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Cardinals look ahead to Wild Card opponent

This story was excerpted from John Denton’s Cardinals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ST. LOUIS — Between the numerous tearful goodbyes, standing ovations and the oh-my-goodness-Albert-Pujols-just-homered-again moments of the past weekend when countless fans jammed inside of Busch Stadium over three games to wish Yadier Molina and Pujols farewell — the Cardinals managed to squeeze in a bit of thought of which foe they would prefer to face in the upcoming Wild Card Series.

st. Louis won the NL Central for the first time since 2019, but it will still be playing in the next weekend’s first-round playoff series under the rules of the new MLB playoff format. As the No. 3 seed in the NL, the Cardinals will host all three games of that series, but the opponent is still unknown. And it could stay that way until Wednesday’s regular-season finale.

The Cardinals will host either the Phillies, Brewers or Padres, three teams that have seemingly tried to outdo one another down the stretch in terms of futility. The Phillies, who went into Sunday with a 78.2 percent chance of making the playoffs according to various computer models, lost 10 of 13 games between Sept. 15 and Sept. 29.

Incredibly, the Phillies stayed in the hunt because the Brewers have been nearly as inept. Milwaukee hobbled into Sunday having dropped seven of its past 12 games with three of those losses coming against the rebuilding Reds and the makeshift Marlins.

The Padres got to the doorstep of locking up their playoff spot last week but dropped four of five games in recent days against the coasting Dodgers and the eliminated White Sox before clinching a spot on Sunday.

As for the Cardinals, opinions vary on which opponent would pose the better challenge in the best-of-three Wild Card Series. The Cardinals won the season series, 10-9, over the Brewers, but they dropped four of seven meetings against the Phillies. As for the Padres, the Cardinals swept them at Busch, but dropped two of three in San Diego two weeks ago.

For most of the season, when the Cardinals trailed the Brewers in the standings, they resented the notion that they were even on par with Milwaukee. It wasn’t until early August — when they caught and passed the Brewers in the standings and ran away with the division — did their feelings of superiority ring true. However, facing Milwaukee in a three-game series could be daunting, especially if the Brewers have Corbin Burnes (12-8, 2.98 ERA) and Brandon Woodruff (13-4, 3.05 ERA) available. Both pitchers were 2-1 versus the Cardinals this season, with Burnes having a 32-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio and Woodruff holding St. Louis hitters to a .185 batting average.

As for the Phillies, they took two of three from the Cardinals in Philadelphia and split a four-game series at Busch Stadium in mid-July. Two of the Cardinals’ wins came when they hit four straight home runs in Philly and when Pujols homered late in a July 10th victory. Philadelphia also has a solid one-two punch it can throw at the Cardinals in Zack Wheeler (12-7) and Aaron Nola (10-13). In two starts against the Cardinals, Wheeler was 2-0 with no earned runs allowed in 14 innings. Blake Snell and Mike Clevinger baffled the Cardinals two weeks ago in San Diego and they could also be formidable in the playoffs.

Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol has said repeatedly that the opponent matters very little to his deep and versatile roster.

“I don’t care. I really don’t,” Marmol said. “I feel good about it, regardless of who we see. Whether it’s these guys [Brewers], Philly or San Diego. We’ll put our best offense out there, we’ll match up with them and we’ll take our shot. … We’ve got the depth [for a three-game series] and we feel good about our ‘pen. We feel good about the matchups on the left side and the right side. When you look at it, I feel like we have pretty good answers for just about anybody.”

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