The 2018 MLB regular season ends Sunday, Sept. 30, meaning the postseason is now only two weeks away. 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 ( ):
NL East leader: Braves (83-68)
- Games remaining: 11 (5 Home, 6 Away)
- Remaining opponent's winning percentage: .499
- SportsLine's playoff odds: 96.1 percent
- SportsLine's World Series odds: 3.1 percent
The NL East race is not over, but the Braves do hold a comfortable 5 1/2-game lead with 11 to play. Their magic number is seven. It is important to note the Braves and Phillies will play seven times in the final 10 regular season games, so we can't close the book on the division race yet, but Philadelphia has been struggling for a while (14-25 in their last 39 games) and they've dug themselves quite the hole.
I should note the Braves are a half-game behind the Dodgers (tied in the loss column) for home-field advantage should the two teams meet in the NLDS. The Braves have been much better on the road (45-30) than at home this year (38-38), but I'm not sure anyone would rather be the road team in a postseason series.
NL Central leader: Cubs (89-62)
- Games remaining: 11 (7 Home, 4 Away)
- Remaining opponent's winning percentage: .472
- SportsLine's playoff odds: 100.0 percent
- SportsLine's World Series odds: 9.3 percent
The Cubs are 21-12 in their last 33 games and have opened up a 3 1/2-game lead over the Brewers in the NL Central. They don't have any head-to-head games remaining, so Milwaukee will need help from other teams to win the division. Chicago's magic number is eight for both the NL Central title and the best record in the NL, and thus home-field advantage through at least the NLCS.
Oh, and by the way, the Cubs play their final 10 games of the season in Chicago (seven home games and a three-game series against the White Sox). They have one of the easiest remaining schedules in baseball based on opponent's winning percentage and, starting Thursday, they won't even have to travel anywhere the next week and a half.
NL West leader: Dodgers (84-68)
- Games remaining: 10 (4 Home, 6 Away)
- Remaining opponent's winning percentage: .470
- SportsLine's playoff odds: 96.5 percent
- SportsLine's World Series odds: 28.3 percent
The Dodgers have taken care of business this week. They've won the first two games of their three-game series with the Rockies to open up a 1 1/2-game lead in the NL West, tied for their largest lead of the season, if you can believe that. These two teams still have one game remaining Wednesday -- the Rockies are only one back in the loss column -- and, given the way this division has gone all year, don't be surprised if Colorado sits in first place at this time next week.
NL wild card leader: Brewers (86-66)
- Games remaining: 10 (4 Home, 6 Away)
- Remaining opponent's winning percentage: .461
- SportsLine's playoff odds: 98.9 percent
- SportsLine's World Series odds: 2.2 percent
The Brewers are 3 1/2 games behind the Cubs in the NL Central with no head-to-head games remaining, so winning the division will require a lot of help. The good news? The Brewers are 3 1/2 games up on a wild-card spot and two games up on the top wild-card spot. Their magic number is eight for a postseason spot and nine for the top wild-card spot and thus home-field advantage in the Wild Card Game. Still some work to be done, but Milwaukee is in good shape to return to the postseason for the first time since 2011.
NL wild card runner-up: Cardinals (84-68)
- Games remaining: 10 (6 Home, 4 Away)
- Remaining opponent's winning percentage: .531
- SportsLine's playoff odds: 85.0 percent
- SportsLine's World Series odds: 3.8 percent
Three straight wins have helped right the ship a bit, but the Cardinals are now 5 1/2 games behind the Cubs in the NL Central and two games behind the Brewers for the top wild-card spot. They're 1 1/2 games up on the Rockies for the second wild-card spot. St. Louis is currently in postseason position but their grip on a spot is tenuous.
If you're a fan of chaos, you'll be pleased to know it is still possible to have a three-team tie in the wild-card race. The Brewers, Cardinals, and either the Rockies or Dodgers could finish with identical records. In that case, the two wild card teams would be determined like so:
- The three teams are assigned Club A, Club B, and Club C designations based on a long cookbook formula that includes head-to-head records and things like that.
- Club A hosts Club B. The winner is awarded a wild-card spot.
- Club C hosts the loser of the Club A vs. Club B game. The winner is awarded the other wild-card spot.
- The Wild Card Game is then played.
In this scenario, you want the Club A designation. That gives you a guaranteed home game and two chances to win one game to qualify for the postseason. Got all that? Good.
Weirdly, things are less interesting with a four-team tie. If the Brewers, Cardinals, Dodgers, and Rockies all finish with the same record, the Dodgers and Rockies would play a Game 163 tiebreaker to determine the NL West champion. And because Game 163 is a regular-season game, the Game 163 loser would have a worse regular season winning percentage than the Brewers and Cardinals, and thus fall out of postseason contention. The Brewers and Cardinals would be the wild card teams.
Teams on the outside looking in
- Rockies: 82-69 (19.0 percent postseason odds per SportsLine)
- Phillies: 77-73 (3.8 percent postseason odds per SportsLine)
- Diamondbacks: 78-74 (0.4 percent postseason odds per SportsLine)
- Pirates: 76-74 (0.0 percent postseason odds per SportsLine)
- Nationals: 77-75 (0.0 percent postseason odds per SportsLine)
The Rockies have, by far, the best postseason odds among the NL teams outside the postseason picture but still mathematically alive. They are 1 1/2 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West and 1 1/2 games behind the Cardinals for the second wild-card spot. Colorado has one game remaining with the Dodgers on Wednesday night and, needless to say, that is as close to a must-win as it gets.
The Phillies are 5 1/2 games back of the Braves in the NL East and six games back of the second wild-card spot. They've been playing crummy baseball for more than a month now though. Their best shot at the postseason are those seven head-to-head games remaining with Atlanta. The Phillies will have to run the table against the Braves to have a chance to play in October.
As for the D-Backs, wow have they collapsed. They were in first place in the NL West as recently as Aug. 31. Now they're six games back. Six! Eighteen losses in the last 25 games will do that. Arizona is six games back of the second wild-card spot as well. The Pirates and Nationals, meanwhile, are postseason long shots, but they remain mathematically alive. Both should be eliminated before the end of the weekend.
Like I said, the Pirates and Nationals will both be officially eliminated from postseason contention in the coming days. Unlike the AL, where the five postseason spots are essentially accounted for already, things are still a little more wide open in the NL.