2020 NL wild card series preview: Cardinals vs. Padres

If you are a baseball history buff, this series might bring back some long-forgotten memories once shelved in the back bin. 

The San Diego Padres and St. Louis Cardinals, for the fourth time in their franchises’ history, will face off in a postseason series against each other. 

The Cardinals, in their three postseason bouts against the Friars (1996, 2005 and 2006), are a combined 9-1 against them. The last time the Friars were in the postseason, they lost in three games and four in 2005 and 2006, respectively, against them. The playoff history is certainly there, even if it took a decade-plus hiatus. 

Regardless, a new playoff season brings different rosters to the fold. Despite the discrepancy between the two teams, they both possess the same goal – win the series and, after running the remainder of the playoff gauntlet, hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy for the world to see. 

Postseason baseball for both St. Louis and San Diego, however, has been a sight for sore eyes. St. Louis, despite their illustrious postseason history, missed the postseason entirely in three of their previous four seasons before the current season. During their one season where they did make the playoffs (2019), they were promptly swept in four games against the eventual World Series-winning Washington Nationals. The Friars, as previously stated, are going postseason dancing for the first time since 2006. 

After a lengthy rebuild, San Diego’s internal talent and external additions to the roster finally paid off exponentially. Aside from their division rival in the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego finished with the best winning percentage in the National League (.617). Their 37-23 record was good enough for third best in the entire sport. The Cardinals, meanwhile, skirted into the postseason with a gritty but good enough record of 30-28. 

Both teams head into postseason play with drastically different rosters. The Padres, despite not being known for high-octane lineups over the past decade-plus, slugged their way to possessing one of the better lineups in all of baseball. Their team on-base plus slugging (OPS) of .798 ranked fourth in all of baseball, while their 325 runs scored was third. To supplement the likes of Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado (who had a .937 and .950 OPS during the regular season, respectively), bounce back campaigns from Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers, in addition to the stellar rookie campaign of Jake Cronenworth, helped give the Friars a plethora of options when needing production in the batter’s box. 

While Paul Goldschmidt put together Goldschmidt-like production (he had a .883 OPS during the regular season), the Cardinals relied on steady pitching to win games. Despite the loss of Miles Mikolas and Dakota Hudson to injuries, the collective pitching staff grinded to a 3.90 ERA during the regular season, which ranked ninth in all of baseball. Their 229 runs conceded was tied for fourth (Tampa Bay). Should St. Louis vie for postseason success longtime baseball fans are used to seeing, they will need to rely on solid production from their starting core, led by right-handed ace Jack Flaherty and veteran Adam Wainwright. 

Luckily for San Diego, they too bring a deep pitching staff, led by the likes of Chris Paddack, Dinelson Lamet and trade deadline acquisition Mike Clevinger. However, while Paddack is slated to start game one of the best-of-three playoff series, the latter two are dealing with injury issues and might be questionable no matter if they take the mound or not. 

While St. Louis brings the pedigree, San Diego brings the depth, no matter the lineup, pitching staff or bench. Although injury issues might plague their high-profile starters, San Diego’s stellar lineup, coupled with their still-potent starting staff and extremely lethal bullpen, led by Drew Pomeranz, will be able to take advantage of St. Louis’s roster. 

Baseball historians might raise their eyebrows at this one, but San Diego, despite their storied postseason troubles against the Cardinals, will be able to come out victorious when it is all said and done. 

Prediction: San Diego in three

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