Who are the Wild Card teams in the 2021 playoffs?
After a September full of twists and turns, how do the four teams competing in the two 2021 Wild Card Games stack up for this week's deciding matches?
While the National League Wild Card Game has been a more or less known entity for the last few weeks of the regular season, the American League chase has been an on-again, off-again affair. On the west coast, the Dodgers finished so far ahead of the rest of the pack, with 16 games in hand over their St Louis opponents, that they are being touted by many, including this writer, as the likely eventual World Series champions. Cincinnati and the Phillies slipped into their wake as surely as August faded into fall, finishing seven and eight games back respectively. But while the golden California sun was shining setting on the 2021 season, back on the east coast there was a real scrap going on. Three great powerhouses, the Yankees, the Red Sox and the Blue Jays were in a fight for their post-season lives. These three cities kept the pressure on each other right until the final weekend of the season, with Toronto finally succumbing to drop the second spot to New York. None of these teams could ever pull a punch either with Seattle and Oakland hot on their heels with only days to go.
The American League Wild Card Game
Boston has the home-field advantage and the Yankees will head into Fenway needing to upend the season advantage that Boston holds, having won 10 out of the 19 games between the two sides this year. It won’t be an easy task, though. The last time the Yankees and Red Sox faced each other in the post season was in the 2018 ALDS when Boston swept them in four. This time it is all or nothing and the Yankees are starting Cy Young hopeful Gerrit Cole after he was moved in the rotation to start in the event of a tie-breaker being necessary or, failing that, the Wild Card Game. It may not be enough. Cole’s fastball has lacked life and there are persistent rumours that he may be nursing a hamstring injury. He pitched well enough in three-and-a-half innings against Toronto and will be coming off five days’ rest. He says that he is feeling good and I guess we have to take him at his word.
The Sox will likely start Nathan Eovaldi, and this is a pretty safe bet with them. They haven’t messed with the rotation to get him there so all of their rotation pitchers are as rested as you might reasonably hope for. Eovaldi has a good mix of pitches in his bag and no health worries to keep him from trying any of them. Boston can also rely on an eclectic group of relievers out of their bullpen, including Tanner Houck who threw five perfect innings on 53 pitches on Saturday. But whoever Red Sox manager Alex Cora decides to go with, this game is almost sure to be a pitcher’s battle, as both teams have their big bats eerily quiet for this time of the year. Xander Bogaerts has struggled to produce of late for Boston and Yankees mid-season signing Joey Gallo has gone ice-cold in the number five spot.
The National League Wild Card Game
If the American League Wild Card Game is likely to be a pitcher’s contest, the National League game is almost guaranteed to be one. The deepest and most talented bullpen in baseball this season has been the phenomenal one in Elysian Park. Like the Yankees in the AL, the Dodgers will also likely start a Cy Young hopeful, the difference being that their man has already won it three times. Max Scherzer has been named as the likely starter for this game and he has a serious post season pedigree, having won the 2019 World Series with the Washington Nationals.
St Louis have announced that they will start Adam Wainwright and with Dodgers power-hitter Max Muncy possibly out of the lineup after a collision at first base during Sunday’s game with Milwaukee, LA might have early trouble making headway against him. But the Dodgers are the better team from soup to nuts and the depth in hitting will give them lasting power at the plate. The quality of the LA bullpen will see off a tough challenge, and Dodger Stadium will be the pitcher’s ground that it is renowned to be. True Blue Heaven indeed.
AL Wild Card Game first pitch Tuesday, October 5th at 8:08pm ET
NL Wild Card Game first pitch Wednesday, October 6th at 8:10pm ET