Saved by the safety net that is the wild-card round, the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals have little time to savor their good fortune.
The National League wild-card representatives meet in a winner-take-all game Wednesday at Los Angeles, with the 106-win Dodgers facing the Cardinals, who produced a franchise-best, 17-game winning streak last month.
It is a pairing worthy of seven games, yet this is one night only. Awaiting the winner is the 107-win San Francisco Giants.
Only once in four playoff rounds last season did the World Series champion Dodgers see an elimination game, when they earned a 4-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves in Game 7 of the NL Championship Series. Max Muncy had a single and a run in that one but is not expected to play Wednesday because of a left elbow injury.
Corey Seager, AJ Pollock and Trea Turner will have to carry the Los Angeles offense without Muncy and his team-best 36 home runs and 94 RBIs.
Right-hander Max Scherzer (15-4, 2.46 ERA overall) earned the starting nod after going 7-0 with a 1.98 ERA in 11 starts with the Dodgers following his arrival from the Washington Nationals at the trade deadline.
Scherzer is 4-6 with a 2.76 ERA in 13 career regular-season starts against the Cardinals. Facing St. Louis in Game 2 of the 2019 NLCS while pitching for Washington, he struck out 11 and gave up one hit over seven scoreless innings.
“Everything (Scherzer) does is for a purpose; the little things matter to him,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “You look at the talent and the back of the baseball card and what he’s done, I think that’s an easy way to look at it. But when you peel back a couple layers, the details matter to him.”
Turner arrived with Scherzer in the same trade, winning the NL batting title with a .328 average while closing the regular season on an 18-game hitting streak. He hit six home runs (including two grand slams) over his last eight games, giving him every right to feel confident.
“I don’t know about scary. It’s fun,” Turner said of the wild-card game. “It’s a Game 7.”
The Cardinals will turn to 40-year-old right-hander Adam Wainwright (17-7, 3.05 ERA). He went 6-0 with a 2.44 ERA over his past eight starts, but he now faces a Dodgers offense that averaged nine runs over its past five games.
Wainwright, a 16-year veteran, is 7-5 with a 2.66 ERA in 17 regular-season appearances (14 starts) against the Dodgers. He has made three career postseason starts against Los Angeles, going 0-1 with a 4.12 ERA. Wainwright’s most recent playoff appearance against the Dodgers came in the 2014 NL Division Series, when he gave up six runs on 11 hits in a forgettable 4 1/3 innings.
The Cardinals were written off early in the year after ace Jack Flaherty sustained an oblique injury that cost him nearly half the season while the offense sputtered despite the addition of Nolan Arenado.
St. Louis was a sub-.500 team as late as Aug. 9 before winning the next six games. Since Aug. 10, the Cardinals are 35-16.
Arenado finished with 34 home runs and 105 RBIs. Now, the Southern California native will return home for his first postseason appearance since 2018.
“To be able to go to the playoffs is what it’s all about,” Arenado said. “I’m just thankful to be a part of this team. This team is unbelievable. We’ve carried each other. … This is why I’m here, and to be able to do it in my first year (with the Cardinals) is a good feeling.”
–Field Level Media