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Leader Watch: NL Wild Card race tightens up

Six teams now within 7 games of each other in push for postseason
MLB.com

Two months ago, as play wrapped up on the evening of June 20, the three best teams by record in the National League could be found out west. The Rockies led the NL West by half a game over the Dodgers with a 47-26 record. The D-backs sat just 1 1/2 games back of the Dodgers, and the general assumption was that the NL Wild Card Game would be staged between whichever two of those clubs didn't win the division. The Cubs were the next closest team in the chase for the league's second Wild Card spot, 7 1/2 games back of Arizona.

But the Major League calendar is long and winding, and with six weeks left in the regular season, the Senior Circuit's Wild Card picture is much more crowded. The Dodgers have won 41 of their 50 games since June 21, and while Colorado and Arizona still hold the two Wild Card spots, they are clinging more precariously than before.

Two months ago, as play wrapped up on the evening of June 20, the three best teams by record in the National League could be found out west. The Rockies led the NL West by half a game over the Dodgers with a 47-26 record. The D-backs sat just 1 1/2 games back of the Dodgers, and the general assumption was that the NL Wild Card Game would be staged between whichever two of those clubs didn't win the division. The Cubs were the next closest team in the chase for the league's second Wild Card spot, 7 1/2 games back of Arizona.

But the Major League calendar is long and winding, and with six weeks left in the regular season, the Senior Circuit's Wild Card picture is much more crowded. The Dodgers have won 41 of their 50 games since June 21, and while Colorado and Arizona still hold the two Wild Card spots, they are clinging more precariously than before.

Wild Card standings

After the Pirates' 6-3 win over the Cardinals in Sunday's Little League Classic, six Wild Card contenders sit within seven games of each other.

Video: STL@PIT: Bell belts a two-run homer to left-center

The Cubs, who hold just a two-game lead over the Brewers in the NL Central, should also be considered "in the mix." Arizona has gone 23-30 since June 20. Entering Sunday, the D-backs' offense had struck out in 25.5 percent of their plate appearances since that date, the second-highest rate in the Majors behind the Brewers.

"It's been a while where we've played .500 ball or under .500 ball," D-backs ace Zack Greinke told MLB.com after his team lost to the Twins on Saturday, the second of a three-game weekend sweep at the hands of Minnesota, "so it'd be nice to start doing better."

Video: HOU@ARI: Greinke fans nine across 6 2/3 scoreless

Colorado has won just 21 of their 51 contests for the NL's worst record in that span. The Rockies' young rotation was one of the talks of baseball two months ago, but has struggled to a 5.64 ERA since.

Meanwhile, the league's hottest two teams outside of the Dodgers and Nationals over the last two months reside in the Central. The Cardinals, 11 games out of the second Wild Card two months ago, have rattled off wins in 31 of their last 55 games and adopted a "Rally Cat" as their mascot along the way. Chicago's wild walk-off win over the Blue Jays on Sunday gave them 30 victories in their last 53 ballgames.

"Sometimes over the course of the year, when you're a team trying to get to the playoffs, you have to win crazy games like that that you shouldn't necessarily win," said Cubs catcher Alex Avila, who knocked home the walk-off, two-run single Sunday in front of a raucous Wrigley Field crowd.

Video: Must C Conclusion: Cubs walk off in wild 10th inning

Two months ago, the Pirates found themselves five games under .500 and 11 games back of the D-backs. The Bucs are still four games under .500 after Sunday night's victory, but they have gained four games in the chase. The Marlins were in bigger trouble, floundering at 31-38, but even they have roared to within six games of Arizona behind the red-hot bat of Giancarlo Stanton. Since the morning of June 21, Stanton has put up a .300/.414/.779 slash line with 27 home runs and 51 RBIs.

"I think we're going to be pretty solid, if we don't make mistakes," Stanton said of the Marlins, who are now just two games under the .500 mark. "We'll keep cruising.

"We're not worried about standings or anything right now. We've got to keep pushing the envelope and see where we are in a month."

Video: MIA@NYM: Stanton crushes a three-run homer

We'll certainly be scoreboard watching down the stretch. A Wild Card race that bordered on a foregone conclusion just eight weeks ago has suddenly become a battle. Buckle up.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.

Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Miami Marlins, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies