Can you believe there are only six full weeks left in the season? In six weeks, all the questions we’ve been waiting on will be answered. And one of the biggest ones remaining is: Who’s going to win the Wild Cards?
There are plenty of division races still left in the air. The White Sox and Brewers seem pretty comfortable at this point, but the Easts and the Wests still have plenty to settle. The Rays are up 4 games on the Yankees, the Astros are 3 1/2 up on the A’s, the Braves are, suddenly, 4 1/2 up on the Phillies and the Giants are 2 1/2 up on the Dodgers. But the Wild Card races are packed with teams, many of which believe they are capable of making a run.
Anyway, there will be plenty of time to look the division races, but today, with six weeks left to go, we are going to break down the Wild Card races. There’s just one thing, though: While there are two spots up for grabs in the American League, it’s difficult to argue the same in the National League. Whatever team does not win the NL West, either San Francisco or Los Angeles, is almost certainly going to win the Wild Card: The Dodgers, the current first Wild Card team, are 9 1/2 games ahead of the second Wild Card team. That first spot is essentially locked up. So when we go through the contenders in the NL, know that we’re just looking at one spot, rather than two. (We are thus not including the Giants or the Dodgers in this rundown.)
But where does everybody stand in the Wild Card race moving forward? How have each of these team’s seasons gone so far? What are they right now? What does their schedule look like the rest of the way? Let’s take a deep-dive look. Six weeks will go by before you know it. We will use Baseball Reference WAR entering Monday's games.
White Sox: 72-54
New York Yankees
Current record: 73-52
Wild Card status: First Wild Card, 2 1/2 games up on second Wild Card, 3 1/2 games up on first Wild Card contender
Best player this season by WAR: Gerrit Cole, 4.9
Last playoff appearance: Lost 2020 ALDS vs. Tampa Bay in five games
Schedule rest of season: 1 at ATL, 4 at OAK, 3 at LAA, 3 vs. BAL, 4 vs. TOR, 3 at NYM, 1 vs. MIN, 3 at BAL, 3 vs. CLE, 3 vs. TEX, 3 at BOS, 3 at TOR, 3 vs. TB
How it’s looking: All the drama of this Yankees season -- it has essentially been an opera at this point -- has transformed into something extremely exciting. The Yankees are firing on all cylinders right now, having won 10 in a row and looking like a team that’s thinking more about the AL East title than the the Wild Card. The Yankees are building themselves a little cushion right now, and they may need it: They’ve got 19 left against teams with losing records, but 22 against teams that are either in first place in their division in the NL or actively fighting them for a playoff spot right now. They might not be the slam-dunk obvious American League favorite they looked like coming into the season, but no one wants to play them right now.
Prediction: Hosting Wild Card Game
Boston Red Sox
Current record: 71-55
Wild Card status: Second Wild Card, 1 game up on first Wild Card contender
Best player this season by WAR: Xander Bogaerts, 4.1
Last playoff appearance: Won 2018 World Series over Los Angeles in five games
Schedule rest of season: 3 vs. MIN, 3 at CLE, 4 at TB, 3 vs. CLE, 3 vs. TB, 3 at CHW, 3 at SEA, 3 vs. BAL, 2 vs. NYM, 3 vs. NYY, 3 at BAL, 3 at WAS
How it’s looking: Getting Chris Sale back is everything the Red Sox needed in the worst way. Even if he’s not vintage Sale -- and he sure looks like he might be right now -- he gives them the push that they absolutely need down the stretch. They appear to have weathered that pseudo-collapse, and they are coming into a surprisingly easy schedule down the stretch. They’ve got 13 against the Yankees, White Sox and Rays, but they have 27 games against teams with losing records. Are you ready for a Red Sox-Yankees Wild Card Game?
Prediction: Playing in the Bronx in their first win-or-go-home game against the Yankees since 2004.
Current record: 70-56
Wild Card status: 1 game back of second Wild Card
Best player this season by WAR: Matt Olson, 4.7
Last playoff appearance: Lost 2020 ALDS against Houston in five games
Schedule rest of season: 1 vs. SEA, 4 vs. NYY, 3 at DET, 3 at TOR, 3 vs. CHW, 3 vs. TEX, 3 at KC, 3 at LAA, 4 vs. SEA, 3 vs HOU, 3 at SEA, 3 at HOU
How it’s looking: It has been a very tough week for the A’s. They’ve lost three straight series and they’ve lost ace starter Chris Bassitt, perhaps for the season, after that terrifying line drive he took off the bat of the White Sox’s Brian Goodwin. The A’s still seem a little rattled, and honestly, it’s difficult to blame them. But they best figure it out quick. They’ve got one game against a still-feisty Mariners team and then four against a white-hot Yankees team. They’re only 3 1/2 games out of the AL West, and they’ve got six games against the Astros in the final 10 days of the season, but will they be able to hang on until then? The A’s are always better than anybody realizes they are. But the hits they’ve taken over the last week may be too much to overcome.
