As each day passes, the Wild Card and Division races gain a little more clarity. Following the Dodgers-Cardinals 4-game match-up this weekend, there will be even more clarity. Hopefully, that comes in the form the Cardinals putting Los Angeles firmly in their rearview mirror. While this is likely a week or so premature, I thought it would be a fun exercise to start comparing the different aspects of the contenders as we move into the final weeks. This is the first installment of this series, focusing on the Wild Card game.
The Cardinals have benefited from extreme depth in their rotation all season. Typically, in the playoffs, depth doesn’t play as well as a top heavy rotation with a stud at #1. This is even more true in the 1-game Wild Card play-in. Luckily, in addition to their depth, the Cardinals feature Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas in their top 2 spots. While they may not be top-tier starting pitchers, they are very good and the team can comfortably deploy them against any team’s best pitcher.
We also have to consider that we won’t be facing Scherzer, deGrom, Nola, or Bumgarner (and probably not Kershaw or Grienke) — the class of the NL starting ranks — in a play-in game. This lowers the standard of the #1 and probably puts the Cardinals top two right in line with everyone else, regardless of which one gets the nod.
So, let’s look.
As it stands, the Cubs, Brewers, Cardinals, Rockies, Dodgers, and Diamondbacks are all in play for the Wild Card game, though the Dodgers and Diamondbacks are closer to the NL West lead than they are to the Cardinals and the 2nd Wild Card.
Currently, we know that the Cardinals have aligned their pitching to allow an option on Game 162. If the division is on the line, or a playoff spot is contested, Flaherty will pitch that game. Otherwise, he would be tabbed for the Wild Card showdown. That’s who we will use in this exercise.
The Cubs rotation lines up to put Jon Lester in the game. The Brewers are an interesting case, but I believe they would skip Chacin in the final weekend to get him in the game. The Dodgers would no doubt rearrange to get Kershaw, the Diamondbacks would probably do the same with Grienke, and the Rockies with Freeland.
Let me start by saying, the pitching matchups with the NL West teams aren’t fun. The good (or bad) news is that if one of the NL West teams are in the Wild Card game, the Cardinals likely aren’t. So don’t lose too much sleep over facing Kershaw in a do-or-die situation. As good as Flaherty has been, I think the Dodgers and D’Backs would both have the advantage. The Rockies are probably a wash in a Flaherty/Freeland pairing. It would certainly help if that game was in St. Louis, for our pitchers’ benefit.
Of the likelier match-ups, Lester has been hit-and-miss all season. He also left his previous start with a back issue, but he is the Cubs’ “guy” and he has stifled the Cardinals before. However, Matt Carpenter’s epic game occurred in a Lester start. I just don’t know how to call this one. The Cardinals have handled the Cubs well this year and Flaherty has a 0.90 ERA and opponent average of .121 against them in 10 innings (2 starts) this season. I like the Cardinals chance. If Hamels ends up in this game, I’m not quite as confident.
The Cardinals have blasted Chacin in the past — a 6.10 ERA in 51.2 IP against them — but then got shut down by him in his most recent start in St. Louis. I side with the career numbers, and considering Flaherty has been stellar against Milwaukee this season — 1.00 ERA in 3 starts, 29 K’s in 18 innings — I think the Cardinals have the favorable match-up.
None of these situations are particularly one-sided, but I believe that the Brewers are the best match-up for the Cardinals in a Wild Card game.
The bottom line is, Jack Flaherty has emerged a pitcher than can line up with anyone in the league and give the Cardinals a legitimate chance to win. That’s all you can ask for in the Wild Card game.
Thanks for reading!
Come back tomorrow as I run down the more complicated scenarios for the potential LDS showdowns.