The 106-win Los Angeles Dodgers welcome the St Louis Cardinals to Dodger Stadium for the National League wild card game.
The one-game, winner-take-all format requires teams to move fast and be extremely sharp right when first pitch time comes. The great tragedy or poetry, depending on which side you’re standing on, is that the current scenario doesn’t allow any room for error. The Dodgers get one game to do what it is expected out of them, and baseball can be a box of surprises.
With all of that in mind, let’s have a deep look at their opponent. We’ll take this time to analyze the Cardinals offense, what Max Scherzer and company should expect to face come Wednesday.
As far as the lineup is concerned, there aren’t many possible surprises. You may hear some suggesting a decision to be made between Edmundo Sosa and Paul DeJong at shortstop, but the former handily outperformed the latter and shouldn’t be benched over DeJong’s experience against Scherzer (16 plate appearances, fourth-most on St. Louis, hitting .267/.313/.333).
Lineups haven’t yet been announced, but the Dodgers should get something along these lines:
Tommy Edman 2B
Paul Goldschmidt 1B
Tyler O’Neill LF
Nolan Arenado 3B
Dylan Carlson RF
Yadier Molina C
Edmundo Sosa SS
Harrison Bader CF
A few familiar faces in there, along with a couple of former NL West foes anchoring the lineup, along with breakout star Tyler O’Neill.
To begin telling the story of the 2021 Cardinals you must first acknowledge that it is a tale of two seasons, especially when it comes to their offense.
A tale of two Cardinals seasons
|before All-Star break||44-46||1.04||0.150||.230/.301/.379||86|
|after All-Star break||46-26||1.44||0.190||.261/.328/.451||111|
Even if you’ve braced yourself for the contrast, it’s still staggering.
A combination of great defense and timely hitting. That little subtitle is how I would describe the St Louis Cardinals to someone who hasn’t seen them this year.
Don’t get me wrong, this lineup has some thumpers in it and one could make a case that at least for the 2021 season, the outfield trio of Dylan Carlson, Harrison Bader and O’Neill was the most underrated in all of baseball. But there isn’t a single player in the batting order that’s a bat-first choice that doesn’t carry value elsewhere.
Goldschmidt, Arenado, O’Neill and all through the lineup you can find great to good hitting stats but every single player increases his total value by bringing something to the table on the base paths and/or on defense.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at the top teams by FanGraphs WAR from position players.
Highest MLB team WAR, by position players
The Cardinals feel a little bit like intruders in there with a team wRC+ that should place the team in a different tier — the only one of the top nine teams with a below-average wRC+ — but WAR isn’t just about hitting. The Cardinals are really elevated by both defense (their 60.5 defensive runs the third-best in MLB) and baserunning (at 11.7 baserunning runs, fourth-best).
You could point to the lack of a NL team around them and how the DH affects the team wRC+, inflating the AL numbers, but the San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds, with a 97 and 98 team wRC+ respectively, are well behind St. Louis when it comes to WAR, at 18.8 and 20.
Alerting for caution at this point feels like stating the obvious, but for countless reasons the Dodgers can by no means take the Cardinals lightly.