Despite Fangraphs’ Playoff Odds giving Atlanta (100%), Los Angeles (100%), Milwaukee (98.7%), Philadelphia (96.3%), and Chicago (78%) better than 75% odds of making the playoffs, play in the National League closed this evening with the NL Wild Card race looking as tight as ever thanks to the third and final spot.
Four teams sport winning percentages of .511, putting all of them in an effective tie for the third Wild Card spot behind the Phillies and Cubs. With less than a month to go in the schedule, it’s increasingly likely that only one of Arizona, Cincinnati, Miami, and San Francisco will join the aforementioned five clubs in the postseason this year. Let’s take a look at each of those four clubs, as things stand for them headed into the stretch run:
San Francisco Giants, 70-67 (48.9% playoff odds)
The Giants established themselves as contenders back in June with a fantastic 18-8 record that month and have managed to stay within spitting distance of a playoff spot ever since. Unfortunately for San Francisco, that excellent June is the last month the club posted a winning record. The club has gone just 24-31 since the beginning of July, with their playoff odds dropping from 69.2% down to 47.8% during that stretch. Injuries to key players like Michael Conforto and Anthony DeSclafani have left the club playing at less than full strength, but a bigger problem for the club is the rapidly declining offense: since July 1, the club’s 77 wRC+ is the second worst figure in the majors ahead of only the Rockies.
On the other hand, the club sports a strong if unconventional pitching staff highlighted by ace Logan Webb, veteran Alex Cobb, rookie Kyle Harrison, and closer Camilo Doval that is further bolstered by the excellent defense provided by rookie catcher Patrick Bailey. With that solid run prevention group, it’s easy to see how the Giants could make the playoffs if key offensive contributors like Joc Pederson, Lamonte Wade Jr. and Thairo Estrada can return to the success they showed earlier in the season. Outside of seven games against the Dodgers, San Francisco’s remaining schedule is fairly soft, which should help them in their pursuit of the final NL playoff spot.
Arizona Diamondbacks, 70-67 (33.3% playoff odds)
A surprise early season contender, the Diamondbacks dominated the NL West throughout the first half, holding sole possession of first place in their division as late into the season as July 8 thanks to a strong offensive core of Corbin Carroll, Ketel Marte, and Christian Walker along with a strong pair of starters at the top of their rotation in righties Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly. Unfortunately for Arizona, their hold on the division lead would vanish over the next month as the club posted a 5-21 record over their next 26 games that was nothing short of disastrous. Despite the trade deadline coming directly in the middle of that awful stretch, Arizona’s front office added outfielder Tommy Pham and closer Paul Sewald to the floundering club, and the team has responded by going 13-7 since their skid came to an end.
With all of the club’s key players healthy headed into the stretch run, the Diamondbacks are perhaps the biggest question mark in this race. Was their brutal month of play, where they looked like one of the worst teams in baseball, simply a fluke? Or was it the beginning of the end for an underdog team projected for a 78-84 record when the season began? With 12 of their final 25 games coming against teams with a record of .500 or better, Arizona won’t have a particularly easy schedule to make use of as they try to secure their first playoff berth since 2017.
Miami Marlins, 70-67 (26.5% playoff odds)
The Marlins’ 2023 campaign has been a strange one. Earlier in the year, the club was carried by the bats of Luis Arraez and Jorge Soler and a historic record in one-run games. Much like the last two teams discussed, the months of July and August were difficult for Miami, as the club posted a record of just 19-32 while Soler (.697 OPS in July) and Arraez (.580 OPS in August) slumped badly. Fortunately, the club received offensive reinforcements at the trade deadline in the form of Jake Burger and Josh Bell, both of whom have posted strong results since joining the Marlins. What’s more, Alcantara has looked more like himself of late, with a 3.04 ERA in his last 77 innings of work.
While Soler hasn’t played in recent days due to injury, the offense is in a good place thanks to the contributions of Burger and Bell, while the rotation led by Alcantara, Eury Perez, Jesus Luzardo, and Edward Cabrera has been characteristically excellent. Perhaps Miami’s biggest obstacle in returning to the postseason for the first time since 2020 is the schedule: of the club’s final 25 games, the Marlins will face the Brewers, Dodgers, Braves and Phillies in sixteen of them.
Cincinnati Reds, 71-68 (16% playoff odds)
The Reds are perhaps the most surprising team of this quartet. The club’s success this season has been fueled almost entirely by a youth movement that began early in the season. While shortstop Elly De La Cruz hasn’t quite been the offensive force he was expected to be in his rookie season, infielder Matt McLain and starter Andrew Abbott have been nothing short of sensational. What’s more, other youngsters like Spencer Steer, Christian Encarnacion-Strand, and Brandon Williamson have contributed in significant ways, to say nothing of contributions from more established players like TJ Friedl, Hunter Greene, Joey Votto, and Alexis Diaz.
While the Reds slumped badly to a 10-17 record in August, only six of the club’s final 23 games are against clubs with a record better than .500, given them plenty of opportunity to go on a run. Unfortunately for Cincinnati, between a rash of injuries and an outbreak of COVID-19, the Reds have a whopping 16 players on the injured list, including key players like Greene, McLain, Williamson, and Votto. With a pair of the club’s biggest bats and most reliable rotation arms out of commission for the foreseeable future, the Reds’ outlook is far hazier than it otherwise may have been.
How does the readership of MLBTR think the race for the final NL Wild Card will shake out over the next month? Will one of the NL West clubs hold on to claim the spot that for much of the season they looked to be a shoo-in for? Will the Marlins overcome their brutal September schedule to emerge victorious? Or can the Reds navigate a wave of injuries to squeak into the playoffs in a full season for the first time since 2013?
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