Breaking down the 2010 National League Wild Card race

St. Louis Cardinals Albert Pujols receives high fives in the dugout after hitting his second two run home run of the night in the fifth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on June 29, 2010. UPI/Bill Greenblatt Photo via Newscom

Before their sweep of the Braves this week, I would have said that the National League Wild Card is a three-team race. But now that the Rockies are putting together a very Rockie-like charge, this is definitely now a four-horse competition in the NL.

Let’s break down the contenders and make a prediction.

(Side Note: I’m fully aware that the Phillies and Cardinals still have a great chance of catching the Braves and Reds in their respective divisions, but I’m going by the standings as of Thursday, August 26. In a couple of weeks, I’ll update this list so for now, let’s just call this Version 1.0.)

Philadelphia Phillies
Games Remaining: 36
Games Back: 0
What I Like About Their Chances: I like the Phillies because quite frankly, they’ve been here before. They know what it takes to play good baseball in the month of September and their roster is chockfull of veteran players. Even though they haven’t shown it of late, the Phils also still have the best lineup 1-8 of any of the four Wild Card contenders and a three-headed monster in Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt (who has been outstanding in the month of August) and Cole Hamels. This is, by far, the most talented team of the four listed…

What I Don’t Like: …that said, this club isn’t playing very good baseball right now. In their last seven games, they’ve won only two and they were just swept at home by the Astros. Also, despite all of their offensive firepower, they’ve managed to score just 16 runs in those seven outings. They also have six more games against the Braves, who they are just 5-7 against this season. This is a club that seemingly can’t put it all together this season and you just get the sense that something’s missing.

Aug. 10, 2010 - San Francisco, California, United States of America - August 8, 2010: San Francisco Giants P Tim Lincecum.

San Francisco Giants
Games Remaining: 34
Games Back: 0
What I Like About Their Chances: All of a sudden, the Giants have become an offensive juggernaut. In their last three games (all versus the Reds), they racked up 39 runs and 53 hits. Thus far, the acquisitions of Jose Guillen (to my surprise) and Cody Ross have paid off, and guys like Pablo Sandoval and Freddy Sanchez are starting to get hot at the dish. Believe it or not, it has been the pitching that has failed them over the last three weeks or so, but if Tim Lincecum can shake out of the funk he’s in then this will be a formidable team down the stretch.

What I Don’t Like: The recent offensive explosion could be a direct result of the warm weather that San Francisco has had. You might think that’s a lame statement, but the ball jumps off hitters’ bats at AT&T Park when it’s warm and deadens when it’s cooler (which is the normal climate in the “City by the Bay”). The weather is supposed to dip back down for the Giants’ series against the Diamondbacks this weekend, so we’ll find out soon if the 39 runs was just an anomaly. Of course, the Giants’ biggest concern at the moment is the seemingly season-long funk that their ace has been in. Since throwing a gem against the Dodgers on July 30, Lincecum has posted an 8.38 ERA in four straight losses and has surrendered 19 runs on 28 hits in just 19.1 innings of work. He has shown signs of getting back on track, but it’s safe to say he’s nowhere near the pitcher he was the last two years. If he doesn’t figure it out soon, the Giants’ chances of making the postseason reduce dramatically. Another reason to hate San Fran’s Wild Card hopes is its 2-9 record against the Padres – who they play six more times.

St. Louis Cardinals
Games Remaining: 38
Games Back: 1
What I Like About Their Chances: The Cards may have the easiest route to the postseason of any of these four contenders. Out of their 38 remaining games, 22 of them are against teams with losing records. And unlike the Phillies and Giants right now, their top three starters have been lights out recently. Chris Carpenter is 3-1 this month with a 2.60 ERA, Adam Wainwright has been even nastier while posting a 1.95 ERA and Jaime Garcia has amassed a 2.84 ERA this month. Aside from pitching, let’s not forget that this club also has the best pure hitter in baseball in Albert Pujols and ample protection around him in Matt Holliday and youngster Jon Jay. For August Busch’s sake, even Pedro Feliz is contributing at the dish right now.

What I Don’t Like: Twenty-two of their remaining 38 games may be against teams with losing records, but the Cards are a very pedestrian 23-21 against those clubs. While that’s still a winning record, keep in mind that we’re talking about teams like the Pirates, Astros, Nationals, Cubs and Brewers here. In the past two weeks, St. Louis has dropped series against the Cubs, Brewers and Pirates – in the middle of a pennant race, mind you. How does this happen with a starting rotation that features Carpenter, Wainwright and Garcia?

Home plate umpire Mike Estabrook signals for Colorado Rockies left fielder Carlos Gonzalez to return to third base after apparently scoring behind teammate Jonathan Herrera (L) on a first inning on Troy Tulowitzki's ground rule double during the first inning against the Chicago Cubs at Coors Field on August 1, 2010 in Denver.     UPI Photo/Gary C. Caskey Photo via Newscom

Colorado Rockies
Games Remaining: 36
Games Back: 4
What I Like About Their Chances: This team has already proven that they can get crazy hot and at 41-20, they’re extremely tough to beat at home. Carlos Gonzalez has carried this team and as proof of their 12-10 victory over the Braves on Wednesday, the Rockies are seemingly never out of any game. Six of their final 11 series are at home so if they can pull off a couple of more sweeps like they did against Atlanta, Colorado could shock everyone and win this race down the stretch.

What I Don’t Like: Despite their success at home, this club has played like garbage on the road, posting a 25-40 record away from Coors Field this year. That doesn’t bode well for them considering they have tough road challenges coming up against the Giants, Padres and Cardinals coming up over the next month or so. Those three series could essentially make or break Colorado’s chances and considering they have the most ground to cover of any team listed here, that may be too much to overcome. They also have the worst collection of starting pitching of the Wild Card contenders and Ubaldo Jimenez has dropped two of his last three starts. (Although it’s worth noting that he still has a 2.57 ERA this month.)

It’s a toss up between the Cardinals and the Phillies for me. They both have more talent than the Giants and Rockies, although both are coming off terrible series against bad opponents. In the end, St. Louis’ schedule is favorable and if they don’t wind up winning the NL Central, I like them to secure the Wild Card. Again, they have the easiest road of any team listed above and if they can get their act together on the road, I think they head back to the postseason. Of course, if Tim Lincecum can get back to being Tim Lincecum and the Giants’ offense stays red-hot, the Giants are going to be extremely tough to beat in a three-game series from here on out.

Is that clear? To recap, I like the Cardinals, Phillies and Giants to potentially win the Wild Card………………and maybe even the Rockies.

Update: With their win today, the Dodgers are now only 5 games back in the Wild Card race as well, with a huge series coming up this weekend in Colorado. Hopefully L.A. sweeps the Rockies and thus, make me look like a fool for not including them in this piece.


Assuming the Braves and Reds stay out front in their respective divisions, which team do you think will win the NL Wild Card this year?
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