Exploring possible NL Wild Card opponents for the Padres

Credit: USA Today Sports

Mandatory Credit: Kiel Maddox-USA TODAY Sports

The San Diego Padres clinched the fourth seed in the National League playoff picture Friday afternoon when the St Louis Cardinals lost to the Milwaukee Brewers.

As the fourth seed, they will host the fifth seed at Petco Park in the Wild Card Round beginning Wednesday. This Wild Card Round will be a three-game series with the expanded playoffs installed for the 2020 season.

With just a few days left, it is time for the Padres to start looking around at the teams they might face in the Wild Card Round.

The five seed in the current playoff format is the second-best team — record-wise — that finishes in second place in their division.

That means that the San Diego Padres, as the top second-place team, will play either the second-place team from the NL Central or the NL East. Of the two other second-place teams, the Padres will play the better second-place team, record-wise.

Here are the possible teams the Padres can face in the Wild Card Round and their strengths and weaknesses:

NL Central

St. Louis Cardinals:
Oh, the Cardinals, the ever consistent Cardinals. You never want to face the Cardinals in the postseason. They always find ways to win despite never having the most talent on paper.

The Cardinals also eliminated the Padres in their two previous playoff appearances in 2006 and 2005.

At 29-27, the Cardinals currently sit in second place in the NL Central. They own the season series tiebreaker over the Cincinnati Reds, who the Cardinals are currently tied with presently.

Offensively, this team does not jump out at you as a lineup full of sluggers. Their 226 runs scored on the year are last amongst the teams in the current NL playoff picture.

Although St. Louis is not fantastic offensively, first baseman Paul Goldschmidt is killing it in 2020. After Goldschmidt consistently put up .400 OBP seasons as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks, his first year in the midwest saw his OBP dip to .346. This year, Goldy is back and getting on base at killer .419 clip.

Goldschmidt also loves to play against the Padres, with a .945 career OPS against San Diego.

The strength of the St. Louis Cardinals is their pitching. Adam Wainwright is carrying the injured starting staff with a 3.05 ERA on the year in 59 innings. Rookie LHP Kwang Hyun Kim has also impressed with a 1.59 ERA in 34 innings pitched.

Not to mention, Jack Flaherty, a popular pre-season Cy Young award pick, is in this rotation too. His 4.91 ERA is heavily inflated from a nine-run outing. That’s a formidable starting rotation that can pose some problems against a team like the Padres, who historically have struggled with scoring early.

The bullpen of the Cardinals is also no joke. Although closer Giovanny Gallegos is struggling after returning from the injured list, several capable pitchers in the Cardinals bullpen.

Cincinnati Reds:
The Reds are surging, winning ten of their last 12 games. After being a popular pick to win their division, the Reds got out of the gates slowly, mainly in part because of their lack of offense and struggling bullpen.

Over the past offseason, the Reds added Nicholas Castellanos, Mike Moustakas, and Shogo Akiyama to an already solid lineup. With the offense’s slow start, it was only a matter of time before Cincinnati started to win. Well, the time is now, and similarly to the Washington Nationals in 2019, they are peaking at the right time.

Their starting rotation is led by Cy Young Award frontrunner Trevor Bauer and Luis Castillo, formerly a San Diego Padre for all of a week. Sonny Gray is also pitching well in 2020 but is just returning from the IL. He returned on Tuesday, and if he stays healthy, he makes for a great third option a three-game series.

The Cincinnati Reds bullpen is pitching better as of late, similar to the San Diego Padres. Deadline acquisition Archie Bradley is paying dividends with a 1.17 ERA since being traded. Raisel Iglesias, Lucas Sims, Amir Garrett, and Tejay Antone are also performing well in relief.

NL East

Miami Marlins:
The Miami Marlins are arguably the biggest surprise of the 2020 season. As the popular pick to finish last in the NL East, the Marlins find themselves over .500 and currently in second place in the division.

As of Friday night, the Marlins are locked into the second-place spot in NL East. The San Diego Padres will either face the Marlins or the second-place team from the NL central.

Their season began with a COVID-19 outbreak within the team after their first series of the season. Ever since then, the Marlins grind out victories against the tough NL and AL East. They did this despite leading the MLB in players to appear on their MLB roster.

The Marlins pitching staff is very overlooked and is amongst the league’s best despite getting almost zero credit.

Sixto Sanchez, who will likely be a finalist for NL Rookie of the Year, is possibly their ace going forward with a 3.46 ERA in 39 innings since making his major league debut. Sandy Alcantara (3.00 ERA) and Pablo Lopez (3.61 ERA) are also no joke and form a solid rotation for a potential three-game series.

Their bullpen includes six pitchers whose ERAs are all below three, including former Padres Nick Vincent (2.18) and Brad Boxberger (3.00). James Hoyt (1.29 ERA) is yet to allow a run in his last 17 appearances.

Offensively, Miguel Rojas is a standout player on the Miami Marlins. In his first six seasons in the majors, only one ended with an OPS+ over 100. In 2020, Rojas is breaking out with a .306 AVG and a .865 OPS.

Jesus Aguilar, Brian Anderson, and Garrett Cooper are also plus hitters for the Marlins.

Moral of the story: Do not sleep on the Marlins. There are enough pieces on this team to win a three-game series against a playoff team.

As it stands, the San Diego Padres are currently set to face the St. Louis Cardinals in the Wild Card Round. They lead both the Miami Marlins and the Cincinnati Reds by a half-game.

To throw in another twist, the Chicago Cubs have yet to clinch the NL Central. They are currently holding on to a three-game lead over the Cardinals, so it is unlikely that they fall out of the lead.

The Cardinals were unable to make up all of their games against the Detroit Tigers and might have to play them on Monday if they can still win the division.

It is highly probable that the San Diego Padres will not know who their first-round opponent is until after the regular season is completed on Sunday or even Monday. All they do know is that their first playoff game in 14 years will be on Wednesday, September 30.

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Dominic Stearn on Twitter
Dominic Stearn
Dominic is currently a Sophomore at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, studying Sports Journalism. He was formerly a Staff Writer for Pulse Magazine, writing about the Padres, the MLB, and the NFL. He also hosts the "Devils Talking Padres" podcast.

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Dominic Stearn on Twitter
Dominic Stearn
Dominic is currently a Sophomore at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, studying Sports Journalism. He was formerly a Staff Writer for Pulse Magazine, writing about the Padres, the MLB, and the NFL. He also hosts the "Devils Talking Padres" podcast.