The Cubs' sweep of the Giants over the weekend put them solidly into the second wild-card spot, by 3½ games entering their series against the Brewers Tuesday night. They're 14 games over .500 at 62-48, the fourth-best record in the major leagues.
However! There are 52 games left on the Cubs' schedule this year and much can change over that span, as many, many teams that held leads this large or larger for playoff positions could tell you.
This article is intended to give you a snapshot of where the Cubs stand with their playoff-spot rivals. Even though the headline includes "wild card," I'm going to include the Cardinals for two reasons:
- It's a longshot, but it's still possible the Cubs could go on a run and catch the Cardinals for the division title.
- It's possible that the Pirates could catch the Cardinals and move into first place in the N.L. Central, relegating St. Louis to a wild-card spot.
So, let's begin with the Cubs' biggest rivals.
Cubs record against: 4-9
Games remaining vs. Cubs: six (in St. Louis September 7-8-9, at Wrigley Field September 18-19-20)
The Cubs haven't played the Cardinals well this year, as they were swept the last time they visited St. Louis and split a four-game set at Wrigley in July when they were one pitch from winning three of four. Nevertheless, since that Busch Stadium sweep in late June the Cubs are 23-13 and the Cardinals just 20-16. I'm not saying the Cubs will overcome that 8½ game deficit, but leads that big or even bigger this time of year have been blown -- many times.
Cubs record against: 7-5
Games remaining vs. Cubs: seven (in Pittsburgh September 15-16-17, at Wrigley Field September 25-26-27, one rainout in Pittsburgh not yet rescheduled)
The Cubs have split six games at PNC Park and won four of six at Wrigley. The Pirates have been the best team in baseball since May 20 (47-22). It seems more likely that the Pirates will catch the Cardinals (five games behind) than the Cubs will catch the Pirates, even though the latter deficit is smaller (3½ games behind). The seven games the teams will play against each other will likely settle that issue. If the Pirates and Cubs do wind up matching up in the wild-card game, even though the Cubs have played well on the road it would be better to get the Bucs out of Pittsburgh, where they have an excellent 39-18 record.
Cubs record against: 4-0
Games remaining vs. Cubs: three (in San Francisco August 25-26-27)
The recent sweep, you know all about. It won't be as easy to do that in San Francisco, though the Cubs swept a series there as recently as 2013. Assuming the Giants stay on rotation, the Cubs won't miss Madison Bumgarner in that series, either, though Bumgarner has been just good this year, not otherworldly as he was in last year's postseason, and he has a 4.14 ERA since July 1. The Giants are currently on a schedule where they are playing 26 straight games against playoff contenders, beginning with the four-game set just completed at Wrigley. I think the Cubs can hold off the Giants.
Cubs record against: 7-0
Games remaining vs. Cubs: none
The Mets are currently in first place in the N.L. East, but just 1½ games ahead of the Nationals. The team in second place in that division thus has a shot at the second wild-card. The Mets' offense is clearly improved with the acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes and their starting pitching stacks up with anyone's, and they have the advantage of playing a somewhat-weak schedule this month (Phillies, Rockies, Red Sox).
Cubs record against: 4-3
Games remaining vs. Cubs: none
As noted above, either the Mets or the Nationals will win the N.L. East, so the other will fight for the "consolation prize" of the second wild-card spot. The Nats are an enigma; based on their roster they should be running away with this division, but injuries and sub-par performance (and some would say bad managing) has them struggling to stay over .500. They didn't really need a closer, but traded for one anyway. They also have an August schedule that, in theory, should be one where they can pile up wins after they leave Los Angeles and San Francisco this week. After that they face the Rockies, Brewers, Padres and Marlins.