As we near September, a good number of teams still have a shot at grabbing one of the wild-card spots in both leagues. Let's take a look at the teams that could wind up in the Wild Card Game and take a look at which are best set up to win that do-or-die game. Some of the ingredients for a good pick would be a true ace, a lockdown bullpen and/or a very consistent offense that doesn't often pull a disappearing act.
Cardinals -- They lead the NL Central and would love to keep it that way and avoid the play-in game. If the Cubs or Brewers do overtake them and they stay in a wild card, though, their chances would be pretty good against most teams. They don't have what is considered a true ace, but Jack Flaherty is sure pitching like one now. In his last five games, Flaherty has only allowed one run in 32 innings (0.28 ERA) with 40 strikeouts against eight walks (0.69 WHIP). The offense has been humming of late and the bullpen is in order at present. They way they are playing right now, though, this whole discussion likely is rendered moot.
Rays -- Charlie Morton has been one of the best pitchers in the AL all season and will make a formidable wild-card starter. I could see them doing something like piggybacking Morton with Ryan Yarbrough, who is having a great season in his own right and can come out of the bullpen. The offense can be hit or miss, but I'd still be on board with the Rays due to run prevention in a one-gamer.
Mets -- The way Jeff McNeil, Pete Alonso, Michael Conforto and J.D. Davis have been swinging it, I think it's reasonable to count on some offensive fireworks in several different possible matchups. Then, of course, you have probably Jacob deGrom to take the ball. The bullpen is a concern, but there's time to get things sorted out. Also, they are five strong in the rotation, so they could use a starter in relief for multiple innings.
Nationals -- Now, let's be clear: The bullpen is a big concern. Perhaps it'll be settled with a healthy Sean Doolittle at the back-end by then and the concern goes away, because I'd have great confidence in Max Scherzer going eight strong in the Wild Card Game. Plus, the offense is a wrecking crew right now. Obviously it depends on the opponent, but I feel like I'd pick the Nats to win the game at something like 6-1 right now.
Indians -- Losing Jose Ramirez was definitely a tough blow, but the Indians offense has been much more reliable these past few months and they'll still have some firepower. Either Shane Bieber or Mike Clevinger would make a great Wild Card Game starter and the bullpen is good. X-factor? I trust Terry Francona greatly with his pitching decisions in a game like this.
These teams have questions to answer
Twins -- They lead the AL Central and should keep it that way, because they could very easily lose a wild-card slugfest. I would definitely trust the offense to hit multiple home runs, but the pitching can't be trusted in a one-gamer. Ace Jose Berrios has been shelled this month (8.44 ERA in 21 1/3 innings) and the bullpen has been a mess all season.
Cubs -- Like late last season, the Cubs' offense is boom or bust. They do a disappearing act far too often to be comfortable in a win-or-go-home game. With some returns from injury, the bullpen has mostly settled down, but there has to be concern with issues reappearing. I do trust Kyle Hendricks, but if they have to go on the road he's been far worse there and I'd also worry that Joe Maddon would pick Jon Lester, who is clearly in his decline phase. There's a lot of upside, though. You can see an offensive explosion.
Phillies -- They have a clear number one starter in Aaron Nola, but with a 3.53 ERA and 1.22 WHIP, he's not really in the range where he feels automatic like Scherzer and deGrom do. Like the Cubs, it feels like the Phillies offense disappears far too often and I don't really trust the bullpen. Again, though, there's upside. You could see Nola dealing while the offense puts up six runs.
Athletics -- The opener thing fell flat on its face last year against the Yankees. I don't think they want to try it again, so you're choosing from Mike Fiers and Tanner Roark to start the game and it's hard to put either on level with many of the names I mentioned above. The offense ranks right around average in the AL in most categories, too.
As for the Red Sox, I'm just not seeing it. If they got hot enough to make it, they have the talent to be dangerous, though.
Not in good shape
Brewers -- Unless Brandon Woodruff comes back in time and immediately pitches back to form, the starting pitching options aren't enticing and the bullpen outside Josh Hader is pretty underwhelming. It just doesn't feel the same. The offense is capable, but other than Christian Yelich, hitters aren't consistent. You can try to squint your way to the Brewers beating someone like the Nats, but it has to be that slugfest they just won last weekend in extras. I can't see that happening against Scherzer. They would need something funky like the Nats falling apart and getting to face the Phillies or Cubs, I think, for a decent chance to win. A better route would be taking advantage of remaining head-to-heads and winning the division.
If we were to include the Diamondbacks and Giants in this exercise, they'd be here, too, because they just aren't nearly as good as whomever they'd be facing.
