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Handicapping the NL Wild Card Picture

Entering the final month of the regular season, there are 4 teams vying for the 2 Wild Card spots that will get them to the playoffs.

Well, not really. Just the one game do or die play in game where you have to pitch your ace to get to face the best team in the NL. Other than that, I guess you can brag to the other 20 teams that you made it to the playoffs.

These teams happen to be a good mix with every team being very experienced at familiar with being in contention at this time of year. Going into Sunday (9/14), Pittsburgh and San Francisco hold the 2 wild card slots. Milwaukee has lost control of the NL Central lead and now find themselves in a Wild Card fight. Behind San Francisco, 4 games up, is Pittsburgh who has really fought to get back in the lead. The Brewers find themselves 1.5 GB while the Braves have fallen back to 3 GB. These are all teams that still have a legit shot at making the Postseason which should make the final few weeks very exciting considering every team seems to have their own flaws.

Milwaukee:

Photo via dailycaller.com
Photo via dailycaller.com

The Brewers have been leading the NL Central for most of the year, but a recent slide have them tied with the Cardinals for tops in the Central. They are 4-9 in the month of September and they are really scuffling lately. They have had trouble in every phase of the game and just haven’t been able to right ship at all yet in the month.

The pitching for the Brewers hasn’t been all that fantastic and that could come back to hurt them down the stretch. With the 17th best ERA in the majors, the Brewers need to get their offense going to be able to get some wins. Lately, that has been an issue and that is one of the biggest reasons why they haven’t been playing their best baseball.

If the Brewers can some how get hot again, they should have no issue getting into the playoffs one way or another. They have been in a huge slide so if they don’t turn it around, they’ll be sitting at home come October.

St. Louis:

The Cardinals find themselves in a very comfortable position right now. They lead the NL Central by 3.5 games and have been playing good baseball of late. If they keep this up, they should be in position for another NL Central crown.

The pitching isn’t what we normally see from a Cardinals ball club, but that shouldn’t be the biggest concern especially with Adam Wainwright as the ace. Thus far, St. Louis owns a 3.63 ERA, which isn’t great, but should be good enough because Michael Wacha returns to the rotation Thursday vs. the Brewers.

The flaw that this team needs to get turned around is their offense. The Cardinals are next to last in the NL in runs scored, but do own the 5th best average in the NL at .254. The big question is if they can score enough runs to balance out the pitching that hasn’t always been there all season.

The Cardinals strength of schedule shouldn’t be that difficult the rest of the way, but they still need to take care of business against teams that they should beat. They have jumped Milwaukee and things are starting to click in St. Louis as the Cardinals are starting to get hot at the right time.

San Francisco

San Francisco at the moment is playing some great baseball as they have won 7 of their last 10. They hold the NL Wild Card lead at the moment and don’t look like they’re going to give it up. They’ve had an interesting season. They started off being one of the best teams in baseball but after a bit of a slide in May and June, they find themselves in a fight for a Wild Card spot.

Just like the ballpark they play in, the Giants are focused on there pitching staff. They have a solid pitching staff and they rank in the top 10 in the NL in ERA, BAA, and WHIP. If the pitching can keep on their current trend, they should be in good shape going forward. Playing at AT&T Park can only help the Giants because it is very friendly to pitching.

Just like many of the other teams vying for the last Wild Card spot, the Giants’ offense hasn’t been there the whole time. They’ve been inconsistent aside from Hunter Pence and Buster Posey who have spearheaded the offense. Ranking in the bottom half of the MLB in runs scored, BA, and OBP isn’t necessarily what you want from a team trying to make the playoffs.

The Giants schedule in the final month of the season isn’t too friendly. They play the Dodgers 5 more times  which could be very telling to see where this ball club is at. They will have to stay afloat in those games and win the ones they’re supposed to win against losing ball clubs like the Padres, D’backs, and Rockies. It’ll be a tough road, but if the offense finds a spark, they might have an outside chance to jump the Dodgers for the NL West lead.

Atlanta:

The Braves have been an interesting team to follow this year. They were in a dogfight at the top of the NL East with the Nationals for most of the first half, but an 8 game losing streak at the beginning of August has put them in a spot where they need to make up ground.

They have lost 5 of their last 6 and have fallen behind in the wild card race. They need to get hot or they’ll be at home in October.

Coming up in the rest of September, the Braves play some very important games with the Pirates, Nationals, and Marlins. For the Braves to find themselves in the playoffs come October, they’re going to have to get hot because I don’t know if they have enough pitching to carry them to the playoffs. The offense is there with Gattis, Heyward, Upton, and Freeman, but as we have seen in the past, pitching seems to trump hitting at this time of year. We’ll have to see what gives in the final month.

Pittsburgh:

The Pirates are at it again. After a fun ride last year, they find themselves knocking on the door of the Postseason again. They are holding on the the 2nd wild card spot at the moment, and with the way they swing the bat, the Buccos aren’t going to go down without a fight.

What may hold them back is the injury to MVP Andrew McCutchen. After losing 8 in a row in August, they seem to have found themselves again and they are starting to regain their confidence and are playing good ball. What may help this team down the road is that only 3 of the 9 remaining series left on their schedule are against teams with a winning record. With Gerrit Cole just returning from the DL, the rotation gets a much-needed boost. When October rolls around, don’t be surprised to see the Pirates back in the playoffs.

Predictions

When it comes down to it, I see the Pirates and Giants ultimately meeting in the Wild Card game with the Giants advancing through. With the Pirates and Giants playing some good baseball lately and the Brewers and Braves in huge skids, the Pirates find themselves in a great position to make some noise. The Braves might have something to say about that in the 4 game series that matches Pittsburgh and Atlanta that could decide the final Wild Card spot.

This time of year it all comes down to strength of schedule and who can take advantage of it.

This race will sure be a fun ride to the end because there are so many different scenarios that could play out. It is so close that I wouldn’t be surprised to see a tiebreaker game like we saw in the AL last season.

There is no time of year like September and the race for the Postseason.

Josh Eastern View All

Seattle sports fan and MLB writer for International Sports Hub

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