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Predicting the AL and NL wild-card teams

AL, NL

The Major League Baseball season is in its final few weeks, and both the AL and NL wild card races are providing the excitement and suspense baseball fans need, because the divisions themselves are mostly wrapped up at this point.

In the American League, five teams still have a shot at either of the two wild-card spots, and in the National League, four teams are legitimately angling for the second wild-card spot because the Dodgers are just running away with the first one – they’ve actually got their sights set on the NL West division at this point.

AL Wild Card

The AL wild card is the more exciting race, with teams jockeying for position almost every single night. Right now, Boston leads the standings by 1 1/2 games ahead of the Blue Jays, but the Yankees are just a half game behind. Meanwhile, the Athletics and Mariners are two and three games out, respectively.

Picking the final teams standing here is akin to throwing darts, but the Red Sox have at least put themselves in the best position in the AL. Boston has won five in a row, and the schedule is favorable, as the Red Sox face the Mets, Yankees, Orioles, and Nationals to close things out. They may have lost Garrett Whitlock over the weekend to right pectoral tightness, but Boston is playing well at the right time. The same certainly can’t be said for their arch-rival Yankees, who were absolutely routed by Cleveland over the weekend and are just 8-15 ever since their 13-game win streak back in mid-August.

While New York has gone from leading the AL wild card to being on the outside looking in, the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners are just trying to keep pace as the season winds down. Incredibly for us baseball fans, the A’s and Mariners play each other six more times to end the season, which most certainly will eliminate one of these teams, and possibly vault the other right into the wild card.

As for the Blue Jays, it’s pretty simple – just keep winning. Toronto faces the Twins in a weekend series before closing things out against the Yankees. If the Blue Jays take care of business against New York, they should find themselves playing postseason baseball.

With the way the schedules are shaking out, it seems likely that Toronto will be heading to Boston for the one-game AL wild-card matchup against the Red Sox.

NL Wild Card

In the National League, the drama has been taken down a few notches, first by the Los Angeles Dodgers, who hold a hilarious 15 1/2-game lead on the first wild-card spot. But also by the St. Louis Cardinals, who have won nine in a row to not only catapult themselves into the second spot, but give themselves a three-game cushion on the Reds, who have been scuffling.

Back at the trade deadline, most people were wondering what in the world the Cardinals were doing acquiring 37-year-old Jon Lester from the Nationals and 38-year-old J.A. Happ from the Twins. Lester has a 4.02 ERA in ten starts while Happ has a 4.33 ERA in nine starts, but they’ve helped bring some stability to an injury-plagued rotation. Not that the rest of the rotation has exactly struggled. Adam Wainwright is having one of his best seasons at 39 years old, sporting a 2.89 ERA in thirty starts, while Kwang Hyun Kim and John Gant both sport sub-four ERAs. The return of ace Jack Flaherty, who has been dealing with a shoulder injury, in any capacity would be a huge boost to the Cardinals’ postseason aspirations.

And really, it’s the offense that is propelling the Cardinals to the NL playoffs right now. St. Louis scored 122 runs in August and has scored 96 already in September.

They’ve outscored opponents 218-171 the past two months to give themselves a 28-17 record in that span, a comfortable lead in the second NL wild-card spot and a date with the Dodgers in Los Angeles come playoff time.

The entire offense has been impressive during this stretch, but a few names have really shined. Since August 1, 26-year-old left fielder Tyler O’Neill is hitting .318/.410/.595 with eleven home runs and 26 RBIs; he maintains a 140 wRC+ for the season. In that same stretch, Paul Goldschmidt is hitting .331/.404/.590 with nine home runs, 14 doubles and 33 RBIs. Nolan Arenado, acquired from the Rockies last offseason, has struggled at times this year, but is still managing to put up the overall numbers we’ve come to expect from him. Even in the midst of one of his “down” seasons, Arenado still maintains a 116 wRC+.

With the way the Cardinals are playing, it’s hard to see Cincinnati – let alone the freefalling Padres at four games back or the Phillies at 4 1/2 games out – making up the ground in the NL. The Reds have already wrapped up their season series with St. Louis, making it that much tougher to claw their way back.

Once again, the Cardinals are looking to play October baseball and, as one of the hottest teams in the NL, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them make a deep run. That’s just what St. Louis has done, you know, for most of the 21st century.