On Wednesday, we looked at the wild, lunatic, bonkers American League Wild Card chase, breaking down and ranking each team in every major facet of the game. As recently as a week ago, it appeared that the National League wouldn't provide as much drama. But things have changed. While the D-backs have a nice cushion for that first NL Wild Card spot, the second one is still very much in doubt.
For most of the season, the Rockies have appeared destined to meet the Diamondbacks in the Wild Card Game, but Colorado has struggled in the second half. At one point, the Rockies were 21 games over .500. They are now 11 games over .500 -- and the Cardinals and Brewers are attempting to reap the benefits.
As with the AL, variance swamps everything, and there's a lot of variance to be found in 21 games. One of these teams is going to make the playoffs, and their ticket is going to be as valuable as everybody else's. Like with the AL, I took a look at each main category among the contenders and attempted my own "back of napkin" assessment on how the teams stack up against each other at the moment (these rankings would have been fluid all season). Feel free to tell me I'm wrong in the comments or on Twitter at @williamfleitch!
1. St. Louis
Despite the fact that they just roughed up Clayton Kershaw and have beaten the Dodgers twice in a row, the Rockies don't have as great of an offense as you might think right now. In fact, according to OPS plus (which accounts for park factors), they're in the bottom six of the league. Charlie Blackmon has been fantastic, Nolan Arenado is Nolan Arenado and Mark Reynolds and Gerardo Parra have been pleasant surprises. But the rest of Colorado's lineup has been rough, from Trevor Story scuffling in his sophomore season to Ian Desmond (five home runs, 73 OPS+) and Carlos Gonzalez (.251/.326/.389 slash line).
The Brewers are a bit wobbly at the moment, too. Travis Shaw has been their best hitter this year, though Domingo Santana and Jesus Aguilar have come on of late. Meanwhile, Eric Thames has fallen off so much that he's now being benched against right-handers. There's still talent here, but Milwaukee's offense still feels like it's a year or two away.
The strangest thing about having the Cardinals' lineup first here is that, well, look at this lineup from earlier this week:
#STLCards vs. San Diego (9/5):- St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) September 5, 2017
J. Martinez 1B
Every one of those hitters other than Yadier Molina has played for Triple-A Memphis this year. (To be fair, Memphis is having an historic season.) Dexter Fowler just returned from an injury, but at one point this week, the Cardinals' five best hitters (Fowler, Matt Carpenter, Jedd Gyorko, Kolten Wong and Tommy Pham, who's actually having a down-ballot NL MVP Award season) were hurt. Yet they keep scoring runs, and winning. The offense spent the whole season waiting to wake up. It took the Memphis guys to do it. But it might be asking a lot for them to keep it up: The Cards need their studs to get healthy, and soon.
1. St. Louis
Sorry to keep the Rockies in third here, particularly because their pitching hasn't been half bad -- Jon Gray and Kyle Freeland have kept them afloat. But the Brewers have seen Chase Anderson turn into a legitimate ace, and Jimmy Nelson, Brent Suter and Zach Davies have been above-average, as well. Meanwhile, the Cardinals' rotation has been their strength all season, and, again, they've gotten help from Memphis. Mike Leake was traded and Adam Wainwright is hurt, so in comes Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty. With those two, Lance Lynn (quietly the team's best starter this year, setting himself up for quite the payday this offseason), Carlos Martinez (who just threw a three-hit shutout) and Michael Wacha, the starters give the Cards a chance to win every night. Which, down the stretch, is all you can ask for.
3. St. Louis
All three of these defenses are solid, but the Rockies need their defense the most, in their massive ballpark. The Cardinals might be third on this list, but they're light years better than last year. They need to get Wong back to get the infield back to snuff.
3. St. Louis
Trevor Rosenthal's injury and Seung Hwan Oh's inconsistency have thrown the Cards' bullpen into disarray. On the Brewers side, Josh Hader -- who's going to be an amazing starter very soon -- has stabilized the once-chaotic pen, along with Corey Knebel, who has been nails all year. But for all the mocking everyone did of the Rockies for trying to strengthen their bullpen in the offseason, it has paid off. (Chris Rusin also might be the best reliever in the game.)
1. St. Louis
The Rockies are in the midst of an eight-game road trip against the Dodgers and D-backs, a daunting gauntlet even before you consider the Cards will be playing the Reds and Pirates at home in that time. St. Louis and Milwaukee have roughly the same schedules the rest of the way -- they each get the Cubs seven times -- but the Cardinals get a slight edge because they finish the season at Busch Stadium … against the Brewers.
2. St. Louis
This is a moving target: The Cardinals would have been on the bottom of this list a week ago. But they've been here before, their team is suddenly young and exuberant and their rotation is rolling. The Rockies are starting to hear the footsteps, and the Brewers, for all the fun they've had this year, might be a year or two away still.
Playoff probabilities (via MLB.com)
1. Colorado (72.0 percent)
2. St. Louis (19.8 percent)
3. Milwaukee (10.1 percent)
The Rockies have dropped much of their lead … but they're still up three games. With three weeks to go, that is a lot more ground to make up for the other teams than it might seem, particularly when neither Milwaukee nor St. Louis has any head-to-head games with Colorado left. The Rockies have put a little scare in their fans … but I think they'll end up traveling to Phoenix to face the D-backs on Oct. 4 for the NL Wild Card Game.
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