Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Wacky NL Wild Card

The AL Wild Cards are starting to see separation. The A's, Orioles and the Yankees are slowly pulling away from the Rays, Angels and Tigers/White Sox. Too early to call those four teams as out (especially Tampa), but the beginnings of the AL playoff picture are taking shape. Despite being swept, the Braves still hold a commanding lead on their spot in the NL Wild Card. Unless they are to repeat last year's collapse, Atlanta will see October baseball in Chipper's last year. The Rangers appear secure in getting to the playoffs, while the Reds and Nationals are all but certain to win their divisions (with the Giants very close to being able to say that same thing).

That just leaves the NL's 2nd Wild Card, which has a battle between three teams who seem to have no desire to win it (Cardinals, Pirates and Dodgers) and two teams furiously charging for that spot (Phillies and Brewers). What amazing about the Phillies and Brewers is that both teams were sellers at the trade deadline with the Brewers trading away Zack Greinke and the Phillies unloading Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino. After reaching their low point of 54-66 on August 19th, Milwaukee has gone 18-5 to put themselves three games behind the Cardinals for that second Wild Card. The Phillies you can look at from when they made their trades.  On the morning of July 31st, Philadelphia was 47-59; since then, they've been 25-12, including a seven game winning streak as of now. Meanwhile, the Pirates since August 6th have gone 10-24, yet still only trail by 2.5 games. The Dodgers have been streaky all year; now coming back to the pack since August 19th with a 7-14 record. As for the Cards, they have won four of their last eleven.

So how good a chance do the Phillies and Brewers have. Well, the Phillies get to play the Astros and Mets in back-to-back series and many games with a Nats team who's likely in the playoffs by then and might be setting up for the playoffs. The Brewers also have series' with the Mets and Astros and a final one with the Pirates, who they've absolutely owned in the second half this year. The series that could be telling is this upcoming four game set between the Cards and the Dodgers. If one of them wins decisively, perhaps that's a springboard to a playoff berth. Especially if it's the Cardinals, who play their next nine games against the Cubs and Astros (though we saw the Pirates get swept at home by the Cubs, so it's no gimme). As for the Pirates, if there's any fight left in them (as well as a realization that they have played so bad for so long and still are right there for the wild card), the 14 games against the Cubs, Brewers, Astros and Mets will be the test for this young Pittsburgh team.

86 wins should clinch that second wild card, that's the goal everyone should be playing toward. Will the Phillies finish this comeback? Will the Brewers? Will the Cardinals beginning playing in September like they did last year, which took them to a World Series? Will all the big moves the Dodgers have made this year (Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett) finally translate to wins and a return to the playoffs? And will the Pirates be able to exercise the ghosts of Francisco Cabrera and Sid Bream of 1992, whether they make the playoffs, or at the very least finish over .500? It's not fair to call this a great race, since all these teams are flawed, but after the Cardinals from last year (among many other wild card teams), who knows if the next World Series winner is one of these teams (okay, it's probably not the Pirates).

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