At the All-Star break, the National League Wild Card race was all but over. The Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies were clear atop the race for the postseason, Arizona’s 53-36 record was a hair better than the Rockies’ 52-39, and Colorado were 7.5 games clear of the Cubs for the wild card.
Since then a lot has changed, and what was supposed to be an easy walk to the postseason and a 163rd game hasn’t worked out.
The Diamondbacks still have a decent record at 69-58, but they have gone 16-22 in the second half of the season, and the Rockies are little better, sitting at 68-58 with a second-half record of 16-19.
A month and a half of sub .500 baseball has opened the door to a chasing pack of teams who thought their seasons were over.
There are three teams within 5.5 games of the Rockies who are in a four-game skid, so if anyone is going to overtake the NL West teams, who is it going to be?
At 66-62, the Brewers are three games back of the Rockies and still in the hunt for the NL Central (3.5 games back). Their surprising first half has not faded away as many expected. Ryan Braun has found some of his old magic and is hitting .308 in the second half, and while Travis Shaw has dropped off a little he still has eight homers since the All-Star break.
The biggest positive has been in the bullpen, where some trades have made all the difference in softening the workload for everyone and making them more efficient than ever. Anthony Swarzak arrived from the Chicago White Sox and has been a wonderful bridge to closer Corey Knebel, giving the Brewers 10 strong innings in his 11 appearances so far.
Speaking of Knebel, he has been lights out in the second half, picking up 13 saves and striking out 25 hitters in 17.1 innings.
In the rotation, Zach Davies has been excellent, and while one bad start from Jimmy Nelson has spoiled his numbers, he is still a reliable leading man for the Brew Crew.
St. Louis Cardinals
Hot on the heels of Milwaukee and just four games back of the Rockies are the Cardinals. A perennial playoff team, St. Louis missed out on the postseason last year, and are looking to avoid making it a habit. Only one game over .500 you’d think their chances were slim, however, the Cardinals are team used to grinding out wins when they have to.
The Cardinals are 21-17 in the second half, fueled at the plate by Kolten Wong and the wonderful Tommy Pham who has slashed .314/.421/.482 since the break, and hit five homers and swiping six bases.
On the mound, Lance Lynn has been wonderful since the break, posting a 2.23 ERA through his eight starts and making up for a crumbling Mike Leake. In the bullpen Tyler Lyons and Trevor Rosenthal have been excellent, giving up just three earned runs in 28.1 innings between them.
This Cardinals team lack the star power of previous incarnations, but they are still an impressive team and have the best run difference (+44) of any of the chasing teams.
If you had said at the start of the year that the Marlins would still be alive in late August I would have laughed at you. However, here we are and it’s time to take them seriously. After an impressive 7-3 stretch they find themselves 5.5 games behind the Rockies.
When talking about the Marlins you have to talk about Giancarlo Stanton. The monstrous outfielder has slashed .301/.417/.801 since the break, clubbing an incredible 20 homers in just 37 games.
It’s not just Stanton getting things done in the Marlins lineup. Both Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna have been impressive too, hitting in the .280’s and with six homers apiece, while JT Realmuto has become one of the better offensive catchers in the Majors.
It’s not all offense in Miami though. The Marlins bullpen has been impressive when it has had the chance to defend a lead. Brad Ziegler is yet to give up a run since the break and Kyle Barraclough and Drew Steckenrider have been strong options in relief. Unfortunately, the starters have been the Achilles heel of this team. Adam Conley has been their best starter in the second half, but Dan Straily, Chris O’Grady, and Vance Worley have wavered between poor and dreadful. Their post-break team ERA of 4.47 is 15th in the Majors which may sound fine but is not what a playoff chasing team need.
Can anyone overtake Arizona or Colorado?
It’s a hard ask. Per FanGraphs, the Diamondbacks have an 82.5% chance at the playoffs, and the Rockies a 69.3% chance. Those are strong numbers but they aren’t a guarantee. If I had to pick one team to overtake these two, it would be the Cardinals. I like their pitching and the form they have found there, and their remaining schedule is littered with the dregs of the Majors.
The Cards will enter September with a four-game trip to San Francisco, four games in San Diego, three against the Pirates, and three against the Reds. Only a three-game trip to the Cubbies breaks up more Pirates and Reds games. They have just 12 games on their schedule against teams are over .500, and five are against the Brewers. If anyone will catch the Rockies or Diamondbacks, outside of Stanton blasting two homers a game, it will be the Redbirds.
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