September is a lovely month; fall is in the air, the stampeding of people to Starbucks for a Pumpkin Spiced Latte™ can be heard everywhere, and playoff baseball is around the corner. Thanks to the new Wild Card system, more teams are in contention for two Wild Card spots, and it only adds to the drama, except the drama this year is a bit lackluster. To be more specific, the drama in the National League Wild Card (NLWC from here on out) is pretty sad. There are five teams in serious contention, at the beginning of September, for the NLWC but none of these teams seem all that interested in playing in October. Only one team has a winning record in their last ten games and each team seems to be fading instead of streaking to the postseason.
In their last 20 games, the five contenders have gone a combined 46-54. Rebuilding teams (defined as teams intentionally sucking: Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres, Philadelphia Phillies, and Atlanta Braves) have gone 43-57. Three games have been the difference between the “contenders” and rebuilders. Each team has taken a unique route to mediocrity after showing flashes of brilliance. Lets take a look:
- First Wild Card – San Francisco Giants: (77-69, 20-34 2nd half, 12-18 in last 30 days, 9-11 in last 20 days, 4-6 in last 10) -The Giants are alive right now for one reason and one reason only: the the first half. They had a comfortable division lead against the Dodgers before the All-Star break, but have since sunk in the standings. Now they can only hope that the good ship “First Half” can float them to playoff paradise. Fellow Armchair writer Shawn Rolstad thinks the team is trolling, but the numbers paint a different story. San Francisco’s team ERA has jumped nearly half a run, and their OPS against has also increased. Half a run isn’t a big deal, until it’s coupled with a sleeping offense. The Giants have scored the third-fewest runs in the NL this half, and their own OPS has dropped from the middle-of-the-pack to the lower third of NL offenses. Failure to perform on both sides of the ball will always rack up losses.
- Second Wild Card – New York Mets: (77-68, 30-28 2nd half, 18-12 in last 30, 14-6 in last 20, 7-3 in last 10) -The boys in Flushing seem to be the only ones aware that the WC race is even going on. They’ve had one decent opponent this month, the Washington Nationals, and they split the two series. They can continue to coast as they have the Twins, Braves, Phillies (twice), and the Marlins left to play this season (although they have barely played .500 against the Braves this season). New York should be a shoo-in for the Wild Card, as long as they don’t catch whatever it is the other NLWC competitors have.
- 0.5 GB – St. Louis Cardinals: (76-69, 30-26 in 2nd half, 16-14 in last 30, 9-11 in last 10, 5-5 in last 10) -The Cards have only recently fallen out of the second wild card spot, and recent series losses to the Brewers and a tough schedule are unlikely to make things any easier. Devil magic is still alive in St. Louis as they continue to get random production from young and unknown players, but the absence of Aledmys Diaz is obviously felt. The pitching staff has not been up to snuff, as they sit fifth-worst in OPS against and ERA in the NL. Even though the Cards were formerly in a good spot, they have played .500 ball for the most part in the past month and should consider themselves lucky they aren’t farther back in the race.
- 5.5 GB Miami Marlins: (72-73, 25-33 2nd half, 13-17 in last 30, 7-13 in last 20, 4-6 in last 10) -First and foremost you have to wonder where the Marlins stand if Giancarlo Stanton wasn’t injured …processing…processing… Yep, they are missing him badly. The Marlins’ pitching has been solid since the break, and they are keeping the team in the thick of things. The offense, on the other hand, is letting Fish fans down. In the second half, the Marlins have the third-worst OPS and scored the fifth-lowest amount of runs in the NL. The absence of Stanton’s offensive production is clearly killing their season.
- 6.5 GB Pittsburgh Pirates: (70-74, 24-30 2nd half, 12-18 in last 30, 7-13 in last 20, 3-7 in last 10) –The spiral of the Pirates has been documented fairly well here at Armchair. The long and short of it is the Pirates were 1.5 Games back of the second WC spot. Then they crashed and burned like they were getting paid to do it: 8 game losing streak, swept by the Cubs and Brewers, and then only won one game each in series against the Reds and Cardinals. The team has faltered in all aspects of the game, and the only reason they can be considered “in contention” is because everyone else has been sucking it up too (but none as badly as the Pirates). As for the numbers; second fewest runs scored and fourth-worst OPS since the All-Star Game.
We still have more than half a month’s worth of games to go, and any one of these teams could get hot and take the lead while the rest of the teams bumble around to the tune of Yakety Sax in the background. At this point the safe bet for the NLWC is on the teams with the easiest schedules, the Mets and the team that decides losing isn’t fun.
NOTE: Standings and stats were current before the start of games on Sept. 15, 2016