After five months of teams jockeying for postseason position, we're finally on the cusp of September -- one last month for the playoff races to be decided.
Sure, the heavyweight contenders are firmly in October position, but the American League and National League Wild Card races are still open for the taking. Here's a look beyond the leaders of those races, to the clubs that could surprise everyone by making a September push. These teams all have FanGraphs playoff odds under 25% … but they're not out of it yet.
Dark horses making postseason runs has been a common theme in recent years. In fact, since MLB added a second Wild Card team in 2012, there have been six teams who have made the postseason with playoff odds below 33 percent through August, with the lowest being the 2013 Indians, who were at 9.6 percent when the calendar flipped to September.
Here are the playoff dark horses as the season enters the stretch run:
1) Mets -- 14.7% playoff odds
Record: 68-66 (5 games back in NL Wild Card race)
The Mets grabbed all the attention when they won 15 of 16 games to vault back into the postseason race a few weeks ago, as their playoff odds rocketed over 50% as they sat just out of a Wild Card spot. But before a big win over the Phillies on Friday night, their season looked to be in danger of slipping away, coming off back-to-back sweeps at the hands of two rival postseason contenders, the Braves and Cubs. With two more games in Philadelphia this weekend, the Mets sit five games out of the Wild Card as they trail Chicago, the Phils and the D-backs in the standings and are tied with the Brewers.
Pete Alonso might win the NL home run crown and set the MLB rookie home run record -- he has 42, and is tied with Cody Bellinger for the league lead and is 10 away from Aaron Judge's rookie mark of 52 set in 2017. Jeff McNeil, whose .326 average ranks just off the NL lead, could win a batting title. And Jacob deGrom might win back-to-back Cy Young Awards -- he has a 2.66 ERA and a league-leading 214 strikeouts. But the Mets are in dark-horse territory now. They'll still get their chances down the stretch: New York plays the Phillies again, and the Nationals, and also has big series against the Braves and Dodgers still to come.
You may be wondering why the Mets have better playoff odds than the Phillies even though the Phils are currently 1 1/2 games ahead of them in the standings. A key factor is their respective schedules: Among contenders, Philly has the toughest remaining schedule, while New York has one of the easiest.
2) Brewers -- 7.7% playoff odds
Record: 68-66 (5 games back in NL Wild Card race)
Christian Yelich could be the NL's first back-to-back MVP since Albert Pujols with the Cardinals a decade ago. Yelich is hitting .331 with 41 home runs -- already five more than his 2018 MVP total -- his .425 on-base percentage leads the National League, and his .673 slugging percentage and 1.099 OPS lead the Majors. But will Yelich, hotshot rookie Keston Hiura and the team's other big bats like Mike Moustakas, Ryan Braun and Yasmani Grandal be able to slug the Brew Crew into the playoffs for a second straight season?
Milwaukee had at least a share of first place in the NL Central for the entire first half of June, and even led the division as late as July 5, but after tough sledding through the summer, the defending Central champs are on the outside looking in. It doesn't get much easier. They have the fourth-hardest September schedule of any team -- which includes two series against the Cubs (they lost the opener of this weekend's series at Wrigley, and play four games in Milwaukee starting next Thursday) and one against the division-leading Cardinals (Sept. 13-15 in St. Louis).
3) Red Sox -- 7.7% playoff odds
Record: 73-62 (5 1/2 games back in AL Wild Card race)
The Red Sox looked like they were all but out after an eight-game losing streak at the beginning of August that came entirely against the two division rivals ahead of them in the AL East, the Yankees and Rays. But the Red Sox are playing better as of late, and they're sticking around in the playoff hunt, though they still trail the A's by 5 1/2 games for a Wild Card slot and would have to leapfrog Tampa Bay, too.
Boston's best chance is its surging offense. Rafael Devers is hitting .326 with 28 home runs. Xander Bogaerts is hitting .311 with 30 home runs. J.D. Martinez is hitting .314 with 32 homers. And even in an up-and-down season, reigning AL MVP Mookie Betts is still hitting .284/.385/.505 with 23 home runs and 13 steals. The Red Sox can slug with anyone, and they'll have to do it in key September series against the Twins, Rays and Yankees.
4) Phillies -- 5.2% playoff odds
Record: 69-64 (3 1/2 games back in NL Wild Card race)
The Phillies are the first team out of a playoff spot in the NL, and they trail the Cubs by only a few games. They've stuck through some high-profile slumps to stay in contention entering the final month. Bryce Harper has started to slug -- he has 10 home runs and a .998 OPS in August -- and Aaron Nola has been pitching like an ace for over two months, with a 2.21 ERA and 104 strikeouts in his last 14 starts.
Here's what makes the Phils a dark horse: They have the hardest remaining schedule of any team, with two series each against the Braves and Mets -- who just outslugged them in Friday's series opener at Citizens Bank Park -- a five-game series against the Wild Card-leading Nationals in late September and Interleague sets against the Indians and Red Sox. Of course, that's a make or break opportunity. The Phillies could emerge from that gauntlet in prime playoff position, or out of the race entirely.
5) D-backs -- 4.8% playoff odds
Record: 69-66 (4 1/2 games back in NL Wild Card race)
The D-backs might have traded away ace Zack Greinke at the Trade Deadline, but they've held up in his absence with a 15-11 record in August. That includes series wins over the Nationals and Phillies and a current five-game win streak that's featured a victory over the Brewers and two over the Dodgers. Ketel Marte has been a star (.322 batting average, 28 home runs), Nick Ahmed is playing Gold Glove-caliber defense at shortstop (+19 Defensive Runs Saved), and Robbie Ray (193 strikeouts) and newly acquired Zac Gallen (2.88 ERA with Arizona) are pitching well in the rotation.
The D-backs still have to beat out a lot of teams -- Philadelphia is between them and the Cubs, and they're even in the loss column with the Brewers and Mets. They also have the third-hardest remaining schedule, with two more games against the Dodgers this weekend, four against the Mets in mid-September and three against the Cardinals in their second-to-last series of the year.
6) Giants -- 0.2% playoff odds
Record: 66-68 (7 games back in NL Wild Card race)
Never say never. But in Bruce Bochy's final season as manager -- and maybe Madison Bumgarner's last in San Francisco as a player -- the Giants would have to pull off a miracle run to reach October, including coming out on the winning end of two series against the rival Dodgers and three more against the Cardinals, Red Sox and Braves.
7) Reds -- 0.2% playoff odds
Record: 63-70 (9 1/2 games back in NL Wild Card race)
The last longshot of the bunch. It would take the unlikeliest of comebacks for the Reds to somehow make the postseason. They have a fearsome starting pitching trio in Luis Castillo, Trevor Bauer and Sonny Gray, and rookie sensation Aristides Aquino has been smashing home run records left and right, but the Reds are seven games under .500 and would have to leapfrog five teams before they even got to the ones in Wild Card position. At least they play a bunch of the teams in front of them down the stretch -- the Cardinals, Phillies, D-backs (twice), Cubs, Mets and Brewers.