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A Cubs fan’s guide to the 2021 NL Wild Card Game

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A 106-win Dodgers team attempts to defeat Cardinals devil magic.

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The Red Sox kicked off the MLB postseason with a decisive win over the New York Yankees. It was pretty clear Nathan Eovaldi was on his game, he’d go on to strike out eight. But it was this blast off Gerrit Cole from Kyle Schwarber really spelled trouble for the Yankees [VIDEO].

That probably looked really familiar:

Tonight the National League teams take the stage as the juggernaut Dodgers attempt to win a one-game playoff against a Cardinals team whose devil magic is in full effect.

The Los Angeles Dodgers were supposed to be the best team in baseball before they traded for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner. They were the wire-to-wire favorites. The Vegas betting odds still have them as the favorites to win the World Series. I mean, just look at this steady blue line atop the National League West on FanGraphs’ playoff odds:

NL West Playoff Odds
FanGraphs

The Cardinals’ ride to October was a lot more adventurous. This was no smooth line, it was more of a roller coaster ride in St. Louis:

NL Central Playoff Odds
FanGraphs

However, the Wild Card game is nothing if not unpredictable and Cubs fans know you can never overlook the St. Louis Cardinals. Being a hot team that believes it can win can make a difference, and both the Dodgers and the Cardinals finished the season hot. On September 1 the Cardinals were 68-63, the finished the season 22-9. For comparison’s sake, the Dodgers finished the same period 21-7.

This could be a wild one (pun kind of intended) so let’s dig into it,

Starting pitchers

On paper this looks like a crush for the Dodgers who will send 37-year-old Max Scherzer to the mound to face off against 40-year-old Adam Wainwright. You can see their season numbers and their numbers against each team below:

Scherzer and Wainwright Comparison

Player GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 AVG BABIP ERA FIP xFIP
Player GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 AVG BABIP ERA FIP xFIP
Scherzer Season 30 179.1 11.84 1.81 1.15 .184 .247 2.46 2.97 3.24
Wainwright Season 32 206.1 7.59 2.18 0.92 .218 .256 3.05 3.66 3.87
Scherzer Cardinals 2 14.0 14.10 1.30 1.30 .196 .345 0.00 0.46 1.46
Wainwright Dodgers 1 8.1 4.30 0.00 1.10 .226 .231 4.32 3.77 3.90
Select Stats FanGraphs

By almost every metric Scherzer looks to have the edge here. He’s struck out more batters, walked fewer batters and allowed fewer runs. But Scherzer has not looked like himself his last two starts and there could be cause for concern for the Dodgers if he was tiring down the stretch:

Scherzer Last Two Starts

Date Opponent IP Hits Runs ER BB HR K
Date Opponent IP Hits Runs ER BB HR K
9/23 @COL 5 6 5 5 1 1 6
9/29 SDP 5.1 11 6 5 0 2 4
FanGraphs

The Dodgers will have Julio Urías in the bullpen in case Mad Max should falter.

Wainwright, who was third in innings pitched in 2021 behind Zack Wheeler and Walker Buehler, actually put up his best numbers in August when he threw 44 innings to a 1.43 ERA. In September and October that came back to Earth a bit with 36⅔ innings with a 3.44 ERA. I’ll be keeping a close eye on both starters to see if one appears to have an immediate edge similar to last night’s AL Wild Card Game.

The bullpens

If you look at season-long stats the Dodgers appear to have the edge here, but one-game playoffs aren’t about season-long stats. They are about immediate trends and if you look at the last month the Cardinals have had the better bullpen. Below are the season-long and Sept/Oct stats for both teams’ relievers:

Dodgers and Cardinals Bullpen Comparisons

Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP
Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP
STL Sept/Oct 119.0 9.23 3.55 0.91 .257 78.00% 45.90% 10.20% 3.10 3.67 4.10
LAD Sept/Oct 111.2 9.19 3.87 0.89 .232 79.10% 46.20% 10.80% 2.66 3.91 4.24
LAD Season 608.2 9.64 3.98 0.89 0.257 73.60% 47.30% 11.40% 3.16 3.83 4.07
STL Season 584.1 8.86 4.54 0.79 0.274 72.50% 42.30% 8.80% 3.97 4.04 4.65
Season long and Sept/Oct stats FAnGraphs

The bats

The Dodgers lost one of their best hitters during the last game of the season when Max Muncy suffered a dislocated elbow during a collision at first base. They have such a deep offensive bench that you have to imagine they will be okay without him, but it’s a huge blow. Muncy put up a .249/.358/.527 slash line with a wRC+ of 140 this season. The most likely replacement at first base is Cody Bellinger, who has really struggled this season with a .165/.240/.302 slash line and a wRC+ of 48. As a reminder, wRC+ is league weighted, so that means Bellinger has been 52 percent worse than the league average hitter. A more unconventional option at first base is former Cardinals hero Albert Pujols, who has had a bit of a resurgence being back in the heart of a playoff race. Pujols has hit 12 home runs with a wRC+ of 101 for his new team.

Yesterday I put the cutoff for this section at a 130 wRC+ and that meant I talked about four guys for the Red Sox and two for the Yankees. By comparison the following Dodgers on the Wild Card Roster all have a wRC+ over 130 with the Dodgers this season: Will Smith, Corey Seagar, Mookie Betts, A.J. Pollock and Trea Turner. Justin Turner lurks just behind at 127. Even without Muncy this lineup is a force to be reckoned with. I still can’t believe the Cubs no-hit this team.

By comparison, only Tyler O’Neill and Paul Goldschmidt have a wRC+ over 130 for the season for the Cardinals. O’Neill has put up a .286/.352/.560 slash across 537 PA this season while Goldschmidt went .294/.365/.519. However, just like with the bullpen when we look closer at the last month things get more interesting. Here are the hottest qualified hitters on each team in Sept/Oct:

Dodgers and Cardinals Hottest Hitters Sept/Oct

Name G PA HR BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Name G PA HR BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Corey Seager 29 121 9 13.20% 9.90% 0.327 0.369 0.385 0.463 0.712 0.487 210
Trea Turner 29 128 8 7.80% 14.10% 0.284 0.363 0.353 0.406 0.638 0.435 177
Justin Turner 29 111 6 8.10% 14.40% 0.21 0.25 0.26 0.315 0.47 0.333 110
Tyler O'Neill 32 130 13 6.20% 30.80% 0.403 0.388 0.328 0.377 0.731 0.455 191
Harrison Bader 32 117 7 3.40% 23.90% 0.279 0.395 0.333 0.368 0.613 0.412 163
Paul Goldschmidt 30 125 9 12.80% 19.20% 0.34 0.351 0.33 0.424 0.67 0.452 189
Nolan Arenado 30 116 8 8.60% 15.50% 0.272 0.225 0.252 0.31 0.524 0.341 116
Dylan Carlson 30 110 5 7.30% 27.30% 0.222 0.364 0.293 0.339 0.515 0.356 127
Select Stats FanGraphs

You can see the complete Cardinals Wild Card roster here.

The more I look at these matchups over the last month the more even it looks. Admittedly, the Dodgers had a harder final month schedule, but often being hot at the right time is all it takes for a team to make a long postseason run. Just ask one of the most unlikely World Series Champions ever: the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals.

Poll

Who are you cheering for in the 2021 National League Wild Card Game?

This poll is closed

  • 78%
    Dodgers
    (89 votes)
  • 21%
    Cardinals
    (24 votes)
113 votes total Vote Now