To the surprise of absolutely no one, the Los Angeles Dodgers are a hefty favorite to fling the Cardinals out of October. This is understandable, given LA’s 106-win season.

Can the Cardinals stage an upset and advance to the NLDS for a clash with the San Francisco Giants?

Here are three probabilities based on game simulations:

* Baseball Prospectus: St. Louis has a 30.9 percent chance to advance.

* FanGraphs: St. Louis has a 35.7% chance to survive the Dodgers and reach the next round.

* Baseball Reference: St. Louis has a 39.5% shot of playing the Giants later this week.

And here are a couple of wagering examples:

The Dodgers are -225; this means you’d have to bet $225 on LA to win $100. If you fancy a gamble on the Cardinals, they’re +188. Put $100 down, and if the Redbirds win you’d get $188 back. As for a “point” spread, the Dodgers are favored to win by 1 and ½ runs.

And then there are the informed opinions. Via The Athletic, here’s an anonymous quote from a National League player, with focus on the pitching matchup of Adam Wainwright vs. Max Scherzer:

“First of all, I believe there’s a 99 percent chance Scherzer is going to dominate and the Dodgers are going to win. But there’s still a chance that Wainwright does stupid Wainwright things and goes like eight (shutout innings). I don’t think it’s going to happen, but, man, he’s done it all year. It’s not like he just had some good starts and whenever. The second half of the year, especially Wainwright, who was unbelievable, so … Wait, no. Just no. It would be so dumb to bet against Scherzer and the Dodgers going up against that Cardinals lineup. It seems almost like a no-brainer.”

Fair enough.

And if you’re asking me to pick a winner in Wednesday’s NL coin-flip game, I’d go with the Dodgers. My reason? That would be Max Scherzer.

But I feel compelled to include a few other things:

1) October randomness. One game. Not a best of three series, not a best of five, not a best of seven. One game, and anything is possible. Not counting the 2020 postseason — played under a different format, there have been eight postseasons that had a No. 1 wild card playing the No. 2 wild card. And the No. 2 wild card won five of the eight games.

2) In recent weeks the Cardinals have played just as well, or even better, than the Dodgers. The Cardinals had a two-part season. They were mediocre through much of the campaign, then germinated over the later in the season after sprucing up their rotation, reinforcing the bullpen, and setting a maximum-strength lineup.

So when we talk about the Cardinals being a 90-win team that finished 16 games behind the Dodgers in the overall NL standings for 2021 — that’s true. Sure. No question. I decline to challenge the premise.

However, I will choose to parse the St. Louis season, only because it’s relevant. The Cardinals that played baseball from the beginning of April through the end of July are not the team that will show up at Dodger Stadium for the wild-card fracas.

If recent form means anything, the Dodgers will have to dispose of the updated and upgraded Cardinals that strengthened their performance and record over the final two months.

Let’s have a look, shall we?

Sep 7, 2021; St. Louis, Missouri, USA; St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina (4) shoves Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Albert Pujols (55) after hitting a single during the third inning at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Puetz-USA TODAY Sports

Best NL Records, Aug-Sept-Oct:

Dodgers, 43-13, .768
Giants, 42-16, .724
Cardinals, 38-20, .655.

While the Dodgers still had more success than the Cardinals over the final two-plus months, the gap had narrowed. At the end of July, the 52-52 Cardinals were 10 games worse than the 63-43 Dodgers.

On Aug. 27, Mike Shildt reset his lineup by installing Tyler O’Neill as the No. 3 hitter between Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. Earlier, Shildt had boosted the offense by sitting Paul DeJong to make Edmundo Sosa the starting shortstop.

Both moves led to a dramatic boost for the STL offense, with the Cardinals averaging 5.3 runs with a .483 slugging percentage and .808 OPS over their final 36 games.

Accordingly, here are the top records since Aug: 27:

Cardinals, 26-10
Dodgers, 25-9
Giants, 24-11.

Finally: the Dodgers came to Busch Stadium for a four-game set in early September. You’ll recall that the Dodgers won the first two games, outscoring the Cards 12-3 in the process. The Cardinals summoned a strong response and won the final final two games.

Here are the top NL records since the Dodgers won the first two games at Busch back on Sept. 6-7:

Cardinals: 21-4, .840
Dodgers: 18-5, .783
Giants: 18-5, .783

3) There is the question of momentum. There have been instances of late-season momentum carrying over into the postseason — remember the 2011 Cardinals? — but it isn’t something you can bank on. And that’s certainly true in a one-game encounter.

