With the three National League division races wrapped up and the top record in the league already well in hand, the remaining drama in the dwindling days of the 2016 regular season stems from the wild-card race.
The Chicago Cubs, Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers have already clinched the NL Central, East and West, respectively, with the former pacing the majors with 101 wins and counting.
As for the NL wild-card spots, the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants would make the playoffs if the season ended after Tuesday night's action, but the St. Louis Cardinals are still in the hunt, just a game behind the Giants.
The Pittsburgh Pirates and Miami Marlins are out of the chase as of Tuesday.
Here's a look at the key NL standings heading into Wednesday.
|Washington Nationals (East)||92||65||.586||vs. Arizona (2 games); vs. Miami (3 games)|
|Chicago Cubs (Central)||101||56||.643||at Pittsburgh (2 games); at Cincinnati (3 games)|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||90||67||.573||at San Diego (2 games); at San Francisco (3 games)|
|Wild Card Teams|
|New York Mets||84||74||.532||at Miami (1 game); at Philadelphia (3 games)|
|San Francisco Giants||83||74||.529||vs. Colorado (2 games); vs Los Angeles Dodgers (3 games)|
|St. Louis Cardinals||82||75||.522||vs. Cincinnati (2 games); vs. Pittsburgh (3 games)|
The three teams leading the NL wild-card chase won on Tuesday night, keeping the drama very much alive as the season winds to a close.
After losing 7-3 to the Miami Marlins on Monday in the series opener—as emotional a game as you'll see due to it being the Marlins' first since the tragic death of 24-year-old starting pitcher Jose Fernandez—the Mets rebounded to beat the exhausted home side 12-1 on Tuesday.
Noah Syndergaard struck out eight in six innings of work, while Jay Bruce and Yoenis Cespedes each hit two-run homers. The Mets have one more game against Miami before a travel day to face the lowly Philadelphia Phillies to close out the season.
The Giants remain a game ahead of the Cardinals and a half-game behind the Mets, courtesy of a 12-3 walloping of the Colorado Rockies on Tuesday. After heading into the All-Star break with the best record in the majors, the Giants have been a disaster in the latter half of the season, with an implosion-prone bullpen perhaps the biggest culprit.
San Francisco is trying to avoid a special kind of history by clinging to a wild-card spot, as journalist Wendy Thurm noted earlier in September:
That spectacular first-half cushion this turbulent team built up has them in the playoff hunt with five games left to play. Though all five games are at home, the last three won't be easy. The Giants have to play the rival Dodgers, who might still be looking to secure home-field advantage in the NLDS by surpassing the Nationals in the standings.
If the Giants do get into the playoffs, they can only hope that even-year magic miraculously takes over and saves them from getting bounced immediately from the postseason competition.
The Cardinals kept up in the chase with a 12-5 win over the Cincinnati Reds. The key moment of the game was a fourth-inning grand slam from shortstop Aledmys Diaz, playing with a heavy heart after the death of Fernandez, a close friend.
Here's a look at Diaz's first career grand slam, per the MLB:
According to Nightengale, Diaz grew up with Fernandez in Cuba and spent Monday visiting the pitcher's grieving family before returning to St. Louis to help his team close out the season.
The Cardinals, who won 100 games last season and reached the NLCS, close out the regular season with two more games against the Reds and a three-game series at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates, who were eliminated from the playoff race on Tuesday, after losing 6-4 to the Cubs and seeing the Giants prevail against the Rockies.
Though they have been prone to sparring in the postseason in recent years, the Cardinals will be hoping the Dodgers can help them out by taking a game or two from San Francisco and allowing them to reach the playoffs for the sixth year in a row.