Tue Sep 29 12:55am ET
Since nothing makes sense about 2020, it is only fitting that the San Diego Padres should be hosting the St. Louis Cardinals in the first round of the National League wild-card series.
The Padres and Cardinals came from opposite directions to finish as, respectively, the Nos. 4 and 5 seeds.
The Padres, who had not been to the postseason since 2006, got off to a strong start this season and finished with a 37-23 record -- the NL's second-best mark behind the NL West rival Los Angeles Dodgers -- to gain the advantage of playing the first round at home at Petco Park.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals (30-28) got off to a rough start, as COVID-19 protocols sidelined the club for 15 consecutive days. To reach the playoffs, the perennial postseason participants had to play 53 games in 44 days, including 11 doubleheaders.
Now, the coincidence.
This is the fourth time the Padres and Cardinals have met in the opening round of the National League playoffs, and the Cardinals eliminated the Padres in 1996, 2005 and 2006 -- winning nine of 10 games. Additionally, St. Louis is the only NL team to have ever beaten the Padres in postseason play.
The path to a matchup in San Diego was daunting, but it is a journey appreciated in St. Louis.
"I just want to pause and appreciate what just happened and what these guys accomplished," Cardinals manager Mike Schildt said Sunday after his club defeated Milwaukee to avoid a 12th doubleheader in Detroit on Monday and clinch the No. 5 seed in the eight-team NL playoff field.
"Getting through this could have been enough. But sticking to their goals of making the playoffs -- and figuring out a way to do it and find a solution is, for me, beyond impressive on a lot of levels."
One trait the Padres and Cardinals share is resolve.
The Padres entered the 2020 season with the third-longest active streak of not reaching the playoffs -- 13 seasons. And they were in the same division as the Dodgers, who entered the season coming off a seventh straight division crown.
"Before this season, we came to focus on one objective as a team," Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "Make the playoffs ... and go from there."
Or as shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. so eloquently said, "We want to eat the cake."
Both teams face questions.
The Cardinals' offense has struggled this season. St. Louis hit just .234 with a mere 51 home runs, fewest in the majors.
As for the Padres, they were uncertain about the availability of their top two starting pitchers with less than 48 hours to go until the Wednesday afternoon opener of the best-of-three first round.
The Padres hope right-hander Dinelson Lamet will start Game 1. He went 3-1 in the regular season with a 2.09 ERA that ranked third in the league. However, Lamet departed his Friday start after 3 2/3 innings complaining of tightness in his biceps -- although he has thrown twice on the side since with no reported discomfort.
Meanwhile, Mike Clevinger, who received a cortisone shot Friday to address an impingement behind his right elbow, might not be available for the first round.
If Lamet can't go, the Padres' options are struggling right-hander Chris Paddack (4-5, 4.73 ERA), right-hander Zach Davies (7-4, 2.73 after pitching one inning Saturday) or a bullpen start kicked off by right-hander Garrett Richards (2-2, 4.03).
Meanwhile, Schildt announced Monday that left-hander Kwang Hyung Kim would get the call in the opener over Jack Flaherty. The Padres will be facing Kim for the first time, although they attempted to acquire him from South Korea in 2018. He went 3-0 this season with a 1.62 ERA and 1.03 WHIP with 24 strikeouts in 39 innings. He has allowed only 28 hits.
One reason why Kim might get the call Wednesday is the fact that the Padres have more problems against left-handers (.761 OPS compared to .815 against righties). Overall, however, the Padres have much stronger offensive numbers than the Cardinals.
Left fielder Tyler O'Neill (.173, 19 RBIs) and designated hitter Brad Miller (.232, 25 RBIs) led the Cardinals with seven homers apiece. First baseman Paul Goldschmidt hit .304 with six homers and 21 RBIs.
Tatis finished second in the National League with 17 homers. San Diego third baseman Manny Machado finished with 16 and right fielder Wil Myers had 15. Machado finished third in the NL with 47 RBIs while Tatis was fourth with 45 and Myers tied for ninth with 40.
As a team, the Padres hit .257 with a .333 on-base percentage and a .798 OPS that bettered the Cardinals by 104 points.
But this is a new chapter to 2020 -- and the Cardinals aren't intimidated.
"The reason we were surviving the day was to get to the next day ... but this group was all-in for this," Shildt said.
--Field Level Media