The Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals took two very different routes to get themselves to the 2021 MLB postseason. The Dodgers made the fatal error of playing in the hotly contested NL West, a division that boasted not one, but two teams that won more than 100 games this season. The Dodgers won 106, but the San Francisco Giants won 107. The Cardinals, on the other hand, decided to make an unbelievable push, winning 17 consecutive games in September to secure the second wild-card spot in the National League.
But in the Wild Card game, the regular season doesn’t matter. The slate is clean, the records 0-0, and all that matters is which team gets to celebrate on the diamond after nine innings.
The Dodgers were heavy favorites to repeat in 2021, after winning a ring during the shortened 2020 season. With a team as stacked as the Dodgers, with little to no turnover from last season, from April onward they played like a postseason team. Early divisional games between the Giants and San Diego Padres felt like October baseball, despite the 90-degree weather. Everyone loves taking shots at the champs, but to their credit the Dodgers showed up and showed off any chance they got.
And then the trade deadline came, and the Dodgers made a move that left no doubt in their plan to repeat as World Champions. The acquisition of Trea Turner and Max Scherzer from the Washington Nationals sent shockwaves through the league, and then sent stick shock through every front office. In order to acquire the Washington All-Stars, the Dodgers basically had to sell off their top prospects.
So far, it’s been well worth it. As if the Dodgers rotation couldn’t get any better, they added another elite ace to their stable of starters. As if the Dodgers lineup needed any more weapons, Turner has provided a hot bat and hotter feet on the basepaths. Perhaps these two might be even more valuable having recently played in a Wild Card game in 2019, the first win of the Nationals World Series run.
That’s really the only hiccup that could trip up the Dodgers. Having been on the top for so long, playing in an early elimination game is a different kind of postseason opening. If the Dodgers can get out in front early, they can coast and do what they do best: dominate. If not, they might fall prey to a lack of momentum.
The Magic House of Cards
The St. Louis Cardinals were an afterthought coming into the All-Star break, as they finished the first half with a 44-46 record. The rest of the NL Central seemed ready to pack it in and wait for next year, as the Brewers and Reds pushed onward. But that’s the thing about Cardinals… They are sneaky good.
For example, let’s take a look at their outfield. Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader, and Dylan Carlson are here to stay at Busch Stadium and that’s music to St. Louis’ ears. All of these players are under 27 years old, and all of them are dynamic players on both sides of the ball. Bader is an outstanding centerfielder with speed for days. Dylan Carlson is only 22, but shows an ability at the plate that is far beyond his years. As for Dylan Carlson, it’s best we let his NL Player of the Month for September speak for itself.
All of these guys are under the radar, sneaky nasty, and ready to blast off at any moment. That’s just one third of the Cardinals lineup and we haven’t even mentioned Paul Goldschmidt, Tommy Edman or their big offseason acquisition, former Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado.
But the real story in the Cardinals clubhouse is Adam Wainwright. The 39-year-old pitcher shouldn’t be in the Cy Young conversation, and yet here we are, as he gets set to take the ball against the Dodgers. With long-time battery mate Yadier Molina behind the dish, Wainwright is looking to bookend his career with a World Series ring. But the real question is: how long can this Cardinals Magic last?
At the end of the day, the Dodgers just have too much firepower for the Cardinals to get around. This Dodgers lineup often looks like a who’s-who of the recent All-Star rosters. Yes, Wainwright is having a career year in the twilight of a storybook career, but when magic meets muscle, it’s going to be a tough game.
That being said, the Cardinals are sneaky and may pull off some magic before this thing is over. Look for a tight game with both teams taking advantage of mistakes. But as they stack up on paper, this seems like the Dodgers have a date with the Giants in the NLDS.
Dodgers win, 5-4.
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