Besides, it’s not as if the Dodgers were loafing and loitering in the final two weeks of the regular season. This is also momentum: winning 12 of your last 14 games including seven in a row to close the schedule.

I’d suggest we’d put the momentum narrative aside. Both teams have it.

I’m not trying to claim that the Cardinals’ late rush makes them equal to the Dodgers. But here’s what I am saying: the late-season Cardinals were a more muscular version of the inferior model that played such disappointing ball for the first 100 or so games of the season.

Will that matter in a one-game playoff? Again, the randomness of a single-game competition does not lead to meaningful analysis or confident predictions.

We’ll find out.

I am, however, sure of this: if you’re a Cardinal loyalist, you want the late-season Cardinals appearing at Dodger Stadium instead of the wheezing underachiever that went 22-30 from May 30 through the end of July.

4) All of the pressure is on the Dodgers. Really, now. You win 106 games, and get bounced to the wild-card undercard because the Giants won 107 to finish first in the NL West? And your season could become burnt pie with one swing of the bat, a critical error, or a bench guy having a baseball-hero moment?

The team with the $248 million payroll that traded for future Hall of Famer Scherzer and All-Star infielder Trea Turner at the July 30 deadline could lose to the team with the $163 million payroll that traded for Jon Lester (5.02 ERA) and J.A. Happ (6.77 ERA) at the deadline?

This could turn into a very harsh exit for the Dodgers. During the post-expansion era (1961-present) only 10 teams had more regular-season wins in a season than the 2021 Dodgers. Unfortunately for LA, one of those teams was the ’21 Giants. And after being relegated to the wild-card division with their shiny but devalued .654 winning percentage the Dodgers have to make like Mike Shildt and do the ol’  scratch-n-claw!

The Cardinals weren’t supposed to be here. With 25 games remaining on the schedule, FanGraphs gave the boys a 2.8 percent likelihood of qualifying for the postseason. The Cardinals just need to relax, play ball, and have a ball.

5) Remember your win-or-disappear history. The Cardinals have been rascals in these high-stakes games that are packed with pressure. Win it, or pack up and get the hell out. Here are just a few examples from recent seasons; this isn’t intended to be a comprehensive, all-encompassing list.

— In a classic winner-take-all game, the 2011 Phillies were a formidable favorite to eliminate the Cardinals in NLDS Game 5 at Philly. No disrespect to Chris Carpenter, but widespread opinion had Roy Halladay winning that Friday-night showdown. Carpenter beat him 1-0.

— Trailing 3-2 in the 2011 World Series, the Cardinals had every reason to succumb and fall to the Rangers in a must-win Game 6 at Busch Stadium. You know what happened. And with the series locked 3-3, the Cards still had to win Game 7 to become champs. And you know what happened in that one, too.

— The 88-win Cardinals ventured into Atlanta to beat the 94-win Braves in the 2012 NL wild-card extravaganza.

— The Nationals were all set to win Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS, and this gloomy reality seemed inevitable after the home team cudgeled Adam Wainwright and the Cardinals for an early 6-0 lead. At that point the Cardinals had a win expectancy of 4%. Going into the top of the ninth inning, their win expectancy was down to 1%. Final score: Cardinals 9, Nationals 7.

— Trailing 2-1 in the best of five 2019 NLDS, the Cardinals won two edge-of-the-cliff games to upset the Braves. Game 4 at Busch Stadium was a 3-2 thriller won by the Cardinals in 10 innings. And when the must-win setting switched to Atlanta for Game 5, the Cardinals went nuts for 10 runs in the first inning and stomped the Braves 13-1.

These games don’t matter in the real-world, real-time sense. Except for catcher Yadier Molina, his battery mate Waino and bench piece Matt Carpenter — the names are different now. (That doesn’t apply as much to 2019; some cast members from the ’19 Cardinals are doing it again for the ’21 Cards.) Newer Cardinals will be on the stage Wednesday night. And they have an opportunity to add to the franchise history by winning an elimination postseason game that most observers expect them to lose. They can make some devil magic, like the old days. Or they can be the team we watched, with joy, in September.

Thanks for reading …


Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the “Bernie Show” podcast at — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.

The weekly “Seeing Red” podcast with Bernie and Will Leitch is available at

Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

* All stats used here are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.


Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.