As the St. Louis Cardinals stumble toward the finish line, there are four legitimate teams nipping at their heels for the final Wild Card spot. Two that are rather intriguing due to their late surge are the Milwaukee Brewers and Philadelphia Phillies.
Both squads were several games under .500 in August and left for the scrap pile. But good pitching and solid hitting have thrown both teams right into the Wild Card mix.
Before the games on Sept. 19, the Brewers were only 2.5 games back and the Phillies were four games back. The Dodgers are two games back, but their wheels are falling off faster than their pit crew can get them back on.
Let's look at the Brewers first and see if their chances are legit or not.
On August 19, the Brewers were 54-66 and planning their strategy for next year. But some decent starting pitching, lead by ace Yovani Gallardo has brought them back into the race. Gallardo hasn't lost a start since July 26, going 8-0 with a 2.69 ERA.
Oh, and there is Ryan Braun, who has put together an MVP-caliber season. Since Aug. 1, Braun is batting .322 with 12 home runs and 34 RBI in 43 games. First baseman Corey Hart is batting .309 during the same stretch with an OPS of .914.
No one ever accused the Brewers of not being able to hit, but who thought their ace would go undefeated during this stretch and the Brewers would win all 10 of his starts. But they have also benefited from 19 games against the likes of the Rockies, Cubs, Astros and Marlins.
All that said, the Brewers probably don't have the the depth in rotation and bullpen to make a serious post season run.
Who Will Take the Final Wildcard Spot?
On Aug. 17, the Phils found themselves at 54-65. Ryan Howard hasn't hit since he came of the DL, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins are both hitting less than .260 and Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino were both shipped out of town. So the Phillies were basically left with All-Star catcher Carlos Ruiz to provide any offense.
But the Phillies were built to hit as well as pitch. The Phils committed $333 million to Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay to build a rock-solid top of the rotation.
It's their pitching that has brought them to the cusp of a playoff spot.
Roy Halladay has been solid since Aug. 4, going 6-1 with a respectable 3.58 ERA. In addition, the Phillies are 7-2 in his nine starts.
Hamels is 4-0 with a 2.44 ERA since Aug. 7 and have won six of his seven starts.
Cliff Lee has been just as good. Lee is also 4-0 with a 1.29 ERA since Aug. 21 and the Phillies have won five of his six starts.
If the Phillies are going to make a strong surge at the last wild card spot, it will be their pitching that gets them in.
But taking a realistic view of the last post season spot, it's the Cardinals spot to lose. They are starting off well to secure that spot, taking the first two games from the Astros.
The Cardinals have 13 games left. If they can go 8-5 during that stretch, that will put them at 87 wins and would most likely lock up the final wild card spot and bring October baseball to St. Louis again, where it belongs.