The dog days of summer are officially behind us, and before we know it, the crackle of fall and splashes of red and orange will surround us. But for those of you bemoaning the worsening weather, don’t be: We’ve got a playoff race heating up right here in town.
The Milwaukee Brewers are currently 76-60, desperately gripping onto the second Wild Card spot in the National League. The Brewers are pushing for just their fifth postseason appearance in team history, though it seems as any playoff dreams now solely lie with Milwaukee’s Wild Card position. The Brewers have held steady in second half – after a 90-win pace in the first half, they have played to an 89-win pace since the break – but the Chicago Cubs excelled in August and pushed their NL Central lead to four games.
The Crew still has six contests remaining against the North Siders, including a three-gamer at home beginning this Monday, so Milwaukee would need to go at least 4-2 in those games to have any shot at the division crown. FiveThirtyEight only gives the Brewers a nine percent chance to win the NL Central.
Even the St. Louis Cardinals, who fired their manager on July 14 and were only two games over .500 at the All-Star break, have jumped a half-game ahead of Milwaukee for first Wild Card spot. The Cardinals are playing at a 110-win pace since mid-July, and just wrapped up a 22-6 tear in August. The Brewers only have three games left against the Cards, which come in St. Louis in the penultimate series of the year.
Milwaukee could certainly catch the Cardinals for the first Wild Card position, but with the two teams trending in opposite directions, the Brewers are more readily focused on the competition trying to hunt them down. The projection systems are still fairly optimistic about Milwaukee’s postseason odds; Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs have the most faith in the Brewers, as both give them a 75 percent chance to reach October, with FiveThirtyEight not far behind at 70 percent.
But with the team’s current tenuous hold on a playoff position, along with their second-half struggles in recent years (2014 and 2017 come to mind), the Milwaukee faithful is rightfully uneasy with 26 games left on the schedule.
Four other teams are clamoring for NL playoff position; here is how they line up with the Brewers.
Arizona Diamondbacks (74-61, lead NL West, 1.5 games behind MIL)
One of these next three teams – the D-Backs, the Dodgers or the Rockies – will make the playoffs as the NL West division winner, but the Brewers are trying to make sure there aren’t two West representatives playing in October.
The Diamondbacks are in the division driver’s seat right now, but with three teams jammed within one and a half games of each other, Arizona still has to have one eye trained on the Wild Card race. The D-Backs also have one of baseball’s toughest schedules down the stretch, including five games with the Dodgers, seven with the Rockies, three with the NL East-leading Braves, three at the defending champion Astros and three more against the aforementioned Cubs.
Twelve intra-division games will be enough to blow up the NL standings; nine more against division leaders could be enough to send the Diamondbacks spiraling.
Arizona would do well to finish 11-10 in those 21 games against potential playoff teams, meaning its five remaining contests against the lowly San Diego Padres could make or break its season.
Los Angeles Dodgers (73-62, 2.5 games behind MIL)
The Dodgers are the looming threat that terrifies everyone in the National League. After a brutally slow start put them at 20-27 on May 21, they finished the latter portion of the first half on an absolute tear and seemed poised to wrest away control of the NL West. But despite adding Manny Machado and Brian Dozier before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, L.A. is just 20-19 in the second half and has struggled to find that next gear to pull away from the rest of the division.
If the Dodgers can put things together, it seems more likely that they will win the NL West than a Wild Card berth. Part of that is because they are closer to the division lead than the Brewers’ second Wild Card spot, but it also just feels like a matter of time before Los Angeles – who has the best run differential in the NL – rolls off 11 wins in 12 games. With so many contests remaining against the NL West foes, the streaky Dodgers will either fly up the standings – or quickly fall out of the race.
Colorado Rockies (72-62, 3 games behind MIL)
The Rockies have a tough slate remaining, including 13 games with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks and four more at home against the Phillies. Colorado is also playing above its head right now, as its minus-21 run differential is indicative of a team that should be four games under .500, rather than 10 games over.
Similarly to the Brewers, Colorado is led by two stud position players – Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story – and is skating by with a pitching staff that lacks a true ace. Colorado was streaking in mid-August, winning 10 of 12 against the Dodgers, Astros, Braves and Padres. But some of that luster has worn off over the past week as they have lost five of their last seven and surrendered ground in the standings. Should they miss the playoffs, the Rockies will rue their struggles against Milwaukee this season, as they posted just a 2-5 record against the team they are currently trying to overtake.
Though rarely seen on the national stage, Miller Park and Coors Field each represent two of the best October environments. It would be great to see both a "Rocktober" and a Brew Crew atmosphere during the playoffs, but it seems more likely that it will be one or the other.
Philadelphia Phillies (72-62, 3 games behind MIL)
Just like the Brewers did last year when they burst into contention earlier than expected, the Phillies are starting to show their youth in the second half. Philadelphia is only 9-14 since Aug. 6, and has lost ground in both the NL East and NL Wild Card races.
The Brewers went through similar woes last August, but they ultimately bounced back before falling one game short of the final playoff spot. Will the Phillies be able to manage a similar September surge? They do have 12 games remaining against the dregs of the NL East – Miami and the New York Mets – that should boost their win total, as well as four games against Colorado that provide the opportunity to knock out another Wild Card contender. The schedule lines up nicely for Philadelphia, but it’s unclear if they have the horses to take advantage.
Milwaukee has a slight cushion in the second Wild Card spot right now, and has 15 games against San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Detroit left on the schedule. The front office is clearly going for it too, adding starter Gio Gonzalez, reliever Xavier Cedeno and outfielder Curtis Granderson in the final hours before the waiver trade deadline on Friday. A postseason appearance is sitting on a tee for the Brewers and the organization is all-in. The only thing left to do is win some games.