Who Has the Edge in the Wild National League Wild Card Race?
A banner year for the National League, this has not been.
All three division races are wrapped up. The Washington Nationals have an 8-game lead over the New York Mets in the East, the Chicago Cubs have already clinched the Central thanks to a massive 16-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Los Angeles Dodgers have a comfortable 5-game cushion over the San Francisco Giants in the NL West.
All that remains in the Senior Circuit are the two wild card spots, and all three of those second place teams, the Mets, Cardinals and Giants, are in the hunt.
In fact, the race could not be any closer.
Yep. That's right. All three teams are 80-71, and all three are battling it out for the right to play in the one-game, winner-moves-on, loser-goes-home, wild-card clash.
Perhaps, easier than explaining which of the two teams will get in is trying to figure out which team won't. That's kind of a negative Nancy way to look at things, but it's also the most efficient.
So, who will be the odd team out?
Why the Mets Won't Make It
There are a few reasons why the Mets could fall short, the chief among them is the loss of some top-notch starting pitching.
Jacob deGrom will miss the rest of the season after hurting his elbow, and he'll undergo surgery at some point over the next few days. DeGrom made 24 starts (148.0 IP) this year and had an ERA of 3.04 with an FIP of 3.31. He struck out 8.70 batters per nine and walked 2.19 per nine innings.
Those numbers didn't quite compare to deGrom's 2015 marks, but he was one of the better pitchers in the National League. And after having already lost Matt Harvey for the season and Steven Matz for long stretches (although he's back now), the deGrom injury is crippling.
Not only that, the Mets bats have fallen silent over the last two weeks, scoring 46 runs over that time, which ranks 26th in baseball. They are hitting .232/.306/.385 as a team over that stretch, and their big midseason acquisition, Jay Bruce, has been awful since joining New York, hitting just .176/.255/.289. That's a .544 OPS with a mere 4 homers and 4 doubles.
Yoenis Cespedes, their other top star, has also gone cold at the wrong time, batting .208/.259/.375 over the last 14 days.
Why the Giants Won't Make It
In Tuesday night's 2-0 victory over the Dodgers, the Giants bullpen locked down a save and pitched 3 2/3 innings while allowing just 1 hit and striking out 7.
That was an aberration. This season, the Giants have blown 29 saves, the most in baseball. Over the last 30 days, their bullpen has blown 8 saves, including an incredible 6 blown saves over the last 14 days. San Francisco lost a team-record nine games this season after entering the ninth inning with a lead. Five of those losses have occurred in September.
It's very difficult to win games in the heat of the pennant race when there is no faith in the bullpen, something Giants' manager Bruce Bochy is discovering for the first time in his managerial life.
And now, San Francisco has a major pitching injury to worry about. Like the Mets' deGrom, San Francisco may be without their co-ace, Johnny Cueto, after he was pulled in the sixth inning with a groin injury. He has been terrific in his first season by the Bay, going 17-5 with a 2.79 ERA and 3.03 FIP.
If he has to miss any time, Madison Bumgarner will have to keep his anger issues under control and once again lead the team into the postseason, with Jeff Samardzija (3.97 ERA in 30 starts) and Matt Moore (4.01 ERA in 9 starts) backing him up.
Why the Cardinals Won't Make It
St. Louis has won four in a row and may be the hottest of the three teams, but they are still just 5-5 in their last 10 games. Like the Giants and Mets, the Cardinals' offense hasn't exactly been humming, with their 48 runs scored tied for 21st in MLB over the last two weeks.
Their starters' ERA of 4.00 over the last 14 days is right in the middle of the pack, 15th in baseball, and their relievers' ERA of 3.33 is 16th. None of that is sterling, but at least they haven't suffered any major crippling injuries over the last few days.
Both the Cardinals and the Giants have the hardest strength of schedule over the season's final two weeks. The Cardinals are playing a series against the Colorado Rockies (72-79), and then play the Cubs (96-55), Cincinnati Reds (63-88) and finish up with the Pittsburgh Pirates (75-75). The Giants must finish up their series against their archrivals, the Dodgers (85-66), then play the San Diego Padres (64-87), the Rockies (72-79) and finish up with another set against Los Angeles.
Compare that to the Mets, who have by far the easiest schedule. They play two more series against the Philadelphia Phillies (68-83), and also have the Miami Marlins (76-75) and the Atlanta Braves (60-91) left on the schedule. The combined winning percentage of the Cardinals and Giants opponents are both .507, whereas the Mets' is .450.
Clearly, none of the three teams in question have placed themselves head and shoulders above anyone else, and based on this Twitter poll by @MLB, it appears as if the public is pretty undecided (screen shot captured at 1:09 pm ET on Wednesday).
Our projections are also razor thin, giving the Mets the best chance of making the postseason at 72.3%. The Cardinals are behind them at 66.0% with the Giants bringing up the rear at 59.8%.
If our projections hold true, San Francisco will be on the outside looking in when the dust settles on the final weekend of the season, and their even-year streak will come to an end.
However it shakes out, it should be a fun ride.