NL Wildcard Down the Home Stretch
We’re finally at twilight of the MLB regular season, and while all of the divisions in the NL have been clinched, there’s still three teams hunting for the final two wildcard spots. Here, I’ll look at the remaining schedule for each team and make my picks on who ends up snagging the last two spots in this photo finish to make the postseason.
New York Mets – (83-73) +1
The Mets have been one of the biggest surprises in the second half of this season, and they’ve continued to make their shocking playoff run with fewer and fewer players from their Opening Day roster. With Jacob deGrom undergoing season-ending elbow surgery last Wednesday, and Steven Matz ending up on the DL in late August, only Bartolo Colon and Noah Syndergaard have made it all the way from April to the end of September in the rotation.
The injuries haven’t only only plagued the Mets’ pitching, though, but this offense has really stepped up in the face of adversity in these past couple months. Asdrubal Cabrera, in particular, has been on fire since returning from injury in mid-August. Since then, he’s hitting .360, with ten homers, including a monster, come from behind, three run walk-off homer in extras against the Phillies last week (followed by a wicked bat flip). But it hasn’t just been Asdrubal Cabrera providing at the plate, the entire Mets offense seemed to wake up in that four-game set against the Phils, averaging 11 runs per game, compared to their average of four per game throughout 2016. Obviously this is a small sample size against a Phillies team that isn’t that great, but to be cliche, every win counts at this stage of the season regardless of who it’s against.
The Mets head to Miami for a three-game set against a grieving Marlins team before getting another three games against the Phillies team that their offense saw so much success against to finish out the 2016 regular season. If the offense stays hot, they can really take advantage of these struggling pitching staffs, it then falls on the remnants of the Mets pitching staff to hold things together on the mound.
San Francisco Giants – (82-74)
The Giants currently hold a half game lead over St. Louis for the second wildcard spot, which certainly isn’t where most people saw them sitting coming into the All-Star Break, up eight games over the Dodgers (LA’s playoff odds were 24.1% at that point according to ESPN). San Fran has been having some trouble lately, going 10-14 so far this month. However, they can eliminate all of their past mistakes and continue their even-year legacy by cementing a playoff spot over these next six games.
The bullpen has been shaky for the Giants, and hopefully a day off on Monday before their final six games will give them a chance to recollect themselves before crunch time. They blew a six run lead against San Diego on Saturday, but were able to salvage the game in extras. They weren’t so lucky the following day, giving up the tying and winning runs in the 5th and 7th runs respectively, on their way to a 4-3 loss, which also allowed the Mets to take a full game lead over them in the wildcard.
The bullpen isn’t the only struggling entity for the Giants right now, as their offense ranks at the bottom of the MLB in a number of categories, according to ESPN’s Dave Schoenfield. The team is hitting just .220 as a whole, which puts even more pressure on the bullpen by not being able to provide insurance runs later in the game. Hunter Pence has been the team’s top performer this month, and is looking much stronger now than he did when he was first returning from his two-month stint on the DL. He’s hitting .315 with four homers and 12 RBIs. He, and the rest of the Giants offense, will really need to step up and provide their starters and bullpen with some breathing room in this final week.
The Giants play six games at home to end out the season, three vs. Colorado and three against the Dodgers. Their final series is highlighted by some critical pitching duels: Madison Bumgarner vs. Clayton Kershaw on Friday, and Johnny Cueto vs. Rich Hill on Saturday.
St. Louis Cardinals – (81-74) 0.5 GB
The Cards are the only team of the three that plays a game every day this week. They have a chance to level the playing field with the Giants on Monday, making it a very simple race beginning on Tuesday. Their offense has been getting help from some unexpected places this month, with some of the bigger names on the roster experiencing some very untimely slumps. Randal Grichuk has led the team with 15 RBIs and four homers this month. Brandon Moss, on the other hand, has hit just .071 in what has statistically been the worst month of his career. The offense as a whole has struggled with consistency, but all of that can be erased with a strong showing for seven games this week.
The rotation saw a lot of hype with the additions of prospects Luke Weaver and Alex Reyes being added to give an air of pseudo-rebuilding while still making a playoff run. For Reyes, it’s been great. He’s 4-1 since joining the rotation in August (3-1 in September) with a 1.58 ERA and has won his last three starts. Weaver, on the other hand, has gone 1-4 with a 4.54 ERA in eight starts. He’s been replaced by Jaime Garcia coming into this critical week. The older guys on the team, Carlos Martinez and Adam Wainwright, have been doing nicely this month and Wainwright will get the start in the Cards final regular season game on Sunday.
The Cardinals play seven games at home to finish out the regular season. They play four against the Reds before finishing up against the Pirates. Luckily, their struggling offense avoids any major pitching threats in their final week, which I think will play to their advantage. Both offenses have also been mediocre this year, so barring any pitching meltdowns I think St. Louis is in decent shape coming down the stretch.
Last Two Spots – New York & St. Louis
I think the Giants have the most difficult schedule here at the end, and they’re playing a Dodgers team who can still try to snag the higher seed for their series against Washington in the postseason. The Mets offense has come from out of nowhere as of late, and they have defied all expectations set for them thus far in the second half, and I think they’ll continue to do so here.