With just under three weeks left in the MLB regular season, the NL Wild Card race is set to go down to the wire.
Major League Baseball certainly got all that it bargained for and more when it added a second Wild Card entrant to the playoffs in each league. The addition of those two extra playoff spots has kept more teams in the hunt, added intrigue to the trade deadline and generally kept the entire month of September interesting for serious fans. Given how well the Wild Card changes have been received, it’s likely only a matter of time before the league goes to eight playoff teams in each league.
The National League Wild Card race has been the race to watch in baseball this year. At one point, as many as ten teams in the NL could reasonably convince themselves they had an outside shot at getting into the postseason. That number has been effectively winnowed down to five real contenders (at four games back with 19 left to play, the New York Mets might somehow be able to make a case for themselves, but let’s remember, it’s the Mets).
The brilliant FiveThirtyEight currently gives the Washington Nationals an almost 100-percent chance to make the playoffs, but they are certainly not immune to collapse in or around the postseason. The top spot is Washington’s to lose, but how does the rest of the field shake out?
1. Washington Nationals (+4.5 games, +2.5 games to host WC Game)
The Washington Nationals were left for dead at the end of May when their record sunk to 19-31. Speculation was building that stars Max Scherzer and Anthony Rendon would be made available for trade and Dave Martinez’s job as manager was in serious jeopardy. Since bottoming out on May 24, however, the Nationals are 60-32 and have taken a semi-commanding lead in the race for the National League’s top Wild Card.
Even without Bryce Harper, the talent was there for the Nationals to stay in the hunt for the World Series this year. As they approach October as a Wild Card, they remain one of the most dangerous teams in the National League. If they can get through the one-game playoff, the Nats will be a dangerous matchup for any of the division winners.
Led by MVP candidates Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto, the Nationals boast a lineup that is third in the National League in runs and second in OPS. Their lineup won’t let them down over the final three weeks of the regular season.
Washington’s rotation is the best of the remaining Wild Card contenders with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin at the top. All three are healthy and firing on all cylinders. Anibal Sanchez and Erick Fedde have been more than serviceable rounding out the rotation.
If there is one thing that could sink the Nationals, it is their bullpen, but things have been relatively calm out there of late. The Nats relief issues have continued for another season, but they’re clear enough of the rest of the Wild Card field that Martinez should be able to bring it in for a landing.