The Dodgers begin their run for a second World Series title against playoff stalwarts Cardinals. Do the Dodgers have what it takes to repeat?
A month ago the St. Louis Cardinals had a less than 5% chance (according to Fangraphs) of making the playoffs. Today, after a 17 game winning streak, they are set to face the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday. This will be the 6th time the Cardinals will play the Dodgers in the playoffs and the first time since their 3-1 series win in 2014. It also will be a matchup of the two most tenured playoff teams in the National League since 2000.
As for the Dodgers and where they sit, their second place finish in the NL West certainly isn’t where they wanted to be heading into the playoffs. However, they are the winningest team after winning a World Series with 106 wins. Still, this seems like a let down to be playing in just a single elimination Wild Card playoff game. With their history of poor play against the Cardinals in the playoffs, will this be the year to better the Red Birds and repeat as World Champs in a month?
Key Players To Watch – Cardinals
For the Cardinals and their now fully healthy roster all eyes will turn to Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt and Tyler O’Neill. For Arenado and his return to postseason ball, he will need to live up to the expectation of being better than he was in his two previous trips with Colorado. This is why the Cardinals acquired him and almost anything will be better than his .190 batting average in 5 postseason games.
With all eyes on Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt will have a chance to improve on his .231 average from last year’s three game performance. He can hit for power and his 8 HRs in 89 plate appearances in the postseason is proof. This is his chance to break his personal two-series losing streak.
Finally playing everyday has given Tyler O’Neill the confidence he needed to be the stud the Seattle Mariners thought he would be when they dealt him to the Cardinals back in 2017. His 34 HRs tied him for the team lead with Arenado. Hitting in front of Arenado should provide him a steady diet of fastballs to feast on. Hopefully the nerves and pressure of a one game playoff won’t affect him.
The quiet guy on offense is potential Rookie of the Year winner Dylan Carlson. He was the surprise playoff roster guy last year when he went 3-for-9 in those three games. That September call up last year secured his position in RF for 2021 and he hasn’t disappointed the Cardinals faithful. Now healthy after a short stint on the IL in August, he is the defensive anchor in the OF with 8 assists and a .987 fielding percentage.
On the mound the savvy veteran Adam Wainwright has tapped into the fountain of youth to lead the staff with a 17-7 record and a league leading 3 complete games. The 16-year veteran gets the ball on Wednesday and hopes to bring his postseason record back to an even 5-5 and move the Cardinals past the defending champs.
Key Players in Dodger Blue
Moving over to the home team Dodgers’ dugout we will see a slightly different team than expected. Max Muncy’s injury might play a bigger role in how this postseason unfolds than the Dodgers had planned. Because of the need to change the lineup, all eyes turn to Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor.
Yes, the line up begins and ends with Mookie Betts, Corey Seager and trade deadline acquisition Trea Turner, however the offensive success needed now lies at the bottom of the order, where the once reliable Bellinger and previous playoff hero Taylor will be slotted. For Taylor, he is looking to redeem himself and his .197 BA over the last 2 years. His All-Star selection this year and his 20 HR was a great way to start the redemption, now to finish. As for Bellinger, his fall from MVP candidate has seen him reach career lows in HR (10) and BA (.165). Getting the call at 1B for Muncy will hopefully give him a boost of confidence.
Max Scherzer has heard all the superlatives associated with his unreal career. Now, he has the chance to start the Dodgers quest for a repeat and his attempt to make it to his third World Series with his third team. Since his arrival at Chavez Ravine there has been nothing but perfection. His 89 K and 15 ER in 68 plus innings in 11 starts has resulted in a perfect 7-0 record.
Bold Prediction to start the playoffs:
As much as Scherzer gives the Dodgers an immediate advantage on the mound, the absence of Muncy looms large for the defending champs. It would be easy to say the Dodgers will run away early in this matchup. But, Wainwright looks to continue his shining season against the highest scoring offense in the National League. Arenado knows his future is at Busch Stadium and getting the Cards back home in the NLDS will help confirm he made the right decision to not opt out after the World Series.
Final: St. Louis 5 LA Dodgers 2 as the Dodgers bullpen falls apart in the 7th.