NL Wild Card Race: Breaking Down Top Contenders' September Schedules
Even though games in April mean just as much as they do in September, Major League Baseball fans tend to focus even harder on the schedule now because the season is winding down and the playoff race has taken shape.
The National League wild-card race continues to pick up steam, with four teams within 2.5 games of each other with less than one month to go in the regular season. The good news is, thanks to the updated postseason format, two of those teams will be playing in October.
But before we get to that moment when one team will attempt to reign supreme, we have to look at the schedules for the top contenders to determine who has the "best" shot at playing in the second season.
Atlanta Braves (76-59, No. 1 Wild Card)
|Sep. 4-6||vs. Colorado|
|Sep. 7-9||@ New York Mets|
|Sep. 10-12||@ Milwaukee|
|Sep. 14-16||vs. Washington|
|Sep. 17-19||@ Miami|
|Sep. 21-23||@ Philadelphia|
|Sep. 25-27||vs. Miami|
|Sep. 28-30||vs. New York Mets|
|Oct. 1-3||@ Pittsburgh|
Sep. 14-16 vs. Washington
The Braves are not completely out of the National League East race, sitting 6.5 games behind the Nationals right now. If they want to get back in that race and have a chance to avoid playing the one-game wild-card playoff, they have to at least win this series, if not sweep all three games.
Sep. 21-23 at Philadelphia
The Phillies have been playing much better since losing three straight in the middle of August when their record fell to 54-65. They have gone 11-5 since then, actually getting to within eight games of the second wild-card spot.
The Braves are clearly the superior team and could easily be on the verge of clinching a playoff spot by the time this series rolls around. But things could get dicey if they run into the Phillies pitching staff at the wrong time.
St. Louis Cardinals (73-62, No. 2 Wild Card)
|Sep. 4-5||vs. New York Mets|
|Sep. 7-9||vs. Milwaukee|
|Sep. 10-12||@ San Diego|
|Sep. 13-16||@ Los Angeles Dodgers|
|Sep. 18-20||vs. Houston|
|Sep. 21-23||vs. Chicago Cubs|
|Sep. 24-26||@ Houston|
|Sep. 28-30||vs. Washington|
|Oct. 1-3||vs. Cincinnati|
Who Is The Best NL Wild Card Contender?
Sep. 13-16 at Los Angeles Dodgers
This one is a no-brainer. Right now, these two teams are separated by half a game. The Cardinals are trying to keep their legs fresh, as they have looked tired at the start of the month. They need to find their stride in a hurry, otherwise they will find themselves on the outside of the postseason race at the end of the month.
Sep. 7-9 vs. Milwaukee
It is hard to find a potential trap series against a lesser team that could cause them to stumble, as the Cubs and Astros should not give them many problems.
The Brewers win almost by default, though they keep inching closer to the .500 mark. Their pitching staff is a mess right now, but the offense is firing on all cylinders and could be a nightmare for the Cardinals bullpen to figure out.
Los Angeles Dodgers (73-63, .5 Game Behind St. Louis)
|Sep. 4-5||vs. San Diego|
|Sep. 7-9||@ San Francisco|
|Sep. 11-12||@ Arizona|
|Sep. 13-16||vs. St. Louis|
|Sep. 18-20||@ Washington|
|Sep. 21-23||@ Cincinnati|
|Sep. 25-27||@ San Diego|
|Sep. 28-30||vs. Colorado|
|Oct. 1-3||vs. San Francisco|
Sep. 13-16 vs. St. Louis
As mentioned before, not that you needed to be told, but this series will have a lasting impact on the wild-card race, if either the Dodgers or Cardinals takes at least three out of four games. If they split the series, we just end up with a lot more questions to be answered.
Sep. 25-27 at San Diego
The Dodgers are taking care of business right now, but what happens when they have to go on the road to a place where offenses go to die?
Despite making the trade for Adrian Gonzalez last month, their offense still isn't very deep. If they hit a slump at the wrong time, or the right three pitchers are on the mound for San Diego, this will be a very interesting series to watch.
Pittsburgh Pirates (70-64, 2.5 Games Behind St. Louis)
|Sep. 4-5||vs. Houston|
|Sep. 7-9||vs. Chicago Cubs|
|Sep. 10-12||@ Cincinnati|
|Sep. 14-17||@ Chicago|
|Sep. 18-20||vs. Milwaukee|
|Sep. 21-23||@ Houston|
|Sep. 24-27||@ New York Mets|
|Sep. 28-30||vs. Cincinnati|
|Oct. 1-3||vs. Atlanta|
Oct. 1-3 vs. Atlanta
Depending on how things play out for the Braves in September, this could be a huge series for them. Since I think they will be fine, the Pirates have to figure out a way to stay in the race long enough to make this series matter.
Their schedule does line up favorably, with 12 games against the Astros and Cubs. If they can win eight of those games, they would have to find, maybe, another 10 in the other five series to have a shot at the postseason.
Sep. 18-20 vs. Milwaukee
This is a battle of attrition, as the Pirates are built on pitching and defense, while the Brewers are going to use their high-powered offense to beat you into submission.
The Pirates don't have enough depth in the lineup to mount a large comeback when they get behind, so it will be imperative that they get James McDonald and A.J. Burnett on track in time for this series.
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