NL Wild Card Race

The last 6-7 weeks are shaping up to be very exciting in the National League.  Per yesterday’s standings the Nationals, Cardinals, Brewers and Mets were within 1.5 games of each other-4 teams fighting for the two NL Wild Card spots.  The D Backs and Phillies are close as well and the Cards or Brewers could catch the Cubs and win the NL Central but for this article we will assume the Cubs will win the Central and focus on the 4 team wildcard battle. Note: The Dodgers and Braves are way ahead in their divisions so they are likely in the 2019 NL playoffs.

The case for the Nationals

The Nats will be at home for 8 of the last 14 series and have the most favorable schedule of the 4 teams.  They rank highest in the combined Athletic and ESPN power rankings. Their ace pitcher Max Sherzer will be throwing a simulated game so should return from the IL soon. His starting pitching partner Steven Strasburg leads the NL with 14 wins.  Doolittle is an all star closer. They have a star in OF Juan Soto (amazing opposite field power) and just added 3 relievers at the deadline. Five Thirty Eight gives them a 58% chance of making the playoffs.

The case for the Cardinals

24 of their next 30 games are against teams with losing records.  Matt Carpenter and Marcell Ozuna have returned from the IL.  Yady Molina has been out since July 8 but should return soon from a thumb issue.  Paul Goldschmitt’s 26 homers are helpful.  Rookie pitcher Dakota Hudson has given up 3 earned runs or fewer in 21 of 23 starts.  The Cardinals have 16 games left against the combination of Cubs and Brewers (3 series with Brewers/2 with Cubs including 2 of the last 3) so the National League central teams control their own destiny.  Five Thirty Eight gives the Cards a 49% chance to make the playoffs.

The case for the Mets

The Mets have the second best power ranking of these four teams (per Athletic and ESPN) just behind the Nationals. They have the National League’s batting average leader Jeff McNeil (hitting .337). Rookie first baseman Pete Alonso has 35 HR’s and a win above replacement of 3.8. The have been red hot (winning  8 of 10 through Sunday).  Starters Wheeler and Matz are thriving and they added Marcus Stroman at the deadline.  Ace starter DeGromm has a 2.77 ERA which is 1.84 in day games, the best day game ERA in baseball since 1913! The Mets close the year with: Rockies; Reds; Marlins and Braves (likely clinched) so if they can get through the next month they should be in great shape.

The case for the Brewers

Mike’s hometown team is 62-57 despite a run differential of negative 20 (winning a lot of close games).  Note: the Diamondbacks are 59-59 with a plus 67 run differential while the Reds are 56-60 with a plus 39 run differential. The Brewers won 5 of 6 last week with reigning MVP Christian Yelich only playing in 1 game due to a back injury.  Trent Grisham has come up and hit well in the outfield in Braun’s absence (changed back to his golf grip).  Keston Hiura (another rookie) is hitting .306 as the regular second baseman. The Brewers added starter Jordan Lyles at the deadline, he has an ERA of 1.5 in his first two Brewer starts.  Ace starter Woodruff should return from the IL in the next few weeks. When Yelich returns the Brwers may play Ryan Braun at first against lefties. Yelich is in a tight race with Bellinger for 2019 MVP.  He leads the NL with 39 HR’s. He also leds the league in win probability added. From July 20, 2018 to July 20, 2019 Yelich hit 60 Home Runs. The Brewers are trying to make the playoffs for the second year in a row, that has only happened one other time in franchise history (1981/1982). Manager Craig Counsell (Whitefish Bay High School class of 1988-GO BLUE DUKES) needs to watch the usage of his star reliever Josh Hader. Last year Hader had help in the late innings from Knebel and Jeffress in high leverage spots. This year it is primarily up to Hader, who is giving up an increasing number of HR’s, to close the tight games.

Shout Out to the Cleveland Indians

The Cleveland Indians (through Sunday) are 43-19 since June 1 and have fully closed what was a 7 to 10 game gap that the Twins had built up. In fact as of this morning the Tribe is 72-47 one half game ahead of the Twins.  That AL Central race should be fun to watch down the stretch.  The loser of that race will fight for a wild card with the Rays and A’s as Houston and the Yankees are running away in the AL East and West.