Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals are a long shot to capture a wild card spot.
With just a month left in the regular baseball season, time is dwindling for teams to be playoff contenders. While some organizations, like the Atlanta Braves for instance, have comfortable division leads, the wild card competition is still wide open.
The dual wild card rule opens up the competition to teams that in previous years would have been unfairly edged out.
In 2013, the competition is particularly thrilling. In the National League, long shots like the Arizona Diamondbacks and Washington Nationals are just six and six-and-a-half games out, respectively. That margin is even less so in the American League for the Kansas City Royals.
Below is a list of each MLB wild card contender’s playoff chances, denoted by “buying” or “selling.”
Note: “Buying” and “selling” is not just based on second half success/non-success. Wild card picks are more contingent on rosters’ talent and the ability to carry winning forward through September.
All statistics (through September 1) sourced through Baseball-Reference.com.
The Tampa Bay Rays' wild card hopes are on David Price's shoulders.
After a dominant July, where they boasted a 21-5 record, the Tampa Bay Rays lost more (15) than they won (11) in August. While it’s not the type of momentum the Rays need going into the final month, the team is far too talented to let their wild card lead slip.
In addition to David Price finally pitching like an ace (2.12 ERA since June 2), Matt Moore is scheduled to return off the disabled list either Tuesday, September 3 or Wednesday, September 4.
The Rays might not have what it takes to oust the Boston Red Sox atop the American League East, but the small-market organization will likely still be playing baseball come October.
Scott Feldman has posted a 4.18 ERA since becoming a Baltimore Oriole.
The Baltimore Orioles are serious about contending. During the non-waiver and waiver deadlines, the Orioles acquired Scott Feldman, Bud Norris, Francisco Rodriguez and most recently Michael Morse.
While the additions have certainly bolstered their roster, the team’s lack of subsequent wins has yet to justify their activity. The Orioles have gone just 19-20 in the second half.
Also, the team dropped six of eight games in recent series against the Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in August.
Given the competition, the Orioles postseason chances are dwindling.
Ubaldo Jimenez is finally pitching like the ace he was advertised as in 2011.
The Cleveland Indians’ success in 2013 is a bit mystifying. Despite not possessing a starting pitcher with a park-adjusted ERA+ over 108 and trading away one of their best hitters (Shin-Soo Choo) in the offseason, the team is still eight games over .500.
And with a 51-44 record going into the All-Star break, the Indians appeared to be a major contender for a wild card spot. But since the break, the Tribe has gone 21-20.
The team’s foray into mediocrity is on the shoulders of top hitters Carlos Santana, Nick Swisher and Jason Kipnis, who have all slumped post-June.
By comparison, starters Ubaldo Jimenez (4.56 ERA versus 2.53 ERA), Corey Kluber (3.88 ERA versus 2.33 ERA), Justin Masterson (3.72 ERA versus 2.89 ERA) and Scott Kazmir (4.60 ERA versus 3.89 ERA) have all performed better in the second half than the first. Even rookie Danny Salazar has done a nice job stepping in for the injured Kluber, hurling a 3.33 ERA over five second-half starts.
The Indians’ losing ways seem to be less of a fall from grace and more of a team playing to their true talent levels.
Kurt Suzuki is back, baby.
The Oakland Athletics have been hit hard by injuries lately. The A’s lost both of their catchers, John Jaso and Derek Norris, who were in a productive platoon together. Outfielder Josh Reddick is also currently sidelined with a sprained wrist.
But the A’s have hardly skipped a beat. General manager Billy Beane re-acquired catcher Kurt Suzuki, whom he traded a season ago, back from the Washington Nationals to platoon with Stephen Vogt. The Athletics can also be thankful for possessing deep outfield depth, boasting the likes of Coco Crisp, Brandon Moss, Yoenis Cespedes, Chris Young and the recently promoted Michael Choice.
After going 56-39 in the first half, however, the A’s have only been three games over .500 so far in the second half. The team might not be enough of a powerhouse to oust the Texas Rangers in the American League West, but the Athletics certainly have the depth to capture one of the wild card spots.
O Captain! My Captain!
It’s difficult to feel badly for an organization that spends more than $228 million and still doesn’t win enough. But the New York Yankees have endured an inordinate volume of bad fortune in 2013.
The Yankees have more or less been without Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, Kevin Youkilis and Mark Teixeira for most of the season. Despite this, the team has still found ways to win—and in a very competitive division, no less.
