There’s just one team in the National League that is safely out of the playoff conversation. The Marlins sit at 34-57, 13 games back of the Phillies for the second Wild Card, and that’s the largest deficit. The next largest deficit is the Mets’ 6 games back. Here are the NL standings as of this writing:
2019 NL Playoff Standings
Viewed through the lens of simply games back, that’s a list of hope for over a dozen fan bases, exactly why the Wild Card was devised and the Wild Card play-in game was added.
Of course, it’s really easy to dismiss a good chunk of these teams from consideration because, well, sub-.500 teams with negative run differentials don’t typically hang around. As fun as the first three months of the season can be for half the league, the 162-game schedule is a crucible and you better believe it burns away the pretenders.
Still, for the sake of content, let’s make some predictions.
[Edit: I didn’t mention the Nationals because I just assumed they were in. Maybe something weird happens and the bullpen they thought they had solved comes back to life to murder them in a Vorheesesque fashion, but the talent on that roster is practically overwhelming and seems unlikely to fold late, especially since it looks to be coming into its own now.]
Teams with no chance
Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Edwin Diaz, Pete Alonso, and Michael Conforto, sure, but also Mickey Calloway, a rookie GM, and the Wilpon ownership. The season has already been a mess off the field for them despite obvious efforts to improve the on the field product and the 41-51 record reflects that more than anything else.
Okay, for what it’s worth, one of the worst teams in baseball has the absolute hardest “strength of schedule” the rest of the way. They, along with the Rockies, are slated to play against teams with a combined .513 winning percentage. The Giants have seven games left at Coors Field, a place where they’ve won just three games since the start of 2017.
Yes, they have Josh Bell, a legitimate MVP contender, but every year, this franchise plays a shell game. They are trying to compete with an ever-shrinking payroll and their first instinct appears to be shedding contracts and personnel over adding them. There’s nothing inherently competitive about the Pirates. You have to sort of discount them every year at this point, because they’ve done nothing to engender any other belief.
Teams most likely to fade in August
Baseball’s “dog days” are in August for good reason: it’s the time of the year when guys wear out. For all the analytics and adjustments in sleep schedules, nutrition, and travel patterns, the fifth month of the season still represents a trip through four grueling months to get there. It’s when teams consistently start to separate themselves from the pack, one way or the other.
I’m tempted to just look a the run differentials and call it a day, but teams with negative run differentials have made the postseason before. It won’t be the only reason I eliminate a team.
A strong point in the Diamondbacks’ favor is that they have just 29 games remaining on the road. That should set them up for a significant run in the second half. On the other hand, that remaining strength of schedule is tough enough and the team isn’t quite settled in the rotation and even in the bullpen.
There’s also uncertainty when it comes to the organization’s view of the team’s competitive window. They’re probably in rebuild mode, given that their CEO did not completely dismiss the idea in this interview with The Athletic (subscription required):
Baseball has shown that, in general, these rebuilds are maybe worth going through and they’re much more tolerated today than they have been in the past.
Are you sure about that, Derrick Hall?
If Kyle Freeland has sorted out his issues and returns to form, then perhaps this report of the Rockies’ demise will have been greatly exaggerated. But Colorado also has as tough of a remaining schedule as the Giants and 35 games remaining on the road to boot. If they play at their current winning rates both at home on the road, then they’ll end up with 81 wins, which won’t be enough.
After they annihilate the Giants this week, they’ll spend next weekend being torn to shreds by their former teammates, D.J. LeMahieu and Adam Ottavino, in New York against the Yankees and then spend four games in Washington to face the Nats before closing out a brutal 10-game road trip with three in Cincinnati. They also face the Dodgers, Astros, the Cardinals in St. Louis, and the Red Sox.
Down to the wire
It’s really hard to know just what the Phillies will do around the trade deadline. They obviously won’t sell off a bunch of their roster, but preliminary reports suggest they’re not willing to add much payroll or trade away prospects in order to improve the team. The current roster has been inconsistent, but the amount of talent is such that they’ve been able to muddle through. This seems like a team that could fall apart, but after a 6-16 stretch, they’ve gone 9-7 and have stabilized a bit.
Another team with too much talent to totally fold, but we’re seeing the cracks right now. They also appear to be geared to make a deal or two at the deadline and that could buoy them as they come down the stretch.
The lineup will improve once Marcell Ozuna and Jedd Gyorko return and a deadline move for a starting pitcher will probably happen. The injury to Yadier Molina means they might need a backup catcher, too. Maybe there’s a deal to be made for Bumgarner, Will Smith or Sam Dyson, and Stephen Vogt? One that empties out their system?
That just leaves the Padres and Reds, two teams I don’t think we should write off just because they’re the Padres and Reds. For one thing, they’ve both got heaps of talent. Fernando Tatis Jr. is a marvel and Manny Machado is a wizard. Their needs are on the pitching side. Despite hitting in a cursed bandbox, the Reds’ offense has scored the third-fewest runs in the National League (sixth-worst in MLB).
But Reds’ pitching has been so strong — 11.1 fWAR, good for 8th in MLB — that it’s going to keep them right on the cusp at least through August. They’re going to need to find some consistency in the lineup, though, while continuing to pitch strongly. Trading for offensive help might be hard, but keeping up that strong pitching might be more difficult.
Meanwhile, the Padres have the prospects to swing a deal for a pitcher or even two pitchers to insert into their lineup. They don’t have to be sellers.
Who do you think the two NL Wild Card teams will be?