An in-depth look at who snags the two National League Wild Card spotsby Prime Time Sports Talk September 12, 2019 0 comments
Entering the final month of the season, the National League Wild Card race is still between six teams. The Nationals, Cubs, Phillies, Diamondbacks, Brewers, and Mets are all still in contention of a playoff spot. Let’s look at each team’s chances to make a run in September and play into October.
All stats are as of September 8, 2019.
The Washington Nationals started their year off slow. The Nationals started their first two months of baseball going 24-33. The offense wasn’t producing and the bullpen was losing leads when they had them. Ever since June 1, however, the Nationals have been one of the best teams in all of baseball. The Nationals since then have a record of 55-30. They are now nine games back from the first-place Atlanta Braves. They also have a three-game advantage over the Chicago Cubs for the first Wild Card Spot.
The Nationals’ schedule the rest of the way is no walk in the park, however. They will play the Phillies five times and the Braves, Cardinals, Indians, Twins, and Marlins three times each. The Indians and Phillies are both playoff contenders sitting just outside of the last Wild Card spot in their respective leagues, while the Cardinals and Twins are in first in their division but not by much. With a five-game series against the Phillies at the end of the year, nothing is written in stone yet.
The Nationals have what it takes to make yet another NLDS appearance if they can get to the Wild Card game. With Max Scherzer on the mound, the offense producing, and a healthy bullpen, the Nationals can win the Wild Card game. It is just a matter of getting there.
The Chicago Cubs have had an up and down season. They currently have the second Wild Card spot and have a one-and-a-half-game lead over the team behind them, the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Cubs were active at the trade deadline this season, bolstering their outfield with the addition of Nick Castellanos. Since joining the Cubs, Castellanos is batting .338/.366/.690 with 13 home runs in 35 games. Castellanos has rejuvenated the Cubs’ offense. Alongside Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo, and Kris Bryant, the offense isn’t what would hold the Cubs out of playoffs.
The pitching for the Cubs has been as inconsistent as it can get. Before the All-Star break, Jose Quintana and Yu Darvish both had an ERA over 4.00, while Cole Hamels, Jon Lester, and Kyle Hendricks had ERAs under 4.00. Since the All-Star break, Yu Darvish’s ERA is at 2.69, Jose Quintana’s is at 3.67 and Kyle Hendricks’s is at 3.22. However, Jon Lester and Cole Hamels both own an ERA above 5.00.
The bullpen hasn’t been great for the Cubs, either. Other than the signing of Craig Kimbrel, this bullpen has poor. With a combined WAR of 1.4, the Cubs’ bullpen ranks 19th in the league.
With one month left, the Cubs will play the Cardinals seven times, the Pirates six times, the Padres four times, and the Reds three times. Games against struggling teams like the Reds, Pirates, and Padres will become must-win series for the Cubs while the games against Brewers and Cardinals could become playoff atmosphere like games. The Cubs are only four-and-a-half games behind the Cardinals for first in the division. The last series of the year for the Cubs will be in St. Louis for three games with a possible division title on the line.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have quietly stuck around in the National League Wild Card race. They are sitting only one-and-a-half games behind the Cubs for the second spot. Arizona is playing meaningful baseball in September which not many people saw coming.
After trading away star pitcher Zack Greinke, it seemed that the Diamondbacks were giving up on the season. The Diamondbacks haven’t had a shot at a division title since the beginning of the season, and that streak will continue for the rest of the year, as the Dodgers have secured the top spot in the NL West. But they still have a shot at the Wild Card. With the acquisitions of pitchers Zac Gallen and Mike Leake, the Diamondbacks have filled the void of Greinke for the meantime. What has this team still in contention is their offense. Arizona ranks in the top 10 teams in all of Major League Baseball in runs scored (737) and 11th in batting average (.257).
The Diamondbacks have been sticking around and aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. They will play the Padres six times, Mets four times, and the Reds, Marlins, and Cardinals three times each. This is a favorable remaining schedule for the Diamondbacks. Games against the Marlins, Padres, and Reds are must-win series. With an easier schedule than the Cubs to close out the year, the Diamondbacks have a legit shot at a playoff appearance.
