After 17-game winning streak, Cards take on Dodgers in one-game showdown
The Los Angeles Dodgers won 16 more games than the St. Louis Cardinals this year. But the Cards can knock out the defending World Series champions with a win Wednesday night in California.
The teams will meet at Dodger Stadium for the winner-take-all wild-card game. The first pitch is scheduled for 7:10 CDT.
It’s another in a long line of postseason appearances for the Cardinals, and writer Rob Rains has watched many of those games. He covered the Cardinals for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat before the newspaper shut down in the 1980s.
The Missouri Sports Hall of Fame and St. Louis Media Hall of Fame member now runs STLSportsPage.com.
He spoke with St. Louis Public Radio’s Wayne Pratt about the Cardinals' chances against the Dodgers and their regular season, which included a franchise-record 17-game winning streak.
Wayne Pratt: How do you begin to put the regular season and record winning streak into perspective?
Rob Rains: Well, you almost have to separate the two. I think that the overall regular-season performance was probably a team that underachieved a little bit. I think they had a lot of injuries. Obviously losing [pitcher Jack] Flaherty for as much time as they did had a big impact on them. But I think the way that they played in September is kind of the way you expect them to play in October, assuming they can get past the Dodgers in that playoff game. I think you have to kind of look at the team that they have right now is the team that played in September and the team that won those 17 games in a row.
Pratt: What did you find most impressive about those 17 games?
Rains: I think it was the fact that they won the games in a lot of different ways. They won games when they hit a lot of home runs. They won games with crazy double plays or great defense. They won games with small ball and speed. They won a game in Chicago where they scored two runs in the ninth inning and didn't hit the ball past the pitcher's mound.
The other thing about it is they didn't beat themselves. It's a very good defensive club, probably the best defensive club in baseball. They do all the little things right. That can win you ballgames. So especially going into a playoff game, and then maybe potentially more playoff games, where defense is at a premium, where runs are at a premium. That says something good about their chances to win, because I don't think they'll beat themselves.
Pratt: I want to stick with the streak for just one more question. How does it stack up to other accomplishments by Cardinals teams in the past?
Rains: It's hard to say. I mean, obviously, it's the longest winning streak in franchise history. So that says something when no other Cardinal team ever, in 130 years, whatever, had won more than 14 games in a row. That's something that I think you'll maybe never see again. Or who knows when you will. The longest streak in baseball since 1935 in the National League, that's an accomplishment. I think it's not like a team that won 104, 105 games in the regular season that some of those teams did 15 years ago or so.
So two things, I don't know that we'll be able to put the historical perspective on that streak until we see what happens during the postseason. Obviously winning those 17 games in a row put them into the playoffs. So now let's see what happens in the playoffs. If they don't go very far in the playoffs, then I think you'll just remember that streak as a great streak but really didn't have any real significance on a postseason run. We remember Cardinal teams by winning World Series championships. And I think that's the goal of this club right down, and we’ll see what happens.
Pratt: The Dodgers won 106 games in the regular season. The Cardinals won 90. One hundred-and-six is an impressive number. How do you size up the Cardinals' chances when they're playing the Dodgers?
Rains: It’s one game. I don't think 90 wins versus 106 wins matters. I think it's one game. The last time that the two faced each other here in September right before that streak started, they went 2-2. The Dodgers won the first two games, Cardinals won the next two. So I don't think the regular season records really have anything to do with it.
From a Dodgers perspective, it's frustrating for them to have a season like that and not win the division and not know that you're gonna go past one game into the playoffs. But that's just the way the rules were set up this year, and I think something that probably will change going forward. But I think the Cardinals like their chances of beating them in one game, maybe better than they would in a best-of-five series.
Pratt: How do you like that one-game scenario?
Rains: I kinda look at it as Game 7 of a World Series. I like the drama of a one-game showdown. It's probably not fair to the two teams that got there. You know, the Cardinals could have this great run and go to L.A. and get beat and never have a postseason game at home this year. So that's a possibility that could happen. But from a purely baseball fan standpoint, the drama of a one-game thing, you know, can't be beat.
Pratt: What does your gut tell you? Or do you make gut predictions on these kinds of things?
Rains: I don't think you can do it on one game. I just think there's too many things that could happen in one game: a passed ball, a wild pitch, an error by the shortstop, a hanging curveball that goes into the bleachers. There's too many things that can happen. You got two really good teams. It wouldn't surprise me if the Cardinals win, wouldn't surprise me if the Dodgers win. I will be surprised if it's not a close game.