SUPEREGO

National League Wildcard Race is Going to be a Tight One

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bill-swift - September 19, 2012

At the beginning of the season it is a common tactic for coaches to talk about it being a new year and how everyone has a chance to win their division. When the season is starting fresh that statement is absolutely true. However, as the season goes on most of them end up out of the running till only a few remain.

That is not the case this season. With less than three weeks to go it would be easier to say who is out of the running for a postseason berth rather than who is still in it.

When it comes to each division race the competition is just about over. No team has wrapped up their respective division yet, but they would have to experience an epic meltdown to lose the lead each has.

If any team could lose its lead it would be the Washington Nationals in the NL East. The Atlanta Braves recently swept the Nationals to close the gap to five. It's hard to imagine the Nationals losing it now after having the best record in the league for much of the season. Then again, with nothing but teams contending for a postseason spot left on their schedule (Dodgers, Brewers, Phillies, and Cardinals) they could get upset if they aren't careful.

The NL West and Central are all but wrapped up. Cincinnati has pretty much locked up the Central with an 11 game lead over the second place St. Louis Cardinals. In the West, the Giants have a commanding 7.5 game lead on the Los Angeles Dodgers. The only way these guys are going to lose their lead is to not show up down the stretch.

For the NL all the excitement is in the wildcard race. Prior to the start of games on Monday there were 10 teams that were still mathematically alive in the hunt for October.

With 15-16 games left teams like the Miami Marlins (12.5 back) and New York Mets (11.0 back) are still in, but let's be real. They aren't going to make it in. Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey is the story of the year, but he needed more help to keep the team in it.

San Diego can be counted out of the race as well. It would not be impossible to cover 6 1/2 games with 15 games to go, but with ten of them against the Giants and Dodgers the odds on them being able to close that are slim at best.

I really don't see either the Diamondbacks (4.5 games back) or Phillies (3.5 back) having much of a shot either. Arizona has a fairly soft schedule coming up, but the Phillies have six against the Nationals and three with the Braves. Neither team has played well throughout the bulk of the season, and its kind of surprising to see them as close to the postseason as they are.

The two teams that will play in the wildcard playoff will be either the Pittsburgh Pirates (3 games back), Milwaukee Brewers (2.5), Los Angeles Dodgers (1.0), St. Louis Cardinals, or Atlanta Braves.

Pittsburgh was an early favorite to make the postseason having lived in the cellar of the NL Central since 1993. So far in September the team is playing pretty bad (3-11). With tougher games coming up against Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and Altanta it appears like the Pirates will have to try again next season.

At just 2.5 games back the Brewers have a pretty good shot. They could put the Pirates out of their misery when they start a three-game series today, but then they'll have a tough stretch against the Nationals and Reds. It will help that they finish with a series against the Astros and Padres.

More than likely the wildcard teams in the NL will be the two that are currently holding down the spots, the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals. Both have pretty soft schedules to finish the season; St. Louis has nine against the Cubs and Astros and Atlanta has games remaining against Miami, Philly, Pittsburgh, and New York.

As long as neither plays down to their competition everything will be fine; they've got at least one postseason game in the bag.

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