Wednesday, September 21, 2016

NL Wildcard Race Tightening

The NL Wild Card Game is scheduled to take place on Wednesday, October 5th. But that is assuming the two Wild Card positions are won cleanly by only two different teams.
As it stands now, Major League Baseball simply slotting two teams into a single Wild Card Game in either league might be asking a bit too much in the 2016 season.
We'll take a look at the convoluted, multi-team American League Wild Card race tomorrow. But for today, while the National League race is a bit simpler, it's no less competitive.
Three teams are involved in that NL race, at least at this moment. The New York Mets hold the top Wild Card position by themselves with a record of 80-70.
Both the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals are tied for the second Wild Card with identical 79-71 records, just a game behind the Mets.
The Mets have to be considered the favorites at this point to land one of those two spots, not because they control the top position alone, but because they are playing the best baseball.
New York was floundering at 60-62 after an 8-1 drubbing at the hands of those Giants at AT&T Park on August 19th.
They were in third place in the NL East at that point, suffering injury after injury, and by all indications looked to be a team on its last legs.
But then something clicked for the defending NL East and National League champions. Since that loss, New York has won 20 of 28 games and vaulted back to contender status.
The Giants, meanwhile, have been heading in the opposite direction. Sitting on top of the NL West by 6.5 games with a record of 57-33 at the MLB All-Star break, the Giants have collapsed to the tune of a 22-38 mark over the second half.
It appeared that perhaps they would get it back together when they took the first two games of a big four-game series with the Cardinals over the weekend in San Francisco. However, the Cards rallied to win the final two, once again tightening up the race.
It's hard to know what to make of this version of the perennially contending Cardinals. The team has been up and down all season long, alternating cold and hot streaks.
St. Louis has a half-dozen losing streaks of three games or more this season. Their victory in Colorado last night gives them eight winning streaks of at least the same length.
But three winning streaks of five games is the longest they have been able to fashion. They have just a pair of true losing skids, lasting four and five games.
So right now the NL Wild Card race is led by those hot Mets, while the inconsistent Cardinals and the plummeting Giants remain right with them.
Based on how the teams have been playing over the last two months, the race has to favor New York and St. Louis at this point. San Francisco is going to have to demonstrate on the field that they can right their listing ship and seize a postseason berth that seemed so secure in July.
Outside of those three teams, both the Marlins and Pirates remain theoretically alive. The Fish sit four games out, and the Bucs are 4.5 back.
But Miami is just at the .500 mark at 75-75 and would need a collapse from two of the three teams above while getting hot themselves.
Same with the 74-75 Pirates, who look as if they will miss the postseason after three straight appearances in that NL Wild Card Game.
The Mets host the Braves for two and the Phillies for four games, ending their home schedule. They close the season next week with three at Miami and three in Philadelphia.
The Cardinals are on the road right now for a pair of tough series in Colorado and then in Chicago against their arch rivals, the NL Central champion Cubs. The Cards then return home to end the season with four against Cincinnati and three games with the Bucs.
The Giants' remaining schedule has them facing their divisional foes, the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers, five times. They also have four in San Diego and three at home against Colorado.
This is a fascinating race at the moment. Whether it will sort itself out and become clearer over this final week and half, or get even murkier, is to be seen.
The tie-breaker scenarios and rules hold many possibilities, and at this point are downright confusing when you start figuring on two three-team ties. But that may be exactly the scenario that is setting up in a tough NL Wild Card race.

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