Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 12:11 PM
We have a developing situation! Once seemingly too far out of the playoff picture to even matter, both the Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers have gotten red hot of late and surged into the National League’s Wildcard race. Entering Wednesday action, both teams are sitting exactly at .500 with records of 71-71. They trail the last available spot in the playoffs by just four games with 20 to go.
Of course, normally a .500 record DOESN’T get you within a stone’s throw of the playoffs in Major League Baseball. What’s happening right now involves these keys:
*MLB adding an extra Wildcard spot in each league has moved the threshold down closer to mediocrity for a playoff berth…
*Pittsburgh had a strong record and a weak schedule, but has completely fallen apart against that weak schedule.
*St. Louis had a strong record and a manageable schedule, but has slumped just when everyone though they were going to take command of the final spot.
*Los Angeles made a big trade with Boston that was supposed to put them over the top either in their own divisional race or for a Wildcard. Instead, they may have just important extra problems they didn’t need!
Philadelphia and Milwaukee were extreme longshots a couple of weeks ago because they would need THREE separate slumps for a spot to open up in addition to catching fire themselves. Sure, Pittsburgh falling apart wasn’t a shocker given that franchise’s history and the youth of the team. But, St. Louis and LAD were positioned so well that stragglers should haven’t had a chance.
Now, FIVE teams are within four games of the last invitation within a 20-game sampling where anything can happen. As handicappers, you need to put extra time into your process accounting for both the “choke” factor and the “everybody said we had no chance” factors that already seem to be looming large over the race.
The task is still daunting for Philadelphia and Milwaukee because four games back is larger than it looks.
RACE FOR LAST WILDCARD
St. Louis 75-67
LA Dodgers 74-68
Everybody’s played 142 games out of 162.
*If St. Louis finishes 10-10, then Philadelphia and Milwaukee would have to finish 14-6 to catch them. That’s .700 ball on the heels of what have already been hot streaks. Do you know how hard it is to play .700 ball for a month?!
*If St. Louis finishes 12-8, then Philadelphia and Milwaukee would have to finish 16-4 to catch them…which is a tall order indeed.
*If St. Louis slumps, but Los Angeles finishes 12-8…then Philadelphia and Milwaukee would have to finish 15-5 to catch THEM.
Ultimately, the .500 teams aren’t chasing St. Louis…they’re chasing the highest target that sets by either the Cards, Dodgers or Pirates. They needed a triple slump just to get on the radar. They STILL need a triple slump to have a realistic shot at the Wildcard unless they have a 16-4 or better finish up their sleeves.
Compounding matters for the .500 teams, St. Louis and the LA Dodgers play each other this weekend in a four-game series. Somebody’s going to win those games! A sweep by either team could almost slam the door on the field with only 15 games left.
THIS WEEKEND’S MATCHUPS (after everyone finishes current series tonight)
St. Louis at LA Dodgers (4 games)
Pittsburgh at Chicago Cubs (3 games)
Philadelphia at Houston (4 games)
Milwaukee vs. NY Mets (3 games)
No reason to back off the red hot Phils and Brewers if you’ve been riding them against that caliber of opponent. The dream is still alive for now. Pittsburgh’s hoping to end its recent nightmare with some success at Wrigley.
To answer the question from our headline…yes the Phillies and Brewers really are still alive…but their grasp on the edge of the cliff is much less tenacious than it seems. They don’t control their own destinies beyond the fact that losing this weekend would knock them out. They need to keep winning…and they need help. A lot of help!
*Philadelphia has no games left against the teams they’re trying to catch, and have 9 games against playoff bound Washington and Atlanta (Braves aren’t yet a true lock, but are basically a statistical lock with a 99% chance of reaching the postseason).
*Milwaukee does have three games in Pittsburgh next week. But, the Pirates rate behind St. Louis and LAD on the threat level…and then that series is followed by seven road games at Washington and Cincinnati.
The media is having fun with this story. As handicappers, see if you can find a way to make money from it!
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