With a little less than a month remaining in the MLB regular season the race for the playoffs is reaching top speed. The picture is rather clear over in the American League, with all five playoff spots essentially locked up. The Boston Red Sox hold a 9.5 game lead over the New York Yankees in the East, the Cleveland Indians are 16 games up on the Minnesota Twins in the Central, and the Houston Astros are clinging to a 3.5 game advantage over the Oakland Athletics. The Yankees have a nine-game cushion over the Seattle Mariners for a Wild Card spot, while the A’s are 5.5 ahead of Seattle.
Conversely, the Chicago Cubs are the only team that should feel somewhat comfortable in the National League. While they only enjoy a four-game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers and 4.5 over the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cubs are 6.5 games ahead of the third team in the Wild Card race. In the East, the Atlanta Braves are three games ahead of the fading Philadelphia Phillies.
While there is still time for the Cubs and Braves to be overtaken in their divisions, they are the prohibitive favorites to come out on top. There is no such certainty in the NL West. With only two games separating three teams at the top of the division, the final four weeks of the regular season are going to be exhausting. As it stands, eight teams — Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Colorado, Arizona, Atlanta, and Philadelphia — are fighting for playoff spots.
Let’s take a look at how the West contenders compare the rest of the way:
What’s Left: vs. LAD, vs. ARI, @ SF, @ LAD, @ ARI, vs. PHI, vs. WSH
The current leader in the West, Colorado is in a unique spot. With 13 of their 23 remaining games coming against the Dodgers and D-Backs, the Rockies have the opportunity to reach the postseason by personally beating their two biggest threats. Starting Friday, Colorado hosts LA and Arizona for seven games. A successful week can create an insurmountable gap atop the division, but a poor showing could likewise end their chances.
The Rockies have been a better team on the road this season, but regardless they must feel good that they still have 15 games left at home. Colorado has the fourth most prolific offense in the NL (655 runs), but has allowed the fourth most (663), resulting in a pedestrian -8 run differential. Closing the season with road series’ against the Dodgers and Diamondbacks, followed by a crucial four-game series with Philadelphia isn’t ideal — however three games with an eliminated Washington squad to end the campaign isn’t the worst case scenario.
Los Angeles Dodgers
What’s Left: @ COL, @ CIN, @ STL, vs. COL, vs. SD, @ ARI, @ SF
The reigning National League champions are surging at the right time. Following a three-game sweep at the hands of St. Louis, the Dodgers have rattled off nine wins in their past 12 games. The Dodgers are set to embark on a 10-game road trip which may determine their playoff chances. The bookend series’ of the trip loom especially large. LA takes on Colorado in a pivotal weekend series before playing three games in Cincinnati. The Dodgers toughest task may be their four-game jaunt in St. Louis, as both the Divisional and Wild Card races will be impacted — the Cardinals hold a two-game lead on the Dodgers for the second Wild Card spot.
The Dodgers boast the league’s best run differential (+129), and have scored the second most runs (660) while allowing the second fewest (531) in the NL. Over the past month the Dodgers pitching has improved, yielding more than five runs on only two occasions. With Justin Turner and Manny Machado turning it on, and Clayton Kershaw beginning to resemble his Cy Young-self, the Dodgers should be the favorite to take home the West.
What’s Left: vs. ATL, @ COL, @ HOU, vs. CHC, vs. COL, vs. LAD, @ SD
Currently sitting two games out of first in the West, and 2.5 out of a Wild Card spot, the Diamondbacks face the toughest road to the postseason. Arizona’s next 17 games are against teams currently holding first place in their division. The D-Backs host the NL East leading Braves for four games before embarking on a seven-game road trip to Colorado and Houston. If that wasn’t tough enough, Arizona must play their next nine games against the Cubs, Rockies, and Dodgers. If they can make it through that minefield, a three-game series in San Diego should offer a nice reprieve.
Arizona has been sticking around all year due in large part to solid pitching. Their 522 runs allowed lead the NL, although their bullpen has faltered as of late — not unlike the Dodgers and Rockies pens. It will be a tough journey to the postseason for the D-Backs, as 20 of their 23 remaining games come against teams with a record above .500. If Arizona can overcome both the Rockies and Dodgers they would feel great about their chances in the postseason.
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