In an anticipated wild card matchup, the St. Louis Cardinals (#5) will take on the San Diego Padres (#4) at PetCo Park beginning on Wednesday. In order to advance, the Cardinals need to take two out of a possible three games.
The eyes of the baseball world are especially critical this season as each series bears increased significance. With just 60 games to judge what teams’ performances will be, there is at least one team likely to surprise its fans this postseason. Even the Washington Nationals were not immune to the drama of the 2019 Wild Card game and two playoff series comebacks. And they ended up winning the World Series. St. Louis is hoping they can make that same sort of impact this year.
Cardinal Outfielders vs. San Diego Pitching
Each of the matchups above brings a different element to consider when trying to predict the series’ outcome. Kim was announced as the game one starter by Mike Schildt on Monday, so it’ll be up to him to dictate the series from the first pitch. While Kim has an artificially low ERA (1.62), he’s had difficulty going very long in his starts. Confront him with two of the most exciting hitters in the National League between Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado and St. Louis fans start to sweat. What St. Louis wants from Kim is easy innings, not relying too much on strategic matchups. Getting outs is Kim’s main focus. Lasting any longer than five innings would be an added bonus. Starting out strong will be a luxury the Cardinals could desperately use, especially with their own weaker offense.
Cardinal hitters will have to face some of the toughest pitching they’ve encountered all season in San Diego. The Padres’ trifecta of Dinelson Lamet (Cy Young candidate), Zach Davies (breakout year) and Mike Clevinger (best trade deadline acquisition) is among the best to take the hill this postseason. At least, that’s what St. Louis is looking at on paper. It’s unclear whether Clevinger would be available in a third game; he missed his last regular season start with a minor elbow injury. The Cardinal outfield will certainly be on notice against Lamet and Davies, as their offensive consistency has been well-documented. At least one of the four to five rotating outfielders needs to have a good series at the plate. Without that sort of production, it remains hard to imagine a St. Louis series win.
Dinelson @LametRHP's 89 strikeouts lead the National League.
Just thought you all should know. pic.twitter.com/TISmvgWtDW
— San Diego Padres (@Padres) September 20, 2020
An under-the-radar matchup comes in a series comparison between first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and San Diego counterpart Eric Hosmer. Goldschmidt is consistently lauded as one of the best first basemen in baseball, usually at the top of the list in the National League. Hosmer won one World Series as part of the Kansas City Royals before signing with the Friars in free agency. The 30-year-old had largely disappointed in San Diego before this season, and even then he dealt with two different stints on the injured list. He was reinstated after a fracture to his index finger a week and a half ago. In other words, Hosmer is tired of hearing how many first basemen are better than him, a World Series winner, and he will show up this series with hopes of proving his detractors wrong.
Who Holds the Advantage?
San Diego holds the fourth seed for good reason. Through their trade deadline acquisitions, they’ve engineered their lineup into one of the deepest in the National League. Trent Grisham could be a bona fide star in the next two years, and Jake Cronenworth may very well win the NL Rookie of the Year. Comparing the Padres’ offense to that of the Cardinals is like spotting the difference between raisins and grapes. One’s got plenty of juice, and the other could have just enough to surprise you.
Based on matchup familiarity, there’s more evidence in the Cardinals’ favor. San Diego will likely hold three former Cardinals on their playoff roster in Tommy Pham, Greg Garcia and Trevor Rosenthal. Oh, and they have former Cardinal cult hero Skip Schumaker on their coaching staff. However, the same familiarity could be argued for Davies and Drew Pomeranz, former members of the Milwaukee Brewers. They’re also familiar with the Cardinal lineup.
Like every Cardinal playoff series in the last three years, the wild card outcome will depend on whether St. Louis can hit well enough to overcome their own futility. Pitching and defense will show up no doubt, hoping that the Cardinals can catch lightning in a bottle at least twice more this season.
It cannot go without saying that the Padres’ last playoff appearance came in 2006, on the wrong end of a division series loss to… that’s right, the Cardinals.
Sadly, that looks to be one of the only things in the Cardinals’ favor this time around. Davies should be on track to start game one and give the Cardinals lineup absolute fits trying to square up his pitches. Paul Goldschmidt will do his best to anchor the St. Louis lineup, but the pieces around him will fall just short of an improbable comeback story. Adam Wainwright seriously considers retiring after the season, and Yadier comes back to St. Louis on a one-year deal. Or fans desperately hope he does.
San Diego Padres win series 2-1. Advance to the Division Series to face the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Featured Image Courtesy of FanSided & Friarsonbase.com
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