The Bombers are eight games over .500 on the year and also enjoyed a fruitful August (16-12). Given their elderly roster and questionable depth, however, it’s unlikely the Yankees could fend off the Tampa Bay Rays or Oakland Athletics for a wild card spot.
James Shields has posted a 3.03 ERA in his first season with the Kansas City Royals.
The Kansas City Royals wanted 2013 to be the year. In the offseason, they bolstered their thin rotation by adding James Shields, Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie.
Despite the upgrades, the Royals still pale in comparison to the American League Central-leading Detroit Tigers and are just four games over .500. And if not for a second-half surge (27-17), the Royals’ overall record would look a heck of a lot less pretty.
When push comes to shove, the Royals—even with their second-half accolades—lack the roster talent and depth both the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics possess.
There might not be a lot to celebrate for Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals in 2013.
The Washington Nationals, whom many critics felt would be the next big dynasty in baseball, have really underachieved in 2013. The Nationals are 14 games out of first place and six-and-a-half games out of the wild card.
For a team that boasts stars like Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Ian Desmond, Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Rafael Soriano and many more, their inability to put away games is inexplicable.
Even though the Nats went 16-11 in August, the team still holds a 21-20 record in the second half. And despite sweeping the Miami Marlins recently, the Nationals dropped two games to the similarly mediocre New York Mets—including an 11-3 loss on Saturday, August 31.
The 2013 season might be a lost one, but the future is undoubtedly bright for the Washington Nationals.
It's going to be a nail biter between the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates.
The race in the National League Central is airtight. With the St. Louis Cardinals’ latest win over the Pittsburgh Pirates, the division rivals are now tied for first place in the Central. But at some point, one of these teams will falter and cede the division. When this happens, the loser will take one of the wild card spots.
In general, the Cardinals always find a way to win. Since 2000, the Cardinals have clinched a playoff spot nine times, advanced to the World Series three times and won the whole thing twice. And despite losing Albert Pujols two seasons ago, the Cards have barely skipped a beat, going 79-57 in 2013.
After a dominant first half, boasting a 57-36 record, the Birds have been mediocre since the All-Star break, posting a 22-21 win/loss. But with talent like Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter, Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Carlos Beltran, Adam Wainwright and Shelby Miller, it would be impossible to rule the Cardinals out for a playoff berth.
The Pirates haven’t been playoff bound since 1992—but that fact hasn’t stopped the 2013 squad. The Bucs have gone 79-57 this season and are three games over .500 in the second half.
Despite already possessing an able roster, the Pirates still acquired Marlon Byrd, Justin Morneau and John Buck at the waiver deadline. Currently injured closer Jason Grilli is also set to return soon. Given their talent volume, the Pirates have a good chance at besting the Cardinals for the division. But even if they don’t, the perennially losing franchise will gladly take a wild card spot.
Shin-Soo Choo deserves more than a high five for his efforts in 2013.
With teams like the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates in the same division, it’s sometimes easy to forget about the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds have gone 76-61 in 2013, including a 23-19 record in the second half.
The Reds made a big investment in 2013 this past offseason by acquiring rental outfielder Shin-Soo Choo—a win-now move that has paid instant dividends. Choo has been as advertised, posting a .284 batting average, a park-adjusted 137 OPS+, 18 home runs and 17 stolen bases so far this season.
But as great as the Reds’ offense has been, the teams’ starting pitchers have stared. Between mostly Homer Bailey, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Mike Leake, Tony Cingrani and Johnny Cueto, the rotation has combined for a 3.37 ERA (versus a 3.60 FIP) and 12.7 fWAR.
With a stocked rotation like the above, the Reds are a favorite to nab the second wild card spot and could turn heads in the playoffs too.
Paul Goldschmidt has emerged as one of the finest hitters in baseball.
It didn’t take long for the powerhouse Los Angeles Dodgers to overtake the Arizona Diamondbacks for the National League West. The Diamondbacks have gone 69-66, mostly led by star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.
Goldschmidt, who has posted a .297 batting average with a league-leading park-adjusted 158 OPS+ and 31 home runs, would be a legitimate MVP Award candidate if the Snakes were a slightly better squad.
Despite owning respectable .526 win percentage at the half, the Diamondbacks have since dropped 21 games (versus 19 wins) and fallen 11.5 games behind the Dodgers. The D’Backs are also six games out of the wild card, which wouldn’t seem so insurmountable if teams like the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals or Pittsburgh Pirates weren’t ahead of them.
Say what you will about Justin Upton’s up-and-down 2013 season, but the Diamondbacks would be a heck of a lot more competitive if his stick was still in their lineup.