With just over a month to go in the MLB season, the race is officially on for that elusive Wild Card spot. There are 6 teams in both the NL and AL who have a realistic chance at winning their respective wild card, and they all have hurdles standing in the way of them accomplishing that.
In the NL it is between the Atlanta Braves, San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals, while in the AL it is the Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Each of these teams have a shot for their spot in the postseason, but they each have flaws that could potentially prevent them from making their run in the final month of the season.
The number one hurdle facing the St. Louis Cardinals is time. They are running out of games. The Cardinals have not been playing well as of late and are 4-6 in their last ten games played. This includes series losses to both the Rockies and Pirates, and their play of late is costing them their shot at the postseason.
The Cards haven't done so poorly at the plate or on the mound, but errors in the field have cost them, as well as allowing teams to just flat out outplay them. In order for the Cards to miraculously come back and win the wild card, or at the very least their division, they need to rely on the demise of the teams ahead of them and play their best baseball of the year in the upcoming month.
Realistically, you could swap the Giants and Diamondbacks in and out of this position. If the Giants plan on making it to the postseason, it will be by way of their division. Their main hurdle is the Arizona Diamondbacks. They have a huge series over Labor Day long weekend where it will most likely make or break their season.
If the Giants go on to win the NL West, they will be the first team since 1914 to win their division while averaging just three runs a game. The Giants need to start putting up some offense if they want to play in October. Since acquiring Carlos Beltran at the trade deadline in an effort to get their offense going, the giants have won just four games. The Giants need to all but win out if they want to make the playoffs.
The pitching staff of the Giants needs to keep at it and pray the offense does their part. If the Giants win the crucial series with the D'backs in September, they will provide themselves an opportunity to save their season. If not, it is all but over for the defending champs.
The only thing standing in the way of the NL Wild Card leading Atlanta Braves and the postseason is themselves. If the Braves keep the pace at which they are going, 7-3 in their last 10, and earn a crucial series win against fellow NL wild card candidates the San Francisco Giants, the Braves should be set to distance themselves from the competition.
There is one word that is the key to the Braves next month: consistency. If the Braves are as consistent as they have been throughout August, they will win the wild card handily. With the division out of reach, the Braves only have one thing to focus on and that is winning the NL Wild Card. They have nothing else to worry about but holding on. So, barring a huge choke by the Braves, they are all but penciled in for the NL Wild Card.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim find themselves in a similar situation to the Giants. They have a better opportunity at winning their division than the AL Wild Card.
The Angels need to figure out how to close out games. They are just 3-7 in their last 10 despite putting up solid offensive numbers and receiving excellent pitching. The only thing keeping the Angels from success is their schedule in September, which includes a series against the Yankees and a series with the AL West leading Texas Rangers in their last series of the season.
The Angels need to start closing games out if they want any shot at making it to the postseason.
The Tampa Bay Rays are probably in the worst position imaginable in the AL Wild Card race. They are in third in the AL East and are stuck behind the Boston Red Sox for the AL Wild Card. The hurdles the Rays must overcome are unimaginable.
First, they must go into September and play a series against the Rangers, then two each versus the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. If they win all of these series they could give themselves a shot at a miracle.
The Rays must be all but perfect if they want a chance at the playoffs this season.
Much like the Giants and Diamondbacks, you could swap out the Red Sox with the Yankees for the AL Wild Card spot every other day. Just half a game separates the two teams.
The Red Sox' only goal is still to win the AL East. All they need to do is improve their consistency. Just 5-5 in their last 10, they need to finish September with a winning record. If they do this they will be in fine shape for either the AL Wild Card or AL East title.
Regardless of the end result, fans should hope to see another epic battle between the BoSox and Yankees in the ALCS come October.
If we are being technical, no one in the Wild Card hunt is mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, but both the AL and NL Wild Card are pretty much set in stone. It doesn't appear as though anyone will be catching the Braves in the NL, and the winner in the AL, as usual, will be the loser of the AL East. Do not completely count out the others in the hunt for the Wild Card, however, until they are actually eliminated.
Regardless of who wins, they most definitely will not be considered a dark horse contender come October.