NATIONAL LEAGUE WILD-CARD GAME
DODGERS vs. ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Wednesday, Dodger Stadium, 5:10 p.m., TBS
Pitching matchup: Dodgers right-hander Max Scherzer (15-4, 2.46 ERA) vs. Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright (17-7, 3.05 ERA).
What’s at stake: Winner advances to the best-of-five NL Division Series against the San Francisco Giants. Loser is eliminated.
How they got here: The Dodgers (106-56) clinched a playoff spot Sept. 14 and tied a franchise record for wins with a torrid 43-13 record since Aug. 1, but their eight-year reign as NL West champions ended when they fell one game short of the 107-win Giants. The Cardinals (90-72) reeled off a franchise-record 17 straight victories from Sept. 11 to Sept. 28 and clinched the second wild-card berth Sept. 28.
Season series: Dodgers 4-3. The Dodgers won two of three games at Chavez Ravine from May 31 to June 2, outscoring the Cardinals 25-10. St. Louis won the second game of that series 3-2, scoring the winning run off Dodgers setup man Blake Treinen in the ninth inning. The teams split a four-game set in St. Louis from Sept. 6 to Sept. 9. Scherzer took advantage of the shadows of a 3 p.m. CDT Labor Day start by giving up one unearned run and six hits while striking out 13 and walking none in eight innings of a 5-1 win in the opener. Wainwright gave up four earned runs and seven hits, struck out four and walked none in 8 1/3 innings of a 5-4 win in the third game.
CARDINALS AVG OPS HR RBIs
2B Tommy Edman .262 .695 11 56
1B Paul Goldschmidt .294 .879 31 99
LF Tyler O’Neill .286 .912 34 80
3B Nolan Arenado .255 .807 34 105
RF Dylan Carlson .266 .780 18 65
C Yadier Molina .252 .667 11 66
SS Edmundo Sosa .271 .735 6 27
CF Harrison Bader .267 .785 16 50
RHP Adam Wainwright .123 .325 0 4
DODGERS AVG OPS HR RBIs
RF Mookie Betts .264 .854 23 58
SS Corey Seager .306 .915 16 57
2B Trea Turner .328 .911 28 77
3B Justin Turner .278 .832 27 87
C Will Smith .258 .860 25 76
LF AJ Pollock .297 .892 21 69
1B Cody Bellinger .165 .542 10 36
CF Chris Taylor .254 .782 20 73
RHP Max Scherzer .000 .000 0 0
Key players: The starting pitchers are almost always a key to playoff success, but that is especially true of Scherzer, who must rebound from his last two regular-season starts, in which he was roughed up for 10 earned runs and 17 hits, including three homers, in 10 1/3 innings against Colorado and San Diego. Scherzer was almost untouchable in his first nine starts after his July 30 trade from Washington, going 7-0 with a 0.78 ERA, striking out 79 and walking seven in 58 innings and holding opponents to a .150 batting average (31 for 206) and .404 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Speedy Cardinals leadoff man Tommy Edman, who stole 30 bases this season, needs to get on base in front of the big boppers in the middle of the lineup. Switch-hitter Dylan Carlson could play an important role after hitting .301 with an .867 OPS, seven homers and 22 RBIs in 47 games since Aug. 1 and becoming the first rookie to homer from each side of the plate twice in a season.
Key matchup: Scherzer against the heart of the Cardinals’ order. The three-time Cy Young Award winner has held Goldschmidt to a .156 batting average (five for 32) with no homers, no RBIs and 16 strikeouts, Arenado to a .200 average (two for 10) with no homers, no RBIs and five strikeouts, and O’Neill hitless in three at-bats with two strikeouts. If he can neutralize the three sluggers, the rest of the lineup shouldn’t pose as much of a threat.
Dodgers win if: They take what Wainwright gives them and don’t overswing in an effort to hit home runs. Yes, the Dodgers slugged 19 homers in their last five regular-season games, including a pair of grand slams by Trea Turner, but the 40-year-old Wainwright is a cagey veteran with an array of 74-mph curveballs, 85-mph cut fastballs and well-placed 89-mph fastballs that can counteract a launch-angle-happy team such as the Dodgers, who will be diminished by the loss of one of their best left-handed sluggers, Max Muncy, to an elbow injury. As powerful as the Dodgers are, they are at their offensive best when they take their walks, string singles and doubles together, and advance runners with productive outs.
Cardinals win if: If Wainwright repeats his performance against the Dodgers from early September, the offense scratches a few runs across against Scherzer and they play their usual air-tight defense. Only five teams in baseball allowed more contact than the Cardinals this season, and one pitching staff generated fewer swings and misses — 52-win Arizona. The reason the Cardinals can absorb so much contact is they have a major league-high 41 runs prevented, according to Baseball Savant, and have a combined 21 Gold Glove Awards among them. “I don’t think I’ve played on a team that’s this talented defensively,” Wainwright said. “Our outfield is the fastest. They cover the most ground, get great jumps and good reads. We have Gold Glovers everywhere on the infield. Our defense is special.”