The 2018 MLB regular season ends Sunday, September 30, and in exactly six weeks, the National League Wild Card Game will be played. There are still plenty of postseason races that have to be decided between now and then.
With that in mind, here is an update on the current National League postseason picture. Here is the SportsLine Projection System and here is what the NL postseason field would look like if the season ended today (Click here for the American League playoff picture):
- Second Wild Card Tiebreaker: Phillies vs. Rockies vs. Cardinals (explained below)
- Wild Card Game: Tiebreaker winner at Brewers
- NLDS: Wild Card Game winner at Cubs
- NLDS: Diamondbacks at Braves
Make sure to check out SportsLine's daily pick sheet for insight about every game.
NL East leader: Braves (69-55)
- Games remaining: 38 (19 Home, 19 Away)
- Remaining opponent's winning percentage: .510
- SportsLine's playoff odds: 67.2 percent
- SportsLine's World Series odds: 3.0 percent
The Braves and Phillies have been going back and forth atop the NL East and Atlanta currently leads the division by one game. They have two head-to-head series remaining, including a four-game set at SunTrust Park (Sept. 23-26) and a three-gamer at Citizens Bank Park (Sept. 28-30). The Braves and Phillies will play seven of their final 10 regular season games against each other, including the final three. I get the sense the NL East race is going to go right down to the wire. Intrigue!
NL Central leader: Cubs (71-52)
- Games remaining: 39 (20 Home, 19 Away)
- Remaining opponent's winning percentage: .493
- SportsLine's playoff odds: 94.7 percent
- SportsLine's World Series odds: 8.7 percent
How top heavy is the AL? The Cubs currently have the best record in the NL but only the sixth best record in baseball overall. Chicago currently owns a three-game lead over the second place Brewers and they have six head-to-head games remaining, three in each ballpark. The two clubs have a virtually identical opponent's winning percentage, but the Brewers close out the season with three games against the Tigers whereas the Cubs get three games against the Cardinals. Going into the final weekend, the Cubbies don't want to be in a position where they need help from Detroit.
NL West leader: Diamondbacks (69-56)
- Games remaining: 37 (17 Home, 20 Away)
- Remaining opponent's winning percentage: .530
- SportsLine's playoff odds: 51.0 percent
- SportsLine's World Series odds: 2.6 percent
Two teams within 2 1/2 games of the top spot in the NL West combined with the toughest remaining schedule among contenders means Arizona's grip on the division crown is tenuous at best. The D-Backs have seven games remaining with both the Rockies (1/2 game back) and Dodgers (2 1/2 games back) and only six of those 14 games will be played at Chase Field. On one hand, those 14 games mean the D-Backs control their own destiny. On the other hand, it won't be easy. Not at all.
NL wild card leader: Brewers (70-57)
- Games remaining: 35 (20 Home, 15 Away)
- Remaining opponent's winning percentage: .492
- SportsLine's playoff odds: 58.3 percent
- SportsLine's World Series odds: 1.5 percent
Despite a 7-10 record so far in August, the Brewers are only three games back in the NL Central, and surely the division title is the goal. The Wild Card Game is a fallback. That said, there are three teams (Phillies, Rockies, Cardinals) only a half-game back in the wild-card standings, so that wild card fallback is hardly a guarantee. The NL wild-card race is wide open right now. Milwaukee just so happens to occupy the top wild-card spot at this very moment. That is subject to change on a daily basis over the next six weeks.
NL wild card runner-up: Phillies (68-56), Rockies (68-56), Cardinals (69-57)
- Games remaining: 38 for Phillies (18 Home, 20 Away); 38 for Rockies (23 Home, 15 Away); 36 for Cardinals (19 Home, 17 Away)
- Remaining opponent's winning percentage: .497 for Phillies; .515 for Rockies; .517 for Cardinals
- SportsLine's playoff odds: 44.9 percent for Phillies; 40.2 percent for Rockies; 50.2 percent for Cardinals
- SportsLine's World Series odds: 1.5 percent for Phillies; 2.1 percent for Rockies; 2.9 percent for Cardinals
This is where it gets really fun. The Phillies, Rockies, and Cardinals are in a virtual tie for the second wild card spot, and if the season ended today, there would be two tiebreaker games. The three clubs would be designated Club A, B, or C using a long cookbook formula based on head-to-head record and intradivision record and all sorts of other things. The tiebreaker scenario would play out like so:
- Tiebreaker Game 1: Club B at Club A
- Tiebreaker Game 2: Winner of Tiebreaker Game 1 at Club C
The winner of Tiebreaker Game 2 would then be the second wild-card team. In this scenario, you want to be Club C, because Club C only has to win one game to advance. Clubs A and B have to win two tiebreaker games to advance. And remember, "advance" only means becoming the second wild-card team. Club B would have to win the first tiebreaker game on the road, the second tiebreaker game on the road, and then the Wild Card Game on the road to reach the NLDS. Yikes.
Also, the tiebreaker games are considered regular season games, so one team would wind up playing 164 regular season games in the three-team tie scenario. Fun!
Teams on the outside looking in
- Dodgers: 67-59 (80.9 percent playoff odds per SportsLine)
- Pirates: 63-63 (2.0 percent playoff odds per SportsLine)
- Nationals: 62-63 (9.6 percent playoff odds per SportsLine)
- Giants: 62-64 (<1.0 percent playoff odds per SportsLine)
SportLine has been bullish on the Dodgers all season because they're loaded with talent, but the fact of the matter is Los Angeles is not in postseason position right now. They're 2 1/2 games back in the NL West and two games back of the second wild-card spot with three teams ahead of them in the standings. It's been a one step forward, one step back season for the Dodgers, and at some point they need to put it all together and go on an extended run to put themselves in good postseason position. Right now, they're on the outside looking in.
The Pirates (six games back), Nationals (6 1/2 games back), and Giants (seven games back) are all closer to the second wild-card spot than their division lead and none are particularly close to that second wild-card spot. Still alive in the race? Sure. Facing an uphill climb? You bet. No other NL team is within 13 1/2 games of a postseason spot.
No NL team has been eliminated from postseason contention yet and it'll be a little while before it happens. Right now the Padres have the league's worst record at 49-78 and their elimination number is 16 for both the NL West title and a wild-card spot. Any combination of Padres losses or wins by NL West leader totaling 16 eliminates San Diego from the division, and any combination of Padres losses or wins by the second wild-card club totaling 16 eliminates them from the wild-card race.