2021 NL Wild Card Preview: St. Louis Cardinals vs Los Angeles Dodgers
The MLB playoffs have arrived.
The St. Louis Cardinals rode a season-changing 17-game win streak to a playoff berth against the defending World Series champions, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
For the majority of the 2021 season, the Cardinals were an afterthought for the postseason. The San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds, and whoever lost the NL East were all in prime position to take that second Wild-Card spot. But thanks to a historic run, the Cardinals are back in the playoffs.
Unfortunately, the Cards' reward is an angry 106-win team that is looking to win back-to-back titles.
The Dodgers, on the other hand, came into the season as the favorites to win the NL West, but those plucky San Francisco Giants narrowly edged out Los Angeles.
With Clayton Kershaw and Max Muncy sidelined due to injury, can the Dodgers hold off the hottest team in baseball?
ODDS & SPREAD
Via FanDuel Sportsbook
Moneyline: Dodgers -225 | Cardinals +188
Runline: Dodgers -1.5 (+102) | Cardinals +1.5 (-122)
Total: 7.5 – Over: (-110) | Under: (-110)
- The total has gone UNDER in 4 of the Cardinals' last five games.
- The total has gone OVER in 5 of the Dodgers' last five games.
- The total has gone OVER in 5 of the Dodgers' last five games at home.
- The Cardinals are 17-3 SU in their last 20 games.
- The Cardinals are 3-7 SU in their last 10 games against the Dodgers.
- The Dodgers are 5-1 SU in their last six games when playing at home against the Cardinals.
Starting Pitching Matchup
Cardinals: Adam Wainwright: 17-7, 3.05 ERA, 206.1 IP, 174 SO, 3.7 rWAR
The 40-year-old wonder led the league in complete games with three and went over 200.0 IP for the first time since 2014. Not only has Adam Wainwright enjoyed a re-birth season, but he will also become the oldest pitcher to start a game in Wild Card history.
Wainwright has appeared in 28 postseason games throughout his career and was even credited with the save in the 2006 World Series Game 4 clincher against the Detriot Tigers. In his 15 career postseason starts, Wainwright is 4-5 with a 2.89 ERA and 118 SO in 109.0 IP.
Against the Dodgers this season, the Cards' ace is 1-0 with a 4.32 ERA. He will have to go through one of the top lineups in all of baseball to continue the Cardinals' dream season. Due to injuries all year long in the Cardinals rotation, they relied on Wainwright to return to his old form that helped the Cardinals win the 2006 World Series.
Dodgers: Max Scherzer: 15-4, 2.46 ERA, 179.1 IP, 236 SO, 5.3 rWAR
Max Scherzer will become the second-oldest starting pitcher in Wild Card history at the age of 37. The three-time Cy Young winner was acquired from the Nationals at the deadline to replace Trevor Bauer, who was placed on administrative leave early in the season after being accused of sexual assault.
In his 11 starts with the Dodgers, Scherzer is a perfect 7-0 with a 1.98 ERA and 89 SO in just 68.1 IP. He even went 7-0 with a 0.78 ERA in his first nine starts with the team. Although he did not put the Dodgers over the top of the Giants in the NL West, he will be huge for their title defense as they will be without Bauer and Clayton Kershaw for the postseason.
Scherzer's has had the game's best stuff for years now and played a big role in the Nationals' 2019 World Series championship run. Behind Scherzer, the Dodgers feature a bullpen led by Blake Treinen, Kenley Jansen, and if Los Angeles gets in a real jam early, they can turn to David Price to eat up some innings.
The Cardinals may have more championship pedigree on the mound in this game, but the Dodgers pitching staff as a whole is much better. The Dodgers bullpen has a collective ERA of 3.16 and a WHIP of 1.109. While the Cardinals bullpen ERA is ranked 11th (3.97) in baseball, the Dodgers from top-to-bottom have the upper hand.
The Cardinals offense features three players who have hit 30+ home runs and 80+ RBI. Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, and Tyler O'Neill have lifted the Cardinals to the 13th-ranked offense in the league.
As a team, the Cardinals are slashing .244/.313/.412 with an OPS of .725. They have also gotten a big boost from veteran Yadier Molina, who has been with Wainwright every step of the way. They have seen championships and disappointment together, so that chemistry they have built may give the Cardinals a slight cheat code. In his 101 postseason games, Molina is hitting .280 with four home runs, 36 RBI, and an OPS of .699.
During the winning streak, the offense got a big boost from some unlikely heroes. O'Neill finished the month of September with a slash of .328/.377/.731 with an OPS of 1.108. He also had a team-high 13 home runs in September. The Cards also got a lot of production from Harrison Bader who, at the time, was more know for his skills in center field. During the winning streak, Bader batted .400 with an OPS of 1.179.
For the Cardinals to win, they need to get production from the lesser-known guys. Arenado and Goldschmidt are always a threat to win games, but against Scherzer, it will be a team effort.
Despite being without Max Muncy until a potential NLCS round, the Dodgers have the better offense in this game. This offense is led by Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, Trea Turner, Justin Turner, Chris Taylor, and Will Smith just to name a few.
If you noticed, I did leave 2019 MVP, Cody Bellinger, off that list because he has been very bad this season. In his 95 games played, Bellinger is slashing a measly .165/.240/.302 with an OPS of .542. Whether it be injury or something mental, Bellinger is a broken player right now. He did hit .308 over his last six games, but it has been a disappointing downfall for the 26-year-old. I say all that about Bellinger because he is absolutely going to have a big home run (+450 at FanDuel). I can just feel it in my bones.
Anyway, this offense has been a weapon all year long. As a team, they have hit 237 home runs and have a slash of .244/.330/.429. They have the better players, they have the better stats, and from top-to-bottom, the lineup is just better. If the Dodgers can pounce on Wainwright early, the Cardinals do not have enough in the bullpen to slow down the Dodgers. They probably do not have enough to outscore the Dodgers either.
It is just not a great scenario for the Cardinals. This season is the fourth time in the last five seasons the Dodgers have led the NL in runs scored (830). That is 124 more runs scored than the Cardinals. The Dodgers have a very obvious advantage.
Even though the Cardinals are the hottest team in baseball, they are just not better than the Dodgers. Let's be honest with ourselves, they are very lucky to be here.
The Dodgers have the better lineup, the better rotation, and the better bullpen. Not to mention they are the reigning champions. Baseball is weird because if you get hot at the right time, you could ride that wave to the World Series... like the 2019 Nationals. However, you can get hot at the wrong time and burn out in the playoffs (2017 Indians). That begs the everlasting question for teams entering the postseason on a winning streak.
Did the Cardinals peak too early?
Maybe, but the fact is that the Dodgers are just better, and they are rightfully favored.
Final Score: Dodgers 7, Cardinals 2
Photo: Getty Images