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The NL Wild Card is a free-for-all

The playoff picture is nearly set, but the NL Wild Card continues to be chaos.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Milwaukee Brewers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

With a little more than two weeks left to go, there are five teams with a 90 percent chance of winning their division. The Dodgers have already clinched the NL West for the seventh year in a row and the Astros and Yankees both have a 100 percent chance of claiming their respective divisional crowns. Depending on what the Cubs do this weekend and how these upcoming series Cleveland and St. Louis go, there may not be a divisional race worth watching come Monday.

The second Wild Card perhaps isn’t working as intended, but it usually adds a fair amount of chaos for the middle tier teams. We may not be seeing the best-of-the-best duking it out, but we will still get to watch scrum of mostly good teams vying for the privilege of losing to the Dodgers or the Yankees in the divisional series. In the American League, both Wild Card spots are open and Tampa Bay, Oakland, and Cleveland are separated by less than a game. It should be a good race, but two of those three teams are guaranteed a playoff spot.

Things get a little more chaotic in the National League. The Nationals more or less have one Wild Card spot locked up, but there are five teams all within striking distance. Despite losing Christian Yelich for the rest of the season, the Brewers have maintained their hot streak to pull even with the Cubs for the second spot. The Mets, Phillies, and Diamondbacks are each within 3.5 games.

The FanGraphs playoff odds don’t believe in the Phillies or the Diamondbacks. Both teams have less than a five percent chance of making the playoffs.

The Phillies may only be 2.5 games back of the second spot, but the Mets are sandwiched in between them and the Brewers and Cubs. Philadelphia has failed to outscore their opponents this year. The same could be said of Milwaukee, but the Brewers have a much better base runs record (75-70) than the Phillies (68-77). To make matters worse, the Phillies also have the second toughest strength of schedule remaining at .526. Philadelphia closes out the year against Marlins but before then they have two games against the Red Sox, three against the Braves, three against Cleveland, and five against the Nationals.

Still, they’re close enough that they could luck into a playoff berth. That’s remarkable considering their bullpen has been decimated by injury and they’ve been without Andrew McCutchen for most of the year.

The Diamondbacks might be the most talented team in the hunt, but they have the steepest hill to climb. Their best chance to control their own destiny was this week’s four game series against the Mets, but they were swept, losing the final two games of by a combined score of 20-1.

Conversely, that series means the Mets are back on the rise. New York worked their way to relevancy with a torrid stretch around the trade deadline that culminated in an eight-game winning streak. At their high-water mark on August 10, they had a 53 percent chance of making the postseason. Since then, they’re 15-14, and their odds have dropped to 21.8. The Mets and the Brewers have the softest schedules going forward at .487.

As mentioned earlier, the Brewers were dealt an enormous blow this week when Christian Yelich broke his kneecap. Every team has to deal with injuries, but none could be more devastating than losing an MVP candidate in the midst of a playoff chase. The Yelich injury may wind up being the death knell for Milwaukee, but they’ve held on thus far.

If there’s any good news to be found, it’s that Brandon Woodruff should return in the next week. Even a handful of starts from as great a pitcher as Woodruff can’t compare to the everyday presence of Yelich’s bat, but he’ll do what he can to stabilize a mercurial rotation.

Then there’s the Cubs, a team that no one can seem to agree on. Before the season began, the Cubs were projected to finish first in the NL Central by FanGraphs and last in the NL Central by PECOTA. At home, they’re unstoppable (47-24), on the road, they’re abysmal (31-44). They’re probably still the favorites to win the second Wild Card if not the Central entirely (they still have seven games against the Cardinals), but their seams have been showing in the last couple weeks.

Javier Báez is likely out for the year, and Craig Kimbrel is still on the IL. Though Kimbrel was eligible to return Thursday, Kimbrel might be out “deep into next week.” Báez had been one of the players carrying the offense, but he has been replaced by Ben Zobrist and Nico Hoerner.

It’s still anyone’s race to win, and it’s complicated by the fact that none of these five teams will play each other in the final two and a half weeks. There’s no easy ground to be gained, and there’s no easy ground ceded. Barring a collapse, there should be five teams gunning for a playoff spot in the final week. That’s some consolation when everything else is wrapped up.


Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.