The Contenders: NL Wild Card
Since we last visited the Wild Card race, there has been a noted shrinking of the contenders for the two spots. With the Braves firmly ensconced as NL East champs, and great races shaping up in the NL Central and NL West, we narrow our focus to those teams that are over .500 or within five games of the NL Wild Card lead. That brings us to…
Pittsburgh Pirates, 61-42, second place NL Central
The Pirates have staying power this year! Buoyed by a great pitching staff with the lowest ERA in the NL, they have overcome the second lowest amount of runs scored in the league to take the lead in their division last month. Still only 2 games behind the Cards, the Pirates need to score some more runs to pull it out. They sport a team batting average of only .243, which would seem low except they are in the league with some truly putrid offensive teams. That said, they have demonstrated a knack for coming up with key hits when they need them, which is the hallmark of a special team.
Cincinnati Reds, 59-47, third place NL Central
Wow, third in their division? Who saw this coming? The strength of the Pirates’ pitching and the Cardinals’ everything turned out to outmatch the young Reds. Nonetheless, they have the second highest run differential (83) in the league, the third highest runs scored in the league (463) and the fourth best runs allowed (380). They don’t really hit for average- only .253 as a team- and could use another bat by the trade deadline. Another infielder or corner outfielder would help.
Arizona Diamondbacks, 54-51, 4.5 games back of a WC spot
They were in first in their division for quite some time, but a stretch of losing 8 out of 9 last month knocked them out. They are very streaky and mediocre in both hitting and pitching, as most young teams can be. They need to age, so no trade remedy may help more than time spent playing together. They have had eight winning streaks of three games or more this year, meaning they may only need to gain hold of a hot streak to vault themselves into contention.
No longer in contention: Washington, Philadelphia, Colorado, San Diego, San Francisco