In 2015, the Cubs were in the wild-card game. This year, having won the N.L. Central and close to clinching the league’s best record, they don’t have to worry about the one-and-done game and neither do we.
Instead, we can watch from afar as the Giants, Cardinals and Mets try to hold on to wild-card position. Entering Wednesday’s action the three teams all have records of 80-71. Two of them will play in the wild-card game two weeks from tonight. The other club will go home for the winter. (Yes, I’m aware that the Marlins, four games back, and Pirates, 4½ behind, still have an outside chance. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to assume neither of those teams gets back in the race.)
Let’s have a look at the Giants, Cardinals and Mets and their remaining schedules. None of them play each other, so they’ll all need to win and have help from other teams. Assuming the Cubs do go on to post the N.L.'s best record, they'll play the winner of the wild-card game in their division series beginning Friday, October 7.
The Giants are in freefall. Despite their win over the Dodgers Tuesday night (which might have come at the cost of injuries to Johnny Cueto and Brandon Crawford that they can ill afford), they have the worst post-All-Star record of any team that had the best record going into the break, as Grant Brisbee wrote in this McCovey Chronicles article. Still, the Giants have significant playoff experience and an excellent manager, even if he doesn’t have any reliable relievers these days.
At five games behind the Dodgers with four games remaining against them, the Giants still have an outside shot at the division title. Realistically, though, they are fighting for a wild-card spot. They are 8-11 in September and have dropped six of their last nine.
at Rockies (1), at Cubs (3), Reds (4), Pirates (3)
Another team with lots of recent postseason experience that has struggled much of this season, in large part due to injuries and a woefully ineffective starting rotation. They are 10-9 in September and are currently on a four-game winning streak after losing eight of 11.
The Cubs, as you see, can help decide the Cardinals’ fate. However, the Cubs are only 2-5 against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field this year and the Cardinals have the best road record in baseball (47-30) even while they have a losing record (33-41) at home. That season-ending homestand might not be as inviting for the Redbirds as you might think.
The Mets had roared back into this race by winning 11 of 14 -- but now have lost two straight, at home, to the woeful Braves. Go figure.
They have a 10-6 record against the Marlins and are 7-5 against the Phillies, so they’d figure to win series against them. On the other hand, the Mets, too, have dealt with multiple injuries to their pitching staff, although they are hoping Steven Matz will be able to return to throw Friday against the Phillies.
Even with the two losses to the Braves, the Mets are still 11-7 this month.
This race is really hard to get a handle on. Every time one of the teams gets hot and you think, "Hey, they’ll make it," they go and lose a few games, sometimes in ignominious fashion.
If I had to make a call right now? Mets and Cardinals. But that could change in a couple of days. What do you think?