September 13, 2012
What You Need to Know
Thursday, September 13
The Wednesday Takeaway
The favorites—the Braves, Cardinals, Dodgers, and Pirates—all lost on Wednesday, running their respective skids to three, three, three, and six. Meanwhile, the challengers—the Brewers, Phillies, Diamondbacks, and Padres—all won, bringing their respective surges to three, seven, two, and four. Nobody wants to lock up either of the two wild-card spots; there are too many teams pursuing them.
A picture is worth a thousand words, so here’s a look at the mess the aforementioned convergence has wrought:
The Braves, 6 ½ games ahead of the field with a league-low 18 remaining, seem safely penciled into one of the two spots. Stranger things have happened—*cough*, 2011, *cough*—but with Atlanta’s odds higher than 95 percent, let’s give Fredi Gonzalez’s team the benefit of the doubt.
The Padres, 6 ½ games behind the head of the pack with a league-low 18 to go, are unlikely to march past six of the seven teams in their way. Bud Black’s squad just swept the Cardinals and has bested all of its rivals with a 35-22 ledger since the All-Star break, but with its odds still around zero percent, it’s probably safe to assume that second-half run will be too little, too late.
The three divisional races are virtually sealed up, with the Giants seven games ahead of the Dodgers, the Nationals 8 ½ up on the Braves, and the Reds 11 ½ away from the Cardinals. Hence, the wild-card hopefuls do not have an alternative route to the postseason.
That means we have six teams fighting for one berth, most likely a chance to visit the Braves in a one-game playoff at Turner Field. And, in part because of Major League Baseball’s emphasis on loading the September schedule with divisional matchups, those six teams won’t see much of each other the rest of the way. Here’s a quick rundown of their remaining dockets:
As shown in the table above, only a pair of series will pit two of those six teams against each other between now and Oct. 3. One of them begins tonight, when the Cardinals and Dodgers kick off a four-game set at Chavez Ravine. The other takes place during the middle of next week, when the Brewers and Pirates will duke it out for three games at PNC Park. Those teams have some control over their destinies; the others are completely on their own. If either St. Louis or Los Angeles earns a sweep this weekend, the other five contenders’ hopes may quickly be dashed. A split, on the other hand, could breed all manner of chaos.
The top three teams in that table are the coldest; the bottom three are the hottest. The Dodgers, arguably the most talented team in the mix, face the toughest road ahead; the Diamondbacks, the only team of the six that is still below .500, have the easiest, both in terms of opponents and home cooking. Then again, Kirk Gibson’s team is only 35-34 in the desert this season, and the Phillies, who will do the most traveling, have posted that exact same record on the road.
Two months ago, commenting on the effects of the new, two-wild-card format during an All-Star break interview, Bud Selig said, “I was going through all the division races and Wild Card races today and the numbers are staggering. We’re going to have a great last three months of the season.”
Three months? Try three weeks. Or, if the dearth of head-to-head showdowns enables that wild-card table to remain as crowded as it is today, it may all come down to three days at the beginning of October.
What to Watch for on Thursday