Scherzer is a stranger to pitching in massive video games, together with winner-take-all showdowns. The final time we noticed Wainwright take the mound in a do-or-die scenario, he allowed only one run en path to a complete-game victory — although that got here within the 2013 NLDS in opposition to the Pirates. Scherzer has began 4 winner-take-all video games since Wainwright’s gem, together with the 2019 NL Wild Card Game and Game 7 of the ’19 World Series as a member of the Nationals.
As for this season, each pitchers have been in classic kind. The 40-year-old Wainwright went 17-7 with a 3.05 ERA and tied for the MLB lead with three full video games, all whereas eclipsing the 200-inning mark (206 1/3 innings) for the primary time since 2014. Scherzer completed 15-4 with a 2.46 ERA in 30 begins between the Nationals and Dodgers, although he did not look as sharp down the stretch. The 37-year-old righty went 7-0 with a 0.78 ERA in his first 9 begins with Los Angeles earlier than getting tagged for 11 runs (10 earned) over 10 1/3 innings in his final two outings. It’s arduous to go unsuitable with both of those veteran aces, however depend on Scherzer rediscovering that kind from August and early September on this one.
Being a one-game showdown, every thing is on the desk for these groups with regards to mapping out the 9 innings (or extra) from their respective pitching staffs. That stated, the Dodgers had probably the greatest bullpens all season. Los Angeles’ 3.12 bullpen ERA ranked second within the Majors, behind solely San Francisco’s 2.97 — and nicely forward of St. Louis’ 3.93. Kenley Jansen was an enormous a part of that, bouncing again from a rocky 2020 postseason by posting a 2.22 ERA and racking up 38 saves over 69 innings.
It’s arduous to select in opposition to a crew that so just lately rattled off 17 consecutive wins and is beginning a Wainwright-Molina battery eyeing one other title run — however it’s even tougher to select in opposition to Scherzer. The lack of Muncy is a large blow for the Dodgers, however there’s nonetheless loads of firepower in a lineup that options Betts, Seager and the Turners. The deal that introduced Scherzer and Trea Turner to Los Angeles forward of the Trade Deadline would possibly simply be the distinction in pushing the Dodgers by means of to the NLDS.