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National League Races to Watch

With just under three weeks left in baseball’s regular season, it’s time to look at how the NL races are shaping up. The National League isn’t nearly as up in the air as the AL is. The NL has already seen six teams eliminated from playoff contention — which makes the NL Wildcard a lot less of a toss up.

At the time this article was written, the NL standings looked like this according to MLB.com: The Mets 8.5 games up one the Nationals in the NL EastSt. Louis holds a 3.0 game lead over the Pirates and a 7.0 game lead over the Cubs in the NL Central, and the Dodgers hold a 7.5 game lead over the Giants in the NL West.

KEY NL RACES:

NL East

The NL East is between the Mets and the Nationals at this point, and unless the Mets repeat their epic 2007 collapse, then the division is all theirs. The Mets, who finish a three-game series with Miami tonight, are looking to open up their lead over the Nationals. Looking at both teams remaining schedules during the final 18 days of the season, the Mets and the Nats face off one more time on the final weekend of the season. That could give the Nationals just the chance they need to overtake the Mets for the division, if they haven’t been eliminated already. Before these two meet on that final weekend, the Mets have a three-game home stand with their crosstown rivals and then they welcome the already eliminated Atlanta Braves to Citi Field before taking to the road to face the Reds and then the Phillies.

This could help out the Nats since the Mets are playing .500 (37-37) on the road. The Nationals end their three-game series in Philadelphia tonight before opening up a ten-game home stand, starting Thursday against Miami. Baltimore and the Phillies also visit D.C. during the next 11 days as the Nats close out September with a trip to Atlanta. The Nats need to be better than their 33-41 (.446) road record shows when they face the Mets. They also need a little luck in the wild card race too, but we’ll get to that later.

NL Central

Just three games separate the Cardinals from the second place Pirates. The Cubs are a little further back in third, but they hold the coveted second NL wild card spot. The Cardinals own the best record in baseball (90-54) followed closely by, you guessed it, the Pirates (87-57). I’m not saying that the Cubs can’t take the division, but it would take a 1970s season type implosion from both St. Louis and Pittsburgh for them to achieve that feat. The battle for the NL Central is between the Cards and the Pirates plain and simple.

The good news for all three teams, especially Pittsburgh and Chicago, is that they all have to play each other at least once before the end of the season. Pittsburgh and Chicago are in the middle of a four-game series in Pittsburgh, and they’ll do it again the last weekend of the month in Chicago.

St. Louis faces off against the Cubs at Wrigley this weekend and then travels to Pittsburgh on September 28. There is one of these three teams who are going to be breathing a little easier at the end of the month. Then again, all three could be gasping for air because the race could be even tighter.

NL West

This is the same two-team race that it has been for the last five years or so. The Dodgers and the Giants have been slugging it out in the NL West since before there was an NL West. The Padres and the D-Backs are very close to joining the Rockies in the elimination club–leaving the two teams at the top of the division to battle it out once again.

The Giants have some serious ground to make up if they hope to make it to the postseason though. They’re 7.5 games back in the division race and 11 games from elimination, which means that any combination of Dodgers’ wins and Giants’ losses that equal 11 and San Francisco is out. Thankfully for the Giants the three teams that they face before they face L.A. next: Arizona, San Diego and Oakland. They all not only have losing records but are as equally bad at home as they are on the road. That combined with a little bit of luck could shrink the gap down to a more manageable size for them.

The Dodgers have a tougher row to hoe. They play host to the team with the second-best record in baseball this weekend–the Pirates. Then they open a four-game series with the Diamondbacks that leads up to the final series with the Giants.

NL Wild Card

While the NL’s wild card race technically has six teams still in it, we really only need to focus on four since the D-Backs are four games away from elimination and the Padres are two. The Nationals are 9.0 games out and the Giants are 7.5 games out of the two NL wild card spots and Pittsburgh is currently four games ahead of the Cubs for the top spot in the race. Only two of these four teams will meet each other for the remainder of the regular season — the Cubs and the Pirates, and that’s because they’re in the same division. The Giants and Nationals are going to have to helps themselves by winning every game that they can and hope that either the Cubs or Pirates drops games because of it.

Here’s why I don’t think that the Nats or the Giants wish is going to come true. The Pirates and the Cubs have been playing some great baseball this season — period — and they both have one of the best records in baseball. When was the last time you heard the Cubs included in THAT conversation? Check the third Thursday after next to never. The teams who have better records than the Cubs are St. Louis, Pittsburgh and the Dodgers, and they’re actually tied with the Cubs’ record overall. Three of those four teams listed are division leaders.

Also, the Cubs are one of nine teams that have winning road records. Now, it’s been a long time since the Cubs factored into any postseason conversations outside of the Northside of Chicago that weren’t linked to Steve Bartman or “The Curse of the Billy Goat.” But, the Cubbies could make the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

This season is different for the Cubbies, and here’s why. Right now they have the same overall record as the NL West leading Dodgers, and a half-game on the NL East leading Mets. The Cubs road record (40-33) is only slightly worse that the Dodgers (48-22) or the Mets (46-25) home records, respectively. When playing at Wrigley Field they’re 43-28, which is better than the Dodgers (35-39) or the Mets (37-37) are on the road. 

Last year the Pirates were knocked out of the postseason by the Giants, but this season you can bet they aren’t wanting to let the same thing happen. They aren’t going to give them a second to think that they can be caught in this race. The last time Pittsburgh won the a championship was 1979, and the three times that the Pirates have made the postseason since are 1992, 2013 and 2014. Each time they have been knocked out before reaching the World Series. This year could be their year though. Then again, that was said in 1992, 2013 and 2014 too. Who knows, we might see an all-NL Central NLCS this year. Now that would be something to see.

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