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The Complete Guide to the NL Wild Card Game


AP Photo/Frank Franklin II


Intro


Let’s get this out of the way: we all know that the Dodgers are the better team. Top-to-bottom, this is the best or second best team in all of baseball. While some are using this game as an excuse to bemoan the one-game format of the round, I enjoy the format. Sports are entertainment at their core and there’s nothing more entertaining than a do-or-die game. If you don’t like it, there is a simple solution: win more games. I am in favor of re-seeding the postseason after the regular season (meaning the NL Wild Card game would be Atlanta vs St. Louis), but this is not the purpose of this article. We are here to preview a game.


Projected Lineup


Dodgers:

1. Mookie Betts RF

2. Corey Seager SS

3. Trea Turner 2B

4. Will Smith C

5. Justin Turner 3B

6. AJ Pollock LF

7. Chris Taylor CF

8. Cody Bellinger 1B


Cardinals:

1. Tommy Edman 2B

2. Paul Goldschmidt 1B

3. Tyler O’Neil LF

4. Nolan Arenado 3B

5. Dylan Carlson RF

6. Yadier Molina C

7. Edmundo Sosa SS

8. Harrison Bader CF


The UCL injury to Max Muncy is a big blow for the lineup, as the lineup loses an MVP candidate in favor of a struggling (to put it lightly) former MVP in Cody Bellinger. It’s possible that Dave Roberts opts to go with Pujols instead, but it’s likelier that he opts for the platoon advantage over Adam Wainwright with better speed and defense and then replaces him later in the game. If there’s one team that can withstand the loss of Muncy however, it’s the Dodgers. Betts hasn’t been quite himself all year but I dare you to challenge him and see how that works. Seager is about to get a contract upwards of nine figures, Trea Turner is a legitimate MVP candidate, Will Smith might be the best catcher in baseball, and Justin Turner just keeps chugging along as the most underrated part of this offense. They’re going to have their fair share of whiffs, but every single bat in this lineup is capable of carrying an offense on a given night.


The Cardinals lineup is a tad less scary, there are spots to pick. The list of names that you can’t let beat you: Paul Golschmidt, Nolan Arenado, and Tyler O’Neil. Other than that, the Dodgers are just going to execute their strengths to the best of their ability. But if you can hold those three to minimal damage, the rest of the lineup just doesn’t scare anyone, and even O’Neil strikes out over 30% of the time. The focal point of this offense though doesn’t even revolve around hitting. This team is the best defensive team in MLB by a lot. Prepare to see a lot of balls in play by the Dodgers that look like base hits or doubles off the bat only to see the camera pan to a fielder right there. This is why Adam Wainwright has been so good this year and is getting the ball for this game.


Advantage: Dodgers


I don’t care how good your defense is, when you’re opponent is trotting out a lineup that is eight-deep, you’re in trouble. Give the Cardinals credit though, O’Neil has been fantastic this season and the Arenado/Goldy duo has been arguably the most productive corner infield in the big leagues this season. Defense is the Cards focus, and they execute to perfection, their best hope is to limit LA to two or three and find a way to scratch one more run across than they allow.


Starting Pitching: Max Scherzer vs Adam Wainwright


Across the board, Scherzer is the better pitcher (with the exception of HR/9). As I’ve said a hundred times already though, this is more about the Dodgers (Mad Max) than it is about the Cardinals being bad. Wainwright has been all the redbirds could ask for this year and then some, but Max Scherzer is one of the best pitchers of this generation and a first ballot Hall of Famer, he might even win another Cy Young this year (my non-existent vote is Corbin Burnes). The separator here is that Scherzer limits contact against a lineup that isn’t that great even when they make contact, save for the aforementioned big-three, and Wainwright allows a lot of contact against a lineup that pulverizes pitches that they make contact with.


However, Max is prone to leaving the occasional cookie (demonstration below), so look for the Cardinals to take their lumps and wait him out and pounce on his mistakes.



Wainwright’s game plan looks like this:


Advantage: Dodgers


This matchup is a preference of two completely different styles of pitching. One throws hard/nasty stuff and misses a ton of bats, but is prone to give up the long ball. The other is all about command with average stuff but does not allow a lot of hard contact. Give me the choice between contact and no-contact and I am going to choose the latter every time, especially when the lineup in question for the contact-oriented pitcher is facing the Dodgers.

Bullpen


Dodgers Top 5 Options:

1. Kenley Jansen

2. Blake Treinen

3. Corey Knebel

4. Julio Urias

5. Joe Kelly


Cardinals Top 5 Options:

1. Giovanny Gallegos

2. Alex Reyes

3. Jack Flaherty

4. Luis Garcia

5. Genesis Cabrera


Finally a matchup where the redbirds are not overmatched. Giovanny Gallegos is an official darling of The Lefty Catcher, he has been one of the best relievers in baseball for almost three seasons now and is consistently overlooked. Alex Reyes is disgusting but issues his fair share of walks which of course is a huge no-no against this lineup. The only thing that concerns me here is fatigue. Gallegos and Reyes have combined to throw for 152 innings this year and were consistently relied upon to save games for Mike Schildt. While throwing your best pitchers a lot makes sense, it worries me that these two seemed to be the only people Schildt trusted with late leads. That could change with the addition of Jack Flaherty to the bullpen, expect him to have some really important middle inning assignment in this game.


It seems like no matter what Dave Roberts does with pitching changes things always seem to go awry. Kenley Jansen has given Dodgers fans more heart attacks than Taylor Swift says the words “Look what you made me do” in her hit song “Look What You Made Me Do.” Treinen and Knebel will receive some high leverage work while Julio Urias and Joe Kelly will likely be the first ones out of the pen if Scherzer doesn’t go too deep in the game. No matter who enters, pray for the health of the hearts in Los Angeles.

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Advantage: Cardinals


The big unknown here is how good Flaherty will look in his role out of the pen. Everyone knows that he has the stuff to succeed, it’s more going to be a matter of if his preparation/execution in an unfamiliar situation is going to succeed. The Dodgers will get to Wainwright eventually, it’s up to this group right here to slam the door and give the offense a chance to steal the game.


Prediction


Don’t overthink this game. I know anything can happen in one game, but if given the choice between something that is clearly better than the other option, you take the better option. I’m not saying that the Cardinals don’t have a chance, because they do, but any scenario that the Dodgers lose will have more to do with them beating themselves than it will to do with the Cards being the better team. I think this will be a hard-fought victory, an early lead for the Cardinals will likely happen, but in the end I think the Dodgers depth will just be too much for Arenado and co. Give me the Dodgers by a score of 6-2.


Dodgers 6 - Cardinals 2

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