With less than two weeks remaining in the Major League Baseball regular season, the postseason picture is starting to come into better focus. At the same time, while division leaders like the Cubs, Nationals, and Dodgers have a firm grip on their playoff spots, the two Wild Card positions are up for grabs between three teams. Let’s look at how all the potential playoff teams are setting up as October draws near.
1. Cubs (96-55, previously #1)
The Cubs have put together one of the more impressive seasons in recent history. I can’t remember a team with the depth of starting pitching that the Cubs have, coupled with the dominant bats of MVP candidates Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. They have whittled their magic number for home field advantage throughout the playoffs down to 3.
Chicago is well-positioned to be the favorite to get to the World Series. When you can put 3 pitchers who are likely to finish in the top-5 voting for the Cy Young Award, you make it very difficult on opposing lineups. Runs are always at a premium in October, and it’s hard to see teams scoring much off these Cubs starters.
2. Nationals (88-63, previously #2)
I was one who expected the Stephen Strasburg injury to heavily impact the Nationals final month of the season in a negative way. While the team hasn’t entirely tanked the last 12 games without their young ace, Washington has seen a drop in play, going 6-6 since Strasburg went on the DL.
Their average play has the Mets still eyeing them with an outside (very very very outside) shot at winning the East. In addition, the Dodgers sit 3 back of the Nationals, as those two position themselves for what looks to be an ALDS matchup when the playoffs begin.
3. Dodgers (85-66, previously #3)
The Dodgers have not only put serious ground in between themselves and the second place Giants, but they have closed to within 3 games of the Nationals. But the Dodgers will still need to figure out a way to consistently put runs on the board in the postseason. Los Angeles has a run differential of plus-78, which ranks last of the three division leaders in the NL and puts them fifth out of the six division leaders in MLB only ahead of the Rangers.
4. Mets (80-71, previously #5)
The Mets — perhaps by default — look to be the team most ready to hold onto one of these two Wild Card spots. Despite injuries to the pitching staff and an offense that cannot manufacture runs, the Mets are more alive now than they have been at any other point in this baseball season.
Statistically, it’s hard to make a case for the Mets offense — last in doubles, bottom three in runs scored and RBI, and bottom third in OPS. New York’s run differential is a measly plus-21. But the Mets are in the thick of the race because of their pitching — third in saves, second in ERA, and fifth in WHIP– and their ability to hit the long ball — second only behind the Cardinals. In addition, the Mets seem like the only team in the Wild Card race that isn’t trying to sabotage it’s chances of playing in October.
5. Cardinals (80-71, previously #6)
All season I’ve waited for the Cardinals to either snap out of the haze they seem to be in and start winning more consistently or fall back and out of the playoff picture. Strangely, neither has happened. St. Louis continues to struggle at Busch Stadium — they are the only team in baseball with a losing record at home despite an overall winning record; they have no dominant ace; their pitching ranks middle of the pack, statistically, in the National League in every single pitching category; and they don’t hit for average.
However, the Cards have generated the third most runs in the NL, are second in OPS, third in slugging, and lead the way in home runs. It’s a risky way to play baseball, but it’s worked well enough for St. Louis this year. Will it be enough to get them into the postseason? Maybe — because the Giants seem to be trying everything they can to be sitting at home in October.
6. Giants (80-71, previously #4)
The upcoming games the Giants need to win the most are the ones they have against the Dodgers. Ahh, let me re-phrase that — the Giants need to win any game they can get their hands on. Simple enough.
San Francisco doesn’t have much going for them right now — and they haven’t since the All Star Break. A 23-38 record is the worst in all of baseball since the Midsummer Classic. The offense has gone into hibernation, the starting pitching has been inconsistent, and the bullpen has become unreliable. None of which are positive signs when you’re fighting for your playoff life.
Now, they could be without right-hander Johnny Cueto for an unknown period of time after he suffered a groin strain in Tuesday night’s 2-0 shutout against L.A. Groin injuries are typically a very tricky injury to diagnose severity and the impact it will have on the player — just ask Jordan Zimmerman. Cueto’s postseason availability could very much be in jeopardy. He will undergo an MRI Wednesday.
Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.