The post-season qualifiers are all determined in the AL, but it’s a different story in the NL with two divisions in a virtual dead heat with 5 days left in the season. After the break, a closer look at the races in the NL’s Central and West divisions.
So, here’s where we stand at the close of play on Tuesday, starting with the Central.
The Brewers have gone into St. Louis this week and taken the first two from the Cardinals, pretty much knocking the Redbirds out of the chase for the division crown (the Cards’ elimination number is now down to 1). So, it’s either the Cubs or Brewers in the race to avoid the wildcard game, although both teams should reach the post-season and could punch their tickets as early as tomorrow. That’s because of the West division standings that look like this.
The two front runners here could also both make the post-season, but it’s a lot less likely than in the Central, as St. Louis is right on their heels in the wildcard race, just a half game back of the Rockies. So, three teams within a game of each other, and only two will make it to October.
The hot teams this month are the Brewers (15-7), Rockies (15-8) and Dodgers (15-8), while the Cubs and Cardinals, both hot in August (18-10 and 22-6, respectively), have cooled off this month at 12-11 for Chicago and 11-12 for St. Louis. Breaking that down a bit more, the Dodgers were scuffling a bit to start the month (5-5), but have gone 10-3 since, including sweeping three from the Rockies and taking three of four from the Cardinals. Colorado started the month hot with a 5-0 spurt and are also 5-0 heading into play tomorrow, rebounding from a 5-8 slide that included that forgettable excursion to LA. Milwaukee has a similar story to the Rox, going 7-2 to start the month, then 5-5 in the middle, and riding a 3-0 crest heading into play tomorrow. The Cubs have been heading the other direction, losing 4 of 6 heading into play tomorrow, while the Cardinals have seen their 6-1 run come to a screeching halt this week at the hands of the Brewers.
The remaining schedule has the Cubs playing two more against Pittsburgh and finishing with three against the Cardinals, with all of those games at Wrigley. Milwaukee and St. Louis have one more game against each other before the Brewers head home and, thanks to the miracle of inter-league play, finish up against the Tigers. Out west, the Dodgers have one more against the D-Backs, then finish against the Giants, with all of those games away from Chavez. The Rockies have two more against the prostrate Phillies (losers of 17 of 23 games) and three against the Nationals (winners of 11 of 17), with all of those tilts at Coors. The Brewers and Cubs have the strongest home records which should stand them in good stead heading into the final weekend. The other three have similar records home and away.
Looking ahead to the post-season with four of these teams and Atlanta, starting pitching looks to be a strength for Dodgers, Braves, Cards and Brewers, and less so for the Cubs and Rockies. Relievers are a strength for the Cubs and Brewers, less so for the Braves and Rockies, and a significant weakness for the Dodgers and Cards. Here is how these teams have fared, starting and finishing games.
The Braves and Cardinals have been the fastest starters, with St. Louis notably taking the early lead in 75 of their games, more than 40% higher than the Cubs total of just 53 contests. But, St. Louis has the worst comeback record in the late innings and the Cubs the best (tied with Atlanta), apparently owing mainly to the two teams’ very different pitching results closing out games. The Rockies have a different problem in the late going with their offense going dry, while Braves’ batters have pummeled opposing pitchers in the late innings, surprisingly the only one of these teams with above average batting results over the final three frames.
Why will five of these teams comprise the NL post-season competitors? One reason is that these 6 teams rank 1-6 in the best record against .500+ opponents. Here are those results and also their records playing each other.
The Braves and Rockies look to be most challenged among this competition, while the Dodgers have had the most success, though that is almost wholly the result of their domination of Colorado and Atlanta.