ST. LOUIS – The win-or-go-home, one-game Wild Card rounds for the postseason are no more. A new format change in 2022 gives the St. Louis Cardinals new life after a scenario Friday that might have ended their season in previous years.
The Cardinals dropped Game 1 in a best-of-three Wild Card Series on Friday. The Philadelphia Phillies, after being held off the scoreboard for eight innings, rallied for a six-run ninth inning to secure a 6-3 win.
In nine of the previous 10 seasons, a loss like the Cardinals suffered Friday in a Wild Card seed would have eliminated them from the postseason. This year, it represents an opportunity to bounce back.
“We got to try to go out and win a ballgame just like we tried to do [Friday],” said Cardinals’ third baseman Nolan Arenado. “Hopefully we can play a complete game [Saturday] and get a win and get to Sunday.”
Unlike previous years, the Cardinals are competing in the Wild Card round after winning a division title. St. Louis finished with the third-best record among NL division leaders, and their No. 3 seed means a best-of-three showcase against the No. 6 seed while the other two division leaders (Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves) had first-round byes.
John Mozeliak, President of Baseball Operations for the Cardinals, said Thursday he is conceptually in favor of the new format. He noted the Cardinals considered some roster decisions a little differently than they might have compared to just one game or a longer postseason series.
“It’s nice that we are rewarded with [up to] three home games,” said Mozeliak. “When you play 162, you understand that demand of that, but when you get on the other end of this, and you have to set that and start a new short series, you have to turn the page blank.”
Major League Baseball tested a similar entry round in 2020 during the pandemic-shortened campaign, extending the playoff field to eight teams in the National and American leagues. In that series, the Cardinals won the first game, 7-4, against the San Diego Padres before dropping the last two, the series-decider in shutout fashion.
In the 2021 season, sandwiched between 2020 and the current campaign, the Cardinals secured a Wild Card spot back in the previous one-game format. St. Louis lost the one-game battle, 3-1, against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
After tough outcomes in both Wild Card formats semi-recently, the Cardinals have a chance at redemption.
“[We] did that one last year, we’ve done five-game series, we’ve played three-game series the whole year,” said Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. “Probably a little more similar to the regular season. [You] try to take a pitch-by-pitch, game-by-game you know. The focus is being ready to go tomorrow and try to get a W and go from there.”
Many of Goldschmidt’s teammates carry a similar mentality into Game 2.
“We take it one game at a time,” said Cardinals relief pitcher Andre Pallante. “If you think about the first game, we had all hands on deck. You’re trying to win every single game, just one game at a time.”
To keep the season alive, the path is pretty evident. Win the next two nights at Busch Stadium or the 2022 season is over.
“The next day is a new game,” said Cardinals manager Oli Marmol. “We know what’s at stake. We don’t want to go home. We’ll embrace that.”
The Cardinals play host to the Phillies again Saturday for Game 2 in the best-of-three National League Wild Card Series. A Cardinals’ victory would push the series to its longest possible length on Sunday. First pitch for Game 2 is set for 7:37 p.m. CT, and Miles Mikolas will take the mound for St. Louis.