2021 MLB wild card preview

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Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi throws in the outfield at the American League Wild Card Workout Day at Fenway Park, Monday, Oct. 4, 2021, before Tuesday’s American League Wild Card game against the New York Yankees in Boston. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

After a thrilling regular season with the most fun breathed back into Major League Baseball in quite a while (thank you, Shohei Ohtani), the MLB postseason has finally arrived. Beginning Tuesday, the American League Wild Card game will kick off the start of the postseason, followed by the National League Wild Card game on Wednesday. Both games will carry heavy stakes, with a winner-takes-all format, meaning only two of the four teams that play in the Wild Card games will advance. That being said, let’s look a little deeper into this week’s matchups: 

American League Wild Card (NYY vs. BOS) 

Man, it was fun to see the Toronto Blue Jays and the Seattle Mariners fight till the very end to try and punch their ticket into the AL Wild Card game. Alas, the stars crossed, and as fate had it, the New York Yankees will take on the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park in Boston on Tuesday. 

Coming into the regular season, many predicted the Yankees would finish as the champions of the American League East entering October. However, plagued by inconsistency, injuries and COVID-19 struggles, the Yankees were a middling team in the AL East by the trade deadline.  

Following multiple additions at the trade deadline, most notably Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo, the Yankees won 13 consecutive games in August to gain ground in the postseason hunt. Ironically, despite their trade deadline acquisitions, the Yankees were led into the playoffs by homegrown star Aaron Judge and former National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton, who enter the postseason among the best lineup duos in all of MLB. 

After finishing in last place in the AL East during the COVID-shortened 2020 MLB season, the Red Sox were not expected to make the jump back into the postseason in 2021. Many were ready to write Boston off after getting swept by the lowly Baltimore Orioles at the start of the season. However by the end of July, it was the Red Sox who were in control of the AL East led by Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and J.D. Martinez. Despite losing their division lead to the Tampa Bay Rays, Boston, fighting their own struggles with inconsistency and COVID-19, managed to stay relevant in the postseason hunt.  

On Tuesday, New York will send their ace and perennial all-star Gerrit Cole, to the mound to take on Red Sox starter, and former Yankee, Nathan Eovaldi, who rebounded from a poor 2020 showing to have a strong 2021 campaign. Cole, one of the favorites to win the American League Cy Young Award, has faltered as of late, posting an ERA above 7.50 in his final three starts of regular season play.  

Likewise, Eovaldi allowed seven earned runs in just 2.2 innings the last time he faced the Yankees, but finished his regular season on a high note with a strong showing against the Orioles last Wednesday. Both pitchers have experience pitching in high-leverage games, and both offenses have the firepower to stay neck-and-neck with each other. Expect a hard-fought battle to take place in Boston on Tuesday. First pitch is scheduled for 8:10 p.m. ET. 

National League Wild Card (STL vs. LAD) 

Following the matchup on Tuesday, the NL Wild Card is set to get underway the following Wednesday at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, where the Los Angeles Dodgers are set to host the St. Louis Cardinals. 

For most of 2021, the second NL wild card spot was a battle between two teams: the San Diego Padres and the Cincinnati Reds. Both teams had the star power to claim a spot in the postseason, but down the stretch it was the Cardinals, riding a historic 16-game winning streak, who overtook both teams and cemented themselves as a playoff contender.  

The Cardinals came into 2021 knowing what to expect offensively from veterans Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt, but the contributions of youngsters Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson were a pleasant surprise to help form a formidable St. Louis offense. On the defensive side of the ball, the Cardinals are led by renowned defensive wizard Yadier Molina, with Gold Glove candidates Arenado, Goldschmidt and Harrison Bader putting together one of the best fielding units in all of MLB. 

Meanwhile, the Dodgers, favored by many to win the NL West division title, put together a historic 2021 campaign. Unfortunately for them, the San Francisco Giants finished the regular season just one game better than the Dodgers, meaning Los Angeles will become the best wild card team ever in terms of regular season record. The Dodgers came into 2021 with the same supporting cast that won them the 2020 World Series, headlined by Mookie Betts, Walker Buehler, Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Max Muncy and Julio Urías. Then, in 2021, they decided to add to their core, acquiring both shortstop Trea Turner and starting pitcher Max Scherzer at the trade deadline, putting together perhaps the most talented roster in MLB history. Despite a late-season injury to starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers have more than enough pitching talent to remain competitive with the trio of Scherzer, Bueler and Urías, all of whom recorded outstanding seasons this year. 

On Wednesday, it will be Adam Wainwright on the bump for the Cardinals against the Dodgers’ Scherzer. Wainwright, the 40-year-old ageless wonder, put together his best regular season since 2014 this year, and has recorded an impressive 2.89 earned run average over 28 playoff appearances in his long career. He’ll be tasked with matching the performance of Scherzer, who finished at least top four among all National League starters in ERA, wins, strikeouts, WHIP and opponent batting average during the regular season. The Dodgers may have more talent, but no team finished 2021 hotter than the Cardinals. First pitch is scheduled for 8:10 p.m. ET on Wednesday. 

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