Previous rankings: Week 21 | Week 20 | Week 19 | Week 18 | Week 17 | Week 16 | Week 15 | Week 14 | Week 13 | Week 12 | Week 11 | Week 10 | Week 9 | Week 8 | Week 7 | Week 6 | Week 5 | Week 4 | Week 3 | Week 2 | Week 1 | Preseason | Offseason
|Losing Ryan Pressly for 4-6 weeks is a really tough blow, but they have the depth to absorb it.||2||0-1|
|The Yankees have hit 61 home runs in August. That's the most in any calendar month by any team in MLB history. They've got time to pad this lead, too. Something something juiced balls something.||1||1-0|
|The Dodgers now have 12 walkoff wins this season. The record is 17 (1959 and 1977 Pirates, believe it or not). The Dodgers only have 11 home games left, so it's extremely unlikely they can get to the record, but that's still a huge number.||1||1-0|
|Freddie Freeman already has a career high in home runs (35) and he'll soon have his career high in RBI. He's still pretty damn underrated.||1||1-0|
|The Twins have six players with at least 20 homers. The record is seven (held by seven different teams). Jorge Polanco has 19 homers right now and Jonathan Schoop has 17. The record is within reach. Hell, Marwin Gonzalez has 14. It's possible to shatter this thing.||1||1-0|
|The Nationals are averaging over seven runs per game in August. As I said, wrecking crew.||3||0-1|
|He's only played in 95 games, but Mark Canha is having an under-the-radar great season at the plate, sporting a .390 OBP and .546 slugging with 22 homers in just 302 at-bats.||1||1-0|
|I've been saying a lot this season that the Cardinals had a lot of players who simply should be playing better. It's starting to come together now. They've won 13 of their last 16.||3||0-1|
|Jose Ramirez's final numbers don't do justice to how well he rebounded from an awful start. From June 21 through the end of his regular season, he hit .325/.370/.675 with 21 doubles, two triples, 15 homers, 47 RBI and seven steals in 53 games.||3||0-1|
|A seven-game week against the Mariners and Orioles seems like a good time to put some distance in the wild-card race, but the Rays went 3-4 and won neither series. Now they get to go to Houston.||3||1-0|
|Win five in a row, get swept at home. This season is nothing but big ups and big downs. I see no reason why that would all of a sudden change with a month to go.||1||1-0|
|What a demoralizing series against the Braves after riding high with a sweep over the Indians. The tough schedule continues now with the Cubs, Phillies, Nationals and Phillies being their next four series. Look at it as an opportunity to take down their wild-card competition.||1||1-0|
|If the Phillies miss the playoffs by a few games, their current 7-9 record against the Marlins is going to be a big source of regret.||1||0-1|
|I'm pretty worried about Chris Sale's career moving forward. That's just so much torque on his spindly frame. The PRP injections only seem to temporarily help. At least he got his big extension.||4||0-1|
|Lorenzo Cain has been one of my favorite players for quite a while, so I'm a bit sad to see that .252/.323/.356 hitting line. Maybe he bounces back next year, but you worry at age 33 for a speed guy if this is his decline.||--||0-1|
|It's only been 175 at-bats, but 31-year-old Donovan Solano -- a career .257 hitter before this season -- is hitting .349.||--||0-1|
|Eduardo Escobar's previous career highs were five triples, 23 homers and 84 RBI. So far this year, he has 10 triples, 29 homers and 101 RBI.||--||0-1|
|Maybe one day I'll figure out how Rougned Odor continues to get regular playing time at the major league level. That day isn't today.||1||1-0|
|Albert Pujols' next home run will be his 20th of the year and it would be his 17th time with 20 homers in a season. That ties Frank Robinson and Willie Mays for third all-time behind Hank Aaron (20) and Barry Bonds (19).||1||0-1|
|The White Sox are 14-11 in August. I know they haven't been consistently good, but it would be their second winning month this season and that's progress. Their second-best month last season was 12-17.||2||1-0|
|A sweep at the hands of the Pirates means the Reds are no longer in fringe contender territory.||1||0-1|
|There are lots of reasons to be encouraged about this season though I'm sure it's a bit disappointing to some locals. They are on pace to win their most games since 2014. Baby steps.||1||0-1|
|What do you know!?! The Mariners have won six of eight. (There was a big gap here previously between 22 and 23, which is why they haven't moved up).||--||1-0|
|After it looked like he was a breakout star in the first half, Josh Bell has been totally lost in the second half. It's concerning, as he wasn't exactly known as a consistent hitter heading into the season.||2||1-0|
|Bo Bichette is still tearing the cover off the ball. He's now slashing .351/.388/.684 through the first 26 games of his career.||1||1-0|
|After a win on June 29, the Rockies were 44-39. Since then, they have been the worst team in the NL at 14-34 (only the Tigers are worse since then in the AL).||1||1-0|
|The series win over the weekend over Philly was the first this month for the Marlnis.||--||0-1|
|No team in baseball history has ever allowed more home runs.||1||1-0|
|Jorge Soler is now four homers away from giving Royals fans their first-ever 40-homer guy. They are the last team on this list. C'mon Jorge!||1||0-1|
|Last year's number one overall pick, Casey Mize, was shut down (healthy) with a very good first professional season in the books. Those are the types of things on which to focus during such a down cycle.||--||0-1|