Prediction: Competing until the final weekend of the season, but falling just short.
Current record: 68-58
Wild Card status: Second Wild Card contender, 3 games behind second Wild Card
Best player this season by WAR: Ty France, 3.0
Last playoff appearance: Lost 2001 ALCS against Yankees in five games
Schedule rest of season: 1 at OAK, 4 vs. KC, 3 vs. HOU, 3 at ARZ, 3 at HOU, 3 vs. ARZ, 3 vs. BOS, 3 at KC, 4 at OAK, 3 at LAA, 3 vs. OAK, 3 vs. LAA
How it’s looking: Is it luck? Clutch hitting? Bullpen mastery? Just weird random business? A whole team dancing between the raindrops? The Mariners have a run differential of -60, and yet here they are, just 3 games out with six weeks to go. It seems foolish to think the magic can keep going for another six weeks, but jeez, it has kept going this long. The schedule actually sets up rather nice for them -- how handy to have six games against Arizona and seven against Kansas City this late in the year -- but then again, you never know if or when the wheels are gonna come flying off. The Mariners are set up to be the best team in this division over the next half-decade. Can they really make it happen a year or two early?
Prediction: Spunky, doggedly determined until the end, but they can’t quite get there. This time, though, Mariners fans aren’t devastated to fall just short. This is just the beginning.
Toronto Blue Jays
Current record: 65-58
Wild Card status: Third Wild Card contender, 4 1/2 games behind second Wild Card
Best player this season by War: Marcus Semien, 5.7
Last playoff appearance: Lost 2020 Wild Card Series against Rays in two games
Schedule rest of season: 3 vs. CHW, 3 at DET, 3 vs. BAL, 3 vs. OAK, 4 at NYY, 4 at BAL, 3 vs. TB, 3 vs. MIN, 3 at TB, 4 at MIN, 3 vs. NYY, 3 vs. BAL
How it’s looking: This isn’t the only season the Blue Jays will contend: There’s obviously a ton of young talent here that’s going to be around for quite a while. But this was supposed to be the year they were aiming for. The pitching just hasn’t been enough, and here they are, somehow in fourth place. (And with Semien’s incredible season perhaps a one-off if they can’t sign him in the offseason.) Do they have a finishing kick left in them? The schedule is glorious for them: 11 against the Orioles almost feels like a gimme 11 right there, and they also have seven against Minnesota. They actually don’t have any games left at all against Boston, the team they may be battling the closest for the final Wild Card spot. It has been a wild season for the Jays, who are finally back in their home city after sojourns in Dunedin and Buffalo. You could certainly forgive them if they run out of gas.
Prediction: The best fourth-place team in baseball in a long time. But still a fourth-place team.
San Francisco Giants: 80-44
Milwaukee Brewers: 76-49
Atlanta Braves: 68-57
Presumed first Wild Card team
Los Angeles Dodgers: 78-47
Current Record: 69-57
Wild Card status: Second Wild Card, one game up on first Wild Card contender
Best player this season by WAR: Wade Miley, 5.9
Last playoff appearance: Lost 2020 Wild Card Series vs. Atlanta in two games
Schedule rest of season: 3 at MIL, 3 at MIA, 3 vs. STL, 3 vs. DET, 3 at CHC, 3 at STL, 3 at PIT, 3 vs. LA, 3 vs. PIT, 4 vs. WAS, 2 at CHW, 3 at PIT
How it’s looking: The Reds had two of the three starting outfielders in the All-Star Game, but their run to the Wild Card has been fueled by starting pitching and an offensive explosion from the immortal and beloved Joey Votto. It wasn’t long ago that the NL looked mostly set, and the Reds shut out, with both Milwaukee and San Diego far, far ahead of them. But the Padres’ collapse over the last month has provided an opening for the Reds, and they’re taking advantage of it. After this week, they will be done with the only other sure playoff team in their division, and they’ve got six against the last-place Pirates. And eventually Jesse Winker will be back. Everything is landing exactly right for the Reds right now.
Prediction: A trip to San Francisco for the Wild Card Game.
