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Chris Taylor hits walk-off homer to carry Dodgers to the NLDS

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The 106-win Dodgers will play the 107-win Giants in the NLDS.

Wild Card Round - St. Louis Cardinals v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

It wasn’t easy, but the Dodgers beat the St. Louis Cardinals 3-1 with a walk-off homer from Chris Taylor.

You often see win expectancy charts that resemble sine waves with leads moving back and forth, taking huge swings. But there's a simple elegance in the chart that just never moves until the very end.

FanGraphs

Whichever team lost would have several moments they could point to where if things had gone differently, the game and the season’s course would have dramatically changed. For the Cardinals, they’re going to be looking at Alex Reyes hanging a slider to Chris Taylor definitely, but they’re also going to be looking at TJ McFarland walking a 48 wRC+ and then Yadier Molina not getting a grip on the ball when he tries to steal. They’re going to look at Tyler O’Neill striking out against Joe Kelly with two on and one out in the fifth. They’re going to be looking at Adam Wainwright batting for himself in the sixth. Any individual moment happening a little bit differently could have reversed the Cardinals’ fortunes. That it was this close is both heartening and infuriating. The Dodgers were beatable, and the Cardinals couldn’t do it.


In the first inning, St. Louis scraped a run across after Tommy Edman hit a bloop single, stole second, and advanced to third on a sac fly to right. Meanwhile, Scherzer walked Goldschmidt, and the Cardinals had runners at the corners with nobody out. Scherzer tried to throw a slider but spiked it into the dirt. Will Smith had set up on one knee to better frame the pitch, so he was in a terrible position to block the ball. Edman scored easily on the wild pitch, and Goldschmidt advanced to second. St. Louis threatened to get more when Dylan Carlson reached on a Corey Seager error, but Scherzer managed to get out of the jam.

Scherzer never looked at his best, but that run in the first was the only damage he gave up. His slider lacked sharpness, and the fastball slid out of the strike zone more often than not. Scherzer walked three, hit a batter, and got to six total three-ball counts. He left after 4 13 innings with two runners on, but Joe Kelly got Nolan Arenado and Dylan Carlson to keep the Cardinals off the board.

While the offense struggled, the bullpen kept the Dodgers in the game. Joe Kelly relieved Scherzer to put down a rally, and then Brusdar Graterol, Corey Knebel, Blake Treinen, and Kenley Jansen carried the Dodgers through the rest of the way.

Adam Wainwright looked sharp in the early going, but his command left him in the third inning. He walked Cody Bellinger, got to a three-ball count against a hitless Max Scherzer who was trying to bunt, gave up a single to Mookie Betts, and walked Corey Seager to load the bases. That brought up Trea Turner but curiously didn’t appear to bring anyone up in the Cardinals bullpen. (It’s possible someone was warming, and TBS just didn’t show it.)

Wainwright got to another three-ball count against Trea Turner, who hit two grand slams in the last week of the season. Somehow, he got Turner to swing at a high curveball off the plate, and the fastest active runner in baseball got doubled up to end the threat.

Wainwright wasn’t so lucky in the fourth. Waino hung a curveball to former Met Justin Turner, but Turner didn’t watch it. He smashed it 401 feet for a solo homer to tie the game 1-1.

Wainwright pitched well enough that Mike Shildt allowed him to hit in the sixth with a runner on and two outs. Shildt allowed his starter to face two more batters before he yanked him for Luis García. Shildt allowing Wainwright to hit with a runner on when he later pulled him at the first sign of trouble shows either a complete lack of planning or distrust in his bullpen. That he allowed García to go 1 23 innings suggests it was the former.

With Wainwright out of the game, the Dodgers worked themselves out of another rally in the sixth by expanding the zone. AJ Pollock came to the plate with two on and two out and swung at several pitches out of the zone ultimately hitting a soft roller in front of the plate and ending the threat.

The Dodgers offense, which hit a billion home runs in the final week of the season, simply didn’t look the same. That’s not to take anything away from the Cardinals pitching staff, but Wainwright looked vulnerable and Shildt put García into a tough spot. The difference between the 2020 and 2021 Dodgers is that this year’s version isn’t as deep. With Max Muncy hurt and Cody Bellinger trapped in a wizard’s cube, Los Angeles isn’t the invulnerable force they once were. They’re still an incredible team, no doubt. The Dodgers won 106 games, and they’re arguably the best team in the majors. But they’re not perfect. They were far from perfect Wednesday night.

They still won.

Now, the Dodgers and Giants are set to face each other in a playoff series for the first time ever. The Dodgers won 106 games. The Giants won 107. There’s some other baseball happening this month, but this is the World Series. Hold onto your butts.