Dodgers looking for detailed performance from Max Scherzer in wild-card game
It was a moment of levity rooted in seriousness. Major League Baseball clubs wage information wars for every game. Data points are treated as state secrets. And no game is more important, more down to the gritty details than an elimination contest.
So, no, Adam Wainwright, the St. Louis Cardinals pitcher tasked to silence the Dodgers’ offense in Wednesday night’s National League wild-card game at Dodger Stadium, wasn’t going to answer whether he will glean anything from his dominant start against them Sept. 8. He wasn’t going to say whether that outing in St. Louis, back when the Dodgers were fighting for the NL West title and the Cardinals were playoff afterthoughts, will affect his game plan or approach. He wasn’t going to say anything.
“Those guys over there, they listen to these things,” Wainwright said Tuesday with a smile. “I’m just going to throw fastballs right down the middle.”
The Dodgers would love a few of those. A few mistakes from the 40-year-old Wainwright would help them avoid having their season end in a few hours, making their successful regular season moot. The Dodgers won 106 of their 162 games, matching a franchise record. But they still didn’t win the NL West for the first time since 2012, relegating them to a do-or-die scenario.
“There’s no crying in baseball,” said Max Scherzer, the Dodgers’ starter Wednesday. “We’re in second place. We’re in the wild-card game.”
Scherzer, the Dodgers’ hired ace, will start opposite the resurgent Wainwright, a career-long Cardinal who produced a 3.05 earned-run average across 32 starts in his 16th season with the club.
The Dodgers acquired Scherzer from the Washington Nationals only because Trevor Bauer was accused of sexual assault and put on paid administrative leave. Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman surveyed his club and the landscape and decided his team needed a front-line starter to repeat at World Series champions. Adding Trea Turner, perhaps the Dodgers’ best position player entering the postseason, rendered the exchange midseason theft.
Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy will probably miss the postseason because of an arm injury he suffered on Sunday. He won’t need surgery.
The 37-year-old Scherzer was the best pitcher in the majors in his first nine starts as a Dodger. At one point, he went 38 innings without yielding an earned run. He vaulted to the front of the NL Cy Young Award race. But his last two turns — against the Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres — were ugly. The right-hander gave up five runs in each of the starts and 10 over 10 1/3 innings, hiking his season ERA from 2.08 to 2.46.
“I wasn’t locating with all my pitches,” Scherzer said. “When I’m off with a couple pitches, then it just opens up holes in my game to where, when I do make mistakes, they get burnt.”
Despite the struggles, the Dodgers didn’t waver from their plan to have Scherzer start either a possible tiebreaking Game 163 for the division title against the San Francisco Giants on Monday or Wednesday’s wild-card game.
The division wasn’t decided until Sunday, so Scherzer couldn’t turn his attention to Wednesday until after the Giants beat the San Diego Padres to claim the crown. He said he threw off a mound Monday “to keep my feel” before attending the Chargers’ win over the Las Vegas Raiders at SoFi Stadium.
It will be Scherzer’s second wild-card game start in three seasons; he gave up three runs over five innings for the Nationals against the Milwaukee Brewers in 2019. The Nationals went on to win the World Series, toppling the Dodgers in the NL Division Series in five games along the way.
“You’re always on pins and needles in those situations,” Scherzer said. “And you’ve just got to be calm, cool and collected and go out there and execute and go out there and just pitch your best and pitch your game.”
Behind Scherzer, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Julio Urías will be an option out of the bullpen. Urías, a 20-game winner this season, last pitched Saturday. Walker Buehler will not be on the Dodgers’ roster for a relief appearance, according to Roberts. The club will save him for a potential Game 1 of the NLDS against the Giants on Friday.
On the other side, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said Jack Flaherty, limited to 78 1/3 innings this season because of shoulder and oblique injuries, will be available as a reliever. Flaherty, a Studio City Harvard-Westlake High product, has pitched in three games since coming off the injured list Sept. 24. After giving up two runs in one-third of an inning in his return, he tossed two scoreless one-inning relief outings.
“We’re confident that he feels good and his stuff looks crisp,” Shildt said. “That’s important. As far as how he’ll be used, it will be in the bullpen and it will be fluid.”
Cardinals pitchers, collectively a soft-throwing group that gave up the sixth-most contact in the majors this season and relies on the best defense in the majors, will face a lineup that suffered a major blow when Max Muncy injured his left elbow in Sunday’s season finale against the Brewers.
Muncy said he dislocated his elbow on the play at first base and it popped back in to place when he was on the ground. Muncy said examinations showed ligament damage but surgery isn’t necessary. While the Dodgers hold out hope that he can return later in the postseason, the chances are slim.
“He’s the cornerstone of our offense,” Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner said. “The at-bat quality we’re certainly going to miss, but we still have a pretty dynamic lineup and I think the best way to look at it is an opportunity for someone else to step up and take it.”
Without him, the Dodgers have Cody Bellinger, Matt Beaty and Albert Pujols as options for first base. Roberts said the team is considering all three players but indicated that Bellinger’s plus defense in center field is valuable for Scherzer, who qualifies as a fly-ball pitcher. Starting Bellinger in center field would likely leave AJ Pollock or Chris Taylor in left field and Gavin Lux, who transitioned from infield to outfield last month, on the bench to start.
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“Gavin’s done a lot of good things as far as versatility, [specifically] the offense,” Roberts said. “The truth of the matter is he hasn’t played a whole lot of outfield.”
Beaty would give the Dodgers another left-handed hitter to replace Muncy. Pujols is a right-hander hitter whom the Dodgers have deployed almost exclusively against left-handers, but the veteran started against Wainwright last month in St. Louis and went 0 for 3.
Wainwright pitched into the ninth inning that night at Busch Stadium, flummoxing the Dodgers with his pitch-to-soft-contact command before he was finally chased. Two days earlier, Scherzer held the Cardinals to one unearned run and struck out 13 over eight innings.
A repeat performance from either veteran and their team likely lives on to see another day. The stakes can’t get any higher. It’s win or go home, and every detail, every edge matters.
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