The storylines in the National League Playoffs this October are like something out of a Shakespeare play: intrigue, revenge, drama. It starts with the first game of the postseason, with the Cardinals and Dodgers in the nail-biting Wild Card Game.
St. Louis first played in the NL in 1892, and they stunk for a long time. When you lose all the damn time, it’s hard to have a rivalry. The nail doesn’t have a rival with the hammer.
Brooklyn, the ancestors of the Los Angeles Dodgers, joined the NL two years before St. Louis. They were a successful team immediately, winning the pennant in their first season in the league. But it took about three decades for them to forge a bad feeling about the Cardinals.
In the 1920s, two men planted the seeds of the rivalry: Rogers Hornsby of the Cardinals and Wilbert Robinson of the Dodgers. Hornsby was player/manager of St Louis, and Robinson was the rotund manager of Brooklyn. Their personal dislike for one another filtered down to their teams, and even though the Dodgers were mediocre, their games against the Redbirds were filled with trash talk and brushback pitches.
The rivalry really heated up in the 1940s, years after Hornsby and Robinson were gone. In 1941 the Dodgers squeezed their way past the Cardinals in early September and hung on to win the pennant over second place St. Louis. The next summer, the two teams staged an epic struggle reminiscent of the 2021 NL West race: both the Cards and Dodgers won more than 100 games, but it was St. Louis with their 106 wins that edged Brooklyn by two games. In 1946, a best-of-three playoff was needed when the two clubs finished the regular season tied atop the standings. The Cardinals won in two games.
In 1985, the Cardinals and Dodgers rivalry was updated when under two fiery managers (Whitey Herzog and Tommy Lasorda), the clubs met in the NL Championship Series, won by the Redbirds in six games in large part thanks to the “Go Crazy Folks, Go Crazy” home run by Ozzie Smith to walk off Game Five. The teams met in the 2004, 2009, 2013, and 2014 postseasons, the Cardinals winning all but once. In the playoffs, the Cards have almost always had the upper hand against the Dodgers.
Wednesday’s game will be the first time the Cards and Dodgers will be playing a win-or-go-home game (for both teams).
Why The Cardinals Will Win
The Cardinals are the hottest team in baseball, having won 17 straight in September to take a firm grip on a wild card spot. They’re getting production from the middle of the lineup that includes 30-HR bats Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, and Tyler O’Neill. Pitchers Adam Wainwright and Jon Lester have drank from the fountain of youth, finding their prime form as mound veterans. Wainwright, a 17-game winner, will take the ball for the Redbirds. He last won a playoff game in 2013, and he’s never bested the Dodgers in the postseason (he’s made two starts against LA with an 0-1 record and a 1.80 ERA).
What better story than for the Cards to vanquish the mighty Dodgers, a 106-win team in the Wild Card Game? How better for the Dodgers dynasty to come to an end, if it is to die like all dynasties do?
Why The Dodgers Will Win
Max Scherzer is a better pitcher than Wainwright, a truly great pitcher who will one day give a speech in Cooperstown. He’s had a tremendous season, getting even more dominant since LA acquired him from the Nationals at the trade deadline. He was shaky his last time on the mound on Saturday, but he will be amped up to Mad Max Threat Level 10 for this game.
The Dodgers also have the home field advantage, and they have all the expectations on their shoulders. That could be suffocating for a young team, but these are the defending World Series champs. So much magic has happened in Dodger Stadium during this nine-year run of playoff baseball, that you feel like more is to come.