You can’t write off the Milwaukee Brewers quite yet. After a great 2018 season, being one win away from the World Series, the Brewers see themselves two games out of a playoff spot. The Brewers made minor moves at the trade deadline, which in hindsight may not have been the direction to go. Adding pitchers Jordan Lyles, Drew Pomeranz, and Jake Faria, the Brewers addressed their biggest weakness.
The Brewers have been incredibly average this year. When on the road, however, they have been much worse. They currently have a record of 31-37 on the road while their home record is 43-31. The one thing the Brewers have been doing well is winning close games. In games decided by one run, they are 23-15. In order for the Brewers to make the playoffs, they must win those kinds of games.
The remaining schedule for the Brewers is favorable to them. They will play the Marlins and Padres four times and the Cardinals, Pirates, Reds, and Rockies three times each. After taking five of seven from the Cubs, the Brewers have closed in on the second Wild Card spot. If their home and away record is any indication of their play, the Brewers have their work cut out for them. 13 of their final 20 games will be on the road, including a crucial three-game series with the Cardinals. Milwaukee and Arizona will be neck-and-neck with the Cubs for the final spot.
The Philadelphia Phillies started off the year as one of the biggest letdowns in the league. The Phillies had a huge offseason with the additions of Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, and Andrew McCutchen. With these additions, they were projected to give the Braves a run at the top of the NL East. They currently are 14 games out of first place but only two games out of a Wild Card spot.
The biggest issue for the Phillies this year has been their pitching. They rank 18th in the league in ERA with a 4.60 and 22nd in opponent batting average at .263. At the trade deadline, they didn’t do much to bolster their starting rotation. They traded for Jason Vargas (4.01 ERA with the Mets) at the deadline. However, his ERA since joining the Phillies is at 4.91 in 38.1 innings pitched. With Jake Arrieta out for the rest of the season, the Phillies are now down another starting pitcher. If the Phillies have any shot at the Wild Card, the offense must lead the way.
The Phillies have a rough stretch at the end of September. They will take on the Braves seven times, the Nationals five times, the Indians and Marlins three times, and the Red Sox twice. 11 of the Phillies’ last 14 games are on the road being in Atlanta, Cleveland, and Washington. It’s not looking good for the Phillies who are 33-37 on the road this season being down two games.
New York Mets:
After the All-Star break, the New York Mets were the hottest team in baseball. Shortly after, they were hit with a reality check. The Mets entered the second half of the season 10 games under .500 and looking already out of playoff contention. The Mets started the second half going 12-4 for the remainder of July. Up until August 22, their second-half record was 27-9, making their overall record 67-60. Making a case as a legitimate playoff contender, the Mets went on to get swept in two straight crucial series by the Braves and Cubs. Since August 22, the Mets are 5-10 and now sit with a 72-70 record with 20 games left.
The Mets’ pitching was their biggest question mark this year. Jacob DeGrom was up and down for being Jacob DeGrom. Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler both had ERA’s over 4.00, and Edwin Diaz had an ERA over 5.00. The bullpen was exploding at the end of games, the starters weren’t performing well, and the team was losing games left and right. Maybe all it took was rookie Pete Alonso to win the Home Run Derby to get this team in the right direction.
Pete Alonso has been the life of this team as he is going for the rookie home run record (52). The offense behind the likes of Alonso, Jeff McNeil, Michael Conforto, and J.D. Davis has been on fire, especially in the second half. The Mets are sixth in the National League in runs scored since the All-Star break and are batting a collective .264. The offense has to carry the load the rest of the way if the Mets will make the playoffs.
The Mets’ remaining schedule does them no favors. They will take on the Diamondbacks and Marlins four times and the Rockies, Dodgers, Reds, and Braves three times each. The Mets have an outside chance of making the playoffs with the remaining schedule they have and currently sit four games out. It will take a lot for them to get back to October baseball.