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The NL wild card: who’s in, who’s out?

All eyes are on the American League wild card race, but after months of dormancy, the NL race is just as crazy.

MLB: Colorado Rockies at Los Angeles Dodgers Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The National League Wild Card race is not quite as crowded as the American League’s, but it’s just as interesting. The East and West divisions are all but clinched for the Nationals and Dodgers respectively. But the NL Central has three teams separated by three games with twenty left to play. The Rockies are stumbling in the second half, the Brewers might have regained their late-April form, and the Cardinals aren’t going anywhere. So who is going to wind up where?

The Diamondbacks

The Arizona Diamondbacks went on a tear over the last couple weeks, sweeping the league-leading Dodgers twice during a thirteen-game winning streak. They have the first Wild Card spot pretty well locked up, with a five-game lead over the second-place Rockies. Their offense has come alive and they’re snug as a bug in a rug for home field advantage in that win-or-go-home wild card game.

They would likely start Zack Greinke, who is no stranger to postseason play. The 2009 Cy Young Award winner and four-time All Star has pitched 58.1 postseason innings with a 3.55 ERA. He has a .500 winning percentage in the postseason; this season he has a 3.01 ERA and 3.17 FIP.

The Cubs

Right now, the Cubs hold a three-game lead in a contentious NL Central. FanGraphs has their odds of winning the division at 84.9 percent, while Baseball Prospectus has it at 81.8. By either measure, the odds are in their favor, as they have fourteen games remaining against division opponents.

  • Seven against St. Louis (Cubs are winning the season series 8-4)
  • Four against Milwaukee (Cubs are winning the season series 7-6)
  • Three against Cincinnati (Cubs are winning the season series 10-6)

The Cubs have won each of those series this season, so in head-to-head matchups there’s a good chance they’ll further widen the division lead. Though they got crushed by the Brewers today, both on the field (losing 15-2) and on Twitter (getting roasted hard).

Anything can happen down the stretch! There are two teams breathing down their necks, and either one could go on a tear as they, too, play division foes. If the Cubs lose the division lead, they’re staring down the Rockies for that second wild card.

The Rockies

Fortunately for the Rockies, they’re playing a scuffling Dodgers team and might keep their three-game hold on that second wild card spot. FanGraphs has the Rockies’ wild card odds at 69.5 percent, and Baseball Prospectus has them at 67.7. But they play the Diamondbacks on Monday, and you know how they’re doing, so it’s not as if the Rockies can cakewalk to the finish.

Colorado has three games remaining against the Miami Marlins. The Rockies have played three games this season against the Marlins and won a grand total of zero. If they duplicate those results, that wild card lead will vanish and one of the following teams may take hold...

The Brewers

Milwaukee is three games behind the Cubs in the NL Central, three games behind the Rockies for the second wild card spot, and tied for both with the Cardinals. They were fabulous in April, riding Eric Thames’s epic start. (Bombs on bombs on bombs!) But, like every team at some point, they floundered. The Cubs overtook them for the division lead, but they’ve proven they can beat Chicago (with authority) and the season series between the two is almost even.

FanGraphs has the Brewers’ wild card odds at 9.7 percent, and their odds of winning the division are about 4.5 percent. (Baseball Prospectus has them at 8.6 percent and 6.9 percent, respectively.) Unfortunately for their playoff hopes, they just lost starting pitcher Jimmy Nelson for the rest of the season with a labrum tear. He had been their ace, with a 3.03 FIP and 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings. With three weeks and at least four circuits of the rotation to go, his injury is a major loss for the Brew Crew.

The Cardinals

“No bias here!” I shout as I sit here, writing in my St. Louis Cardinals sweatshirt. Look, we all know it ain’t over for the Cardinals until it’s over. The rest of their season is comprised of intra-division games. Seven games remain against the Cubs, and if they manage to win at least four the division lead is gone. FanGraphs has their division odds at 10.9 percent and B-P has them at 11.2 percent.

Carlos Martinez just notched his 200th strikeout, Lance Lynn has the second-lowest ERA in baseball, and with the second-half emergence of Tyler Lyons this team isn’t falling out of the race anytime soon. As far as the wild card goes, they too are in the hunt for that second spot. FanGraphs has those odds at 15.1 percent and B-P has it at an even 16 percent. They are equidistant from winning the division and from the second wild card spot. Craziness!

A lackluster NL Central has created all kinds of question marks in the NL wild card race. The Marlins and Pirates, considered wild card hopefuls ten days ago, are all but out of hope. Watch for the head-to-head matchups of the Cubs, Brewers, and Cardinals in the coming weeks; and keep an eye on the Rockies. This race could get wild and come down to the wire.


Audrey Stark is a Contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow her on Twitter @highstarksunday.