This week we’re going round the horn, breaking down the MLB Wild Card games, regular season prize races and much more.
Sunday would be chaos. There was a four-way tie for the wildcard spots in the American League. There was a chance for a Game 163 between the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers for the National League West.
Instead, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees won the two AL wildcard spots. The Giants blew out the San Diego Padres, winning a franchise-record 107 games and claiming the NL West. Both results were as expected – each team led their respective races on Sunday – but it got the playoffs off to a bang.
Gerrit Cole and the Yankees against Nate Eovaldi and the Red Sox. Adam Wainwright and the Cardinals vs. Max Scherzer and the Dodgers. In winner-take-all wild card games? Oh yeah.
What do the Red Sox need to win the Wild Card game?
A rival reviewer believes that to maximize their chance of beating the Yankees and making a deep run after the season, the Red Sox should start Kyle Schwarber every game.
When the Red Sox took over Schwarber on the trade deadline, Chaim Bloom admitted it wasn’t a perfect fit. They sought his left-handed strength and would try to make it work defensively. But the experiment has largely been a failure, as the Red Sox put together a defensive first lineup and kept one of their best hitters on the bench against left-handed pitching.
Things may have changed this weekend, with Schwarber starting every game (one against a southpaw) against the Nationals, as manager Alex Cora was “looking for a big swing” for almost the entire second half of the regular season.
So instead of going with a defensive lineup and having four players (Schwarber, Alex Verdugo, JD Martinez and Bobby Dalbec) rotate for three places, expect more Schwarber to come forward. Martinez’s ankle injury could make it easier for Cora to navigate when he’s out for the wildcard game. But why did the Red Sox prioritize a slight defensive upgrade when they can dominate opponents with the long ball?
OPS with Red Sox:
Verdugo: . 777
Schwarber: .268/.389/.398 (.788 OPS).
Verdugo: .228/.269/.286 (.554 OPS).
“You play the player who produced in playoff games and the hero of the World Series. That’s why you traded for him,” the reviewer said. “He’s seventh in baseball in OPS+ and he sits on the bench every other day. “
What do the Yankees need to win the MLB Wild Card game?
At one point, the Yankees seemed poised to lose their grip on a wildcard spot. The Blue Jays would win, the Red Sox rallied to tie the Nationals before winning 7-5. The Yankees, meanwhile, tied 0-0 in the ninth inning with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Instead, the Yankees won 1-0 on an infield single by Aaron Judge to face the Red Sox at Fenway Park on Tuesday night. The winner will face the Rays, who have won 100 games and held the best record in the AL.
To get there, the Yankees will have to be better on offense. A lot better. Yes, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton have been better lately, but the offense is 19th in points scored. They are in 13th place with a .729 OPS. They rank 17th in slugging (.407) despite having two of the best home run threats at the heart of their lineup.
The Yankees will have Gerrit Cole, their ace and likely runner-up in the AL Cy Young race, on the mound against the Red Sox. But if they don’t support him running, it might not matter.
What do the Dodgers need to win the MLB Wild Card game?
The Los Angeles Dodgers have won 106 games, tied for the most in franchise history, and have arguably the best roster in baseball history. Still, they have to win a wild card game to avoid being knocked out — and it comes against the St. Louis Cardinals, one of the most popular teams in baseball.
They will start Adam Wainwright, who has a 3.05 ERA in his 40-year season. The lineup includes Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader and Dylan Carlson who have worn the Cardinals for the past two months. Their defense has a combined 78 DRS, which is ranked second in baseball according to Fielding Bible.
But the Dodgers counterattack with Max Scherzer, who has a shot at the NL Cy Young Award. Their lineup is led by three MVP players – Mookie Betts, Corey Seager and Trea Turner – and includes Justin Turner, Chris Taylor, Will Smith, AJ Pollock and Cody Bellinger.
One name not listed is Max Muncy, who injured his left elbow on Sunday. It is “highly unlikely” that he will play in the wildcard game and, if the Dodgers advance, it is unlikely that he will play in the division series. Replacing Muncy, who played as an MVP candidate, will be matchup based. Albert Pujols is an option, but he went in on Sunday with a .979 OPS against left-handers and a .500 OPS against right-handers. Matt Beaty has barely played and Cody Bellinger, who plays through rib fractures, is a valuable midfield defense option.
The Dodgers have the talent and depth to overcome Muncy’s injury. They will still enter the game as heavy favorites, but a wildcard game could go either way, especially against an up and coming Cardinals team.
Other MLB Notes:
Dodgers infielder Trea Turner should be a much more prominent name in the NL MVP discussion. Just look at his numbers this season:
- .328/.375/.536 with 28 home runs and 77 RBI.
- Leads position players in fWAR (6.8).
- Leads NL in hits (195) and total bases (319).
- Won the NL batting title.
- He is on a playoff team while the other MVP candidates (Fernando Tatis Jr., Bryce Harper and Juan Soto) are not.
“There’s so much in the profile,” said one evaluator, “it almost seems like WAR was made to analyze it properly.”
Cole, Eovaldi in 2021:
Eovaldi vs. Yankees in six starts this season: 2-2, 3.71 ERA.
Cole vs. Red Sox in four starts this season: 2-2, 4.91 ERA.
The Red Sox are 6-4 against the Yankees at Fenway Park this season, although the Yankees have won three games in a row.
Dylan Carlson for Rookie of the Year?
Since August 1, Cardinals outfielder Dylan Carlson cut: .298/.359/.503 (132 wRC+, .364 wOBA) with seven homeruns, 10 doubles and one triple while being the first rookie in AL and NL history to homer from each side of the plate *twice* in one season.
Carlson, 22, is unlikely to beat Cincinnati Reds infielder Jonathan India for the NL Rookie of the Year, but the two have racked up nearly identical numbers in nearly the same number of games this season (India: 149, Carlson 148).