San Diego Padres
Current record: 68-58
Wild Card status: First Wild Card contender, 1 game out of second Wild Card
Best player this season by WAR: Fernando Tatis Jr., 5.4
Last playoff appearance: Lost 2020 NLDS vs. Los Angeles in three games
Schedule rest of season: 3 vs. LAD, 2 at LAA, 3 at ARZ, 3 vs. HOU, 2 vs. LAA, 3 at LAA, 4 at SF, 3 at STL, 3 vs. SF, 4 vs. ATL, 3 at LAD, 3 at SF
How it’s looking: Uh-oh. On Aug. 10, the Padres were 66-49 and comfortably, almost leisurely, in the second Wild Card spot. Even better, they had eight games coming up against teams with losing records. Well, they went 1-7 in those games, and then lost two of three at home against the Phillies. That was the easy part. Look at that schedule this month: 10 against the Giants; six against the Dodgers; four against the Braves; three against the Astros. Those last horrible six on the road. The Padres needed to fortify themselves for that nightmare September stretch by winning against those lousy teams and they didn't. It’s possible Tatis hits three homers every game and everything else that’s falling apart right now doesn’t matter. But it’s a lot more likely that the Padres’ past 13 days may have sunk their whole season.
Prediction: Sitting at home in October, with A.J. Preller and Co. trying to figure out what exactly went wrong.
St. Louis Cardinals
Current record: 63-60
Wild Card status: Second Wild Card contender, 4 1/2 games out of second Wild Card
Best player this season by WAR: Tyler O’Neill, 4.0
Last playoff appearance: Lost 2020 Wild Card Series vs. San Diego in three games
Schedule rest of season: 2 vs. DET, 3 at PIT, 3 at CIN, 3 at MIL, 4 vs. LA, 3 vs. CIN, 3 at NYM, 3 vs. SD, 4 at MIL, 4 at CHC, 3 vs. MIL, 3 vs. CHC
How it’s looking: All told, the Cardinals and their fans are a little bewildered to find themselves this close in the Wild Card chase. It has been a long, frustrating season for the Cardinals, who have outperformed their run differential while always feeling like a team that’s about to lose 10 in a row. They’re only here because they ripped off a six-game road win streak against Kansas City and Pittsburgh two weeks ago, setting themselves up for a key six-game homestand against Milwaukee and Pittsburgh. They ended up going 2-4 and barely avoided being swept at home by the Pirates. The Cardinals' rotation has settled with the return of Jack Flaherty; he teams with the incredible Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas and … uh, J.A. Happ and Jon Lester. (Who actually have been fine since coming over at the Trade Deadline.) The Cardinals offense is better than it has shown this year, but there’s a malaise over this team -- and its fan base -- that is undeniable and sort of difficult to figure. If they can survive their brutal September schedule and still be around the last week of the season, seven games with the Cubs will come in handy. But they’re not going to survive their brutal September schedule.
Prediction: Barely avoiding their first losing season since 2007 (and only their second this century). But nowhere close to the playoffs.
Current record: 63-61
Wild Card status: Third Wild Card contender, 5 games out of second Wild Card
Best player this season by WAR: Zack Wheeler, 5.8
Last playoff appearance: Lost 2011 NLDS vs. St. Louis in five
Schedule rest of season: 2 vs. TB, 4 vs. ARZ, 3 at WAS, 3 at MIA, 3 at MIL, 4 vs. COL, 3 vs. CHI, 3 at NYM, 3 vs. BAL, 4 vs. PIT, 3 at ATL, 3 at MIA
How it’s looking: Just about nine days ago, it sure looked like the Phillies were primed to end their decade-long playoff drought. The Mets weren’t getting Jacob deGrom back; the Braves weren’t getting Ronald Acuña Jr. back. You started hearing all sorts of “Bryce Harper might win his second MVP!” talk. And then … they lost seven of nine and the Braves stopped losing entirely. You should expect the Braves to come back to earth at some point, and all told, winning the NL East might still be the best path for the Phillies to the postseason. The bullpen is still difficult to watch, but you’ve got to love their schedule: A whopping 33 games against teams with losing records. It’s all set up for them. Can they take advantage?
Prediction: They won’t catch the Reds for the Wild Card … but here’s betting they run down the Braves in the NL East.
New York Mets
Current record: 61-63
Wild Card status: Fourth Wild Card contender, 7 games out of second Wild Card
Best player this season by WAR: Jacob deGrom, 5.2
Last playoff appearance: Lost 2016 Wild Card vs. San Francisco
Schedule rest of season: 3 vs. SF, 3 vs. WAS, 4 vs. MIA, 5 at WAS, 3 at MIA, 3 vs. NYY, 3 vs. STL, 3 vs. PHI, 2 at BOS, 3 at MIL, 3 vs. MIA, 3 at ATL
How it’s looking: It has has been quite the rough few weeks for the Mets. We’re probably being a little bit nice even including them here, and if the series against the Giants this week goes wrong, they might fall out entirely. We’d want to dream on them a little bit if deGrom was coming back, but he’s not. Like the Phillies, their best hope is probably still the NL East. But let’s get over .500 before we start talking about that.
Prediction: They’ll make it to .500. So there’s that.