Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Max Scherzer
Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Max Scherzer throws during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals Monday, Sept. 6, 2021, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)


Mike Shara

Wednesday, October 6 at 8:10 pm on FOX
St. Louis Cardinals (90-72) at Los Angeles Dodgers (106-56)
Pitching Matchup: Adam Wainwright (17-7, 3.05 ERA) vs. Max Scherzer (15-4, 2.46 ERA)

ODDS – Dodgers -225 (FanDuel)
SPREAD – Cardinals +1.5 (DraftKings)

This season’s two Wild Card games might feature the four most iconic teams in MLB history. The Red Sox and Yankees face off again in the A.L. and the National League game sees the Cardinals and Dodgers meet in the postseason for the fifth time on Wednesday night. Fitting for two such storied franchises, it will feature two pitching titans, each with over 180 career wins who have combined for over 5,000 career strikeouts.

The Dodgers are likely a little shirty about having to play in this game at all. Finishing the season with the second-best record in baseball but still having to risk losing it all in a one game playoff isn’t going to make their ownership group (or MLB execs) very happy. Mark my words: if the team from the second-biggest market with the second-best record of the regular season ends up losing this game, it will be the last time the Wild Card is only one game.

The Dodgers certainly would appear to be huge favorites here and not just because they had 15 more wins than the Cardinals in 2021. Max Scherzer may not win his fourth Cy Young Award this season, but he’ll certainly get a lot of votes. After his midseason trade to L.A. he went 7-0 with a 1.98 ERA, making him one of the best trade deadline acquisitions in baseball history. This season vs. St. Louis he was 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA with an astonishing 22 strikeouts and 1 walk in 14 innings. He has only allowed one home run to the entire current Cardinals lineup in his career. The only caveat I could come up with to give St. Louis fans a shred of hope is that Scherzer struggled down the stretch, allowing 10 earned runs in his 10.1 innings in his final two starts of the season. Hey, it’s something…

All that said, if there were a pitcher/catcher duo you could pick to oppose such Herculean odds in a one game playoff, most baseball folks would choose Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina. Wainwright is no slouch himself – four times he has finished in the top three in N.L. Cy Young voting, and he might finish among the top five again in 2021. He has a 2.89 ERA in over 100 career playoff innings and will certainly not be overwhelmed by the hype of another playoff appearance. Another noteworthy kernel: Max Muncy was injured on the final day of the regular season and will not play on Wednesday. Muncy is (was) the only current Dodger player who has hit a home run vs. Wainwright in his career. and Wainwright threw 8.1 innings for a win in his only start vs. L.A. in 2021. (Not as lopsided a matchup as you thought it would be, is it?)

The bullpen comparison appears to give the Dodgers an edge. Closer Kenley Jansen has had a resurgent season after relatively struggling in 2019 and 2020, posting a 2.22 ERA and recording 38 saves and allowing just 36 hits in 69 innings. His postseason ‘struggles’ are overstated – he has a 2.40 ERA in 56 career playoff innings. L.A. also has veterans Blake Treinen, Joe Kelly and Corey Knebel to pitch in late, high-leverage situations if needed. All three of them had ERAs under 3.00 and a WHIP under 1 this year. If the game goes long, L.A. also has David Price, Tony Gonsolin and Phil Bickford capable of throwing multiple innings.

St. Louis’ relief situation is as reliable or as experienced. Alex Reyes was their closer this year (when he wasn’t struggling) and, fared pretty well, all things considered. He recorded 29 saves and had an ERA of 3.24, though he allowed a lot of baserunners and many of those saves were…precarious. The more experienced Giovanni Gallegos saved 14 games with a better ERA and WHIP than Reyes, but he will likely be used in pressurized situations that arise before the ninth inning comes. Can the Cardinals trust a rookie closer in a big game in Dodger Stadium? Can they trust anyone other than Gallegos and Reyes? One interesting option: Jack Flaherty returned from injury recently and could be a factor in relief, but it’s clear they need Wainwright to give them some length to have a shot in this game.

With all that said, a one game playoff means the Cardinals certainly have a punchers’ chance. Any team likely has a better chance of beating L.A. in one game than in a seven-game series. They were the hottest team in baseball during the month of September and are rolling into the playoffs, with young outfielders Tyler O’Neill, Dylan Carlson and Harrison Bader all playing especially well lately. Cards infielder Tommy Edman is the only active player who’s hit a home run vs. either of the starters. I like the DODGERS to win a close one here, maybe even with the Cardinals covering the spread. Given the quality of both starting pitchers, L.A.’s dominant bullpen, the large dimensions of Dodger Stadium and not particularly warm weather being expected that evening, I will probably take the UNDER as well.

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