With just over a week remaining in the regular season, it’s the ideal time for us to take a look at the frenetic wild card races currently taking place. The American League’s Wild Card Game is all but set, but when you head over to the National League, many scenarios remain. What are they? Let’s take a look and discuss options for each club as they head down the final stretch.
New York Yankees
This is a ballclub that has no opportunity to win their division, however, due to the fact that they could potentially win 100 games, a second straight postseason appearance is all but certain. As of today, they are in the driver’s seat to host the wild-card game, however, if they stumble, New York may be heading to Oakland for the one-and-done contest whose winner gets the final ALDS spot.
As of now, they are likely to travel to Yankees Stadium on October 3rd, but in the case that they overtake the Astros it is still possible for Oakland to win the American League West. That is doubtful at the moment, especially when you look at the fact that Houston holds a five-game edge on the A’s with very little time left. So while it is conceivable to think Oakland can catch New York and host the Wild Card Game, don’t expect to see an A’s/Indians matchup until the ALCS, if at all in this year’s postseason.
Oakland is going to do their best to spoil a Yankees/Red Sox matchup this October, however, they will have to do so without their Sean Manaea who is the clubs’ ace. It is very possible that Mike Fiers and Luis Severino could face off on the mound at Yankee Stadium, and while Fiers has been solid, the Bronx Bombers would still have the edge in that matchup. If either club gets past that game they will be relying on less talented starters that Boston, however, both Wild Card clubs possess good bullpens. My key for New York, if they want to win, is to have a healthy lineup. The Yankees are 32 wins over .500 with Aaron Judge but just two over without. Bats carry teams, as do starting pitchers. Since New York’s starting staff has not performed well in the second half (ex: Severino’s ERA is 5.74 post the All-Star Game), so the Yankees would have a legitimate shot against the Red Sox just due to their lineup. The only question is, could their starters hold Boston in check?
If the season were to end today, Milwaukee would be hosting the Wild Card Game at Miller Park against St. Louis. Since that isn’t the case, they will still have to fight to keep their spot as the top wild-card club, which will not be easy considering Milwaukee has not one but two teams hot on their heels (Rockies and Cardinals).
The biggest question for the Brewers is if they do get to the postseason would be who starts that game, and as of right now, odds are on either Jhoulys Chacin or Chase Anderson, as they are their two best starters. Chacin has fourteen wins and Anderson is 9-8 with a sub-four ERA, but after that, it gets a bit dicey for Milwaukee. There really aren’t a whole lot of legitimate playoff starters, and in the scenario that they do win the Wild Card Game, manager Craig Counsel could find himself in a difficult spot deciding who to give the ball to win game one of the NLDS. My guess is that Counsel is hoping to win the division which is still in reach (2.5 GB of the Cubs), but those odds are not high. If the Brewers make it to the playoff Counsel should prepare for a one-and-done game. Which will be a toss-up.
St. Louis Cardinals
As referenced above, St. Louis currently holds the second Wild Card spot, but only by 1.5 games over the Colorado Rockies. That lead can dissipate in a heartbeat, or the Cards could find themselves trailing the aforementioned Rockies with little time left. If they can make it to Milwaukee, it is possible they could pull off a road win, mostly due to the fact that they would have the edge on the mound. Miles Mikolas would most likely get the ball (16-4 3.01), and even though the Cards have had their fair share of bullpen difficulties this season they could always put starters in the pen for that games.
Here is the most interesting club of all National League contenders. The reason for this is simple, Kyle Freeland. He is a Cy Young candidate (15-7, 2.95), and Colorado’s lineup can be elite. When you have All-Star caliber talents such as Charlie Blackmon, Nolan Arenado, and Trevor Story, surrounded by other solid hitters, they have the potential to tee off on good pitching. The Rockies are a bit better of a postseason team than the others, mostly due to the fact that they have an ace to ride plus Jon Gray (19/50 BB/K in second half) to throw in game two (or one in NLDS), and a good bullpen. This is the kind of offense you ride, if the starters keep the other lineups in check long enough it might be enough for the back end of the Rockie bullpen to pull an NLDS upset.
Los Angeles Dodgers
They are the favorite to win the National League West at the moment, but if they met the Brewers or Cardinals in the Wild Card Game they would have to be the favorite, as well. When Clayton Kershaw can start a one-game playoff combined with a lineup led by Manny Machado and Matt Kemp, it is easy to see why Los Angeles would not only have a good shot at knocking off the Brewers or Cards but also whoever they were to play in the NLDS.
This will be the league to watch for the remainder of the season in terms of the Wild Card. Sure, the Rays could make some noise in the American League (mostly as a spoiler), but there are still four teams fighting for three spots if you want to include the western division title. The loser of the latter would still have a shot at the wild card, and once they got past that they would most likely see the Cubs. Speaking of the Cubs, their starting pitching has not been what it has been these past few seasons (no true #2 playoff starter), making them vulnerable against a quality opponent.
All in all, this is why the second wild card was brought into existence. Without it, teams such as the Rockies (or Dodgers) would have very little shot at the postseason. The game has taken its share of criticism when opponents have a wide disparity of win totals meet up, but the contest adds to the drama of the regular season which the game desperately needs. Wouldn’t you agree?
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