National League Playoff Picture Could Be a Lot Clearer by Friday Morning

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National League Playoff Picture Could Be a Lot Clearer by Friday Morning

Every now and then the Major League Baseball schedule puts together one of those weeks.

From time to time the schedule aligns in such a way that every game seems important—one of those weeks where the loser goes home and the winner goes on.

This is one of those weeks.

The playoff picture in both the American and National Leagues is, at this point, muddy. In both leagues right now, more than half of the teams are still in the playoff hunt. But this week could see the National League lose four playoff contenders.

Here's a quick rundown of the current NL playoff picture.

NL East

Atlanta Braves (leader)

Philadelphia Phillies (2.5 games back)

Florida Marlins (6.5 games back)

New York Mets (6.5 games back)

NL Central

St. Louis Cardinals (leader)

Cincinnati Reds (0.5 games back)

How many playoff contenders will be left in the NL after this week?

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NL West

San Diego Padres (leader)

San Francisco Giants (1.5 games back; WC leader)

Colorado Rockies (7.0 games back)

Los Angeles Dodgers (8.0 games back)

Basically, there are 10 teams out of 16 left in the NL. But notice how many teams are teetering in the 6.5 to 8.0 games back territory. That is where this week gets interesting; if everything goes right, those four teams could be effectively out of the hunt by Friday morning.

Tonight in Atlanta, the Braves and the New York Mets start a three-game series with Tim Hudson and Johan Santana on the mound. For the Mets, each game of this series is crucial. If the Mets hope to stay in the NL East race, they must be no more games back of the Braves at the end of this series than they are at the start.

On the other hand, if the Braves, playing at home, can manage a three-game sweep of the Mets, then suddenly they will have a commanding 9.5-game lead over New York with less than two months remaining, and the Mets will have fallen to two games under .500.

Meanwhile, the Phillies are in Miami this week for a three-game set against the Marlins. Unlike the Braves, the Phillies have to look both up—where they find Atlanta 2.5 games ahead in the standings—and down, where they find the Marlins and Mets just four games out of second place.

Nevertheless, if the Phillies can sweep the Marlins, four games back becomes seven games back, the Marlins will fall to two games under .500, and their playoff hopes will essentially be over.

Meanwhile, over in the NL West, the San Diego Padres begin a four-game click in Los Angeles against the Dodgers. Simply put, the very survival of the Dodgers depends on taking three out of four against the Padres. The Dodgers are already on dangerous ground being 8.0 games behind San Diego, and they simply must pick up a game in this series.

Break even, and a moment is lost. Get swept, and it's time to start looking around and wondering why your team was a buyer at the deadline.

Finally, we have the San Francisco Giants, who are in Colorado for a quick two-game set against the Rockies after a weekend sweep of L.A.

The Rockies are currently 7.0 games back and 5.5 games behind the Giants. Even a sweep would put them only 7.5 games behind the Giants. Nevertheless, that would likely be enough to end the season for Colorado; keep in mind that even in their miraculous 2007 season, the furthest the Rockies ever got out of first place was 7.5 games, on Aug. 23.

So there you have it: If all goes according to plan, then come Friday morning we will have six teams fighting it out for three divisional crowns and one wild card, and the other 10 teams in the league will be making plans for next season.

Isn't that great?

Of course, on the other hand, if the Mets sweep the Braves, the Marlins sweep the Phillies, the Rockies sweep the Giants, and the Dodgers sweep the Padres, then we'll simply have one of the tightest playoff races of all time.

And I think that would be so much better.

In fact, that's what I think I will root for to happen.

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