NL Wild Card Series 2022: Phillies vs. Cardinals Storylines and Preview
The Philadelphia Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals have some of the best power hitters in Major League Baseball, but their National League wild-card series could come down to terrific pitching.
Philadelphia is set to put forward Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola in the first two games at Busch Stadium, while St. Louis could take advantage of one specific flaw in the Phillies offense.
The Phillies are making their first appearance in the postseason since 2011, but they do not lack postseason experience on their roster. Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber played in the playoffs with their previous teams, and that should provide some stability to the lineup.
St. Louis is led by Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and a reinvigorated Albert Pujols—who could be playing in his last postseason—as well as Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina.
The Cardinals' trio of soon-to-be-retired stars may not feature in starring roles, but they could come up with one or two memorable moments, especially if the series is tight because of the strong starting pitching.
Phillies Hold Edge in Starting Pitching
The Phillies could ride Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola to a two-game sweep in St. Louis.
Wheeler and Nola are better than any duo St. Louis could put together, and neither pitcher should be fazed by the road environment inside Busch Stadium.
Wheeler conceded more than three earned runs in three starts dating back to the start of July. Nola has not given up an earned run in three of his last five appearances.
Nola delivered a statement on Monday when he pitched 6.2 scoreless innings against the Houston Astros in Philadelphia's wild-card-clinching victory.
Wheeler hurled 14 scoreless frames against the Cardinals in two meetings back in July. St. Louis managed just nine hits in those two games.
Nola struck out seven batters in seven innings versus the NL Central winner on July 11, but he gave up five earned runs on seven hits.
St. Louis has a better chance of hitting off Nola than Wheeler, but when Nola is at his best, he can be one of the top starters in the game.
The same statement can't be made about any of the Cardinals starters at the moment. Miles Mikolas, Jordan Montgomery and others can go five or six innings, but they do not have the power on the mound that Wheeler and Nola possess.
Philadelphia's best-case scenario is a 2-0 sweep with little stress on its bullpen, but if it gets to a Game 3, it could struggle with its other starters on the mound.
St. Louis' Trade Deadline Acquisitions Could Be Vital
St. Louis made a pair of shrewd moves at the trade deadline to land José Quintana and Jordan Montgomery.
Quintana and Montgomery should compete for spots in the starting rotation against the Phillies.
Quintana let up either one or zero earned runs in all of his six September starts. He threw 5.2 shutout innings against the Phillies in his last start with the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 29.
Montgomery started his time with the Cardinals by allowing one earned run over four starts. He has been more hittable lately, but he could either be a Game 3 starter, or a vital cog out of the bullpen.
St. Louis' rotation is the most in question of the eight teams participating in the wild-card round.
Miles Mikolas and Adam Wainwright may also be in contention for starts. Mikolas may end up as the Game 1 starter, but that has yet to be determined.
No matter what St. Louis' rotation order looks like, it will have at least one of Quintana and Montgomery in it, and they may be the reason why the Cardinals advance to face the Atlanta Braves.
Last Ride For St. Louis Trio
Albert Pujols, Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina could be playing in their last postseason series.
All three players are set to retire at the end of the season, but only one of them is likely to play a starring role against Philadelphia.
Pujols' second-half power surge got him over the 700 home run mark, and it could make him a dangerous hitter behind Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado.
Goldschmidt and Arenado are still the biggest threats in the St. Louis lineup, but Pujols could deliver one more magic moment to help St. Louis win a game or two at Busch Stadium.
Wainwright's role is yet to be determined. He could start or work out of the bullpen in a bridge role to the late-inning pitchers.
Wainwright could be more useful in the bullpen because the Cardinals may not have Ryan Helsley at full strength. Helsley suffered a jammed finger against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday. He should be fine, but if it affects him, St. Louis may turn to other bullpen options.
Wainwright has previous experience working out of the bullpen, and he could be better off in a one-inning role than giving the Cardinals four or five frames.
Molina's impact will be on the defensive end if he catches one of the games against Philadelphia.
St. Louis should have extra motivation to make a deep postseason run for the three players, and their careers could last at least one more round.
Statistics obtained from MLB.com.