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National League Wild-Card Preview: Nats and D-Backs Aren't Done Yet

Luke Holthouse |
September 12, 2013 | 7:12 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer

A late surge by Bryce Harper and the Nationals give them a shot at the Wild Card. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
A late surge by Bryce Harper and the Nationals give them a shot at the Wild Card. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
If there's ever any proof that a team is never out of the race, simply look at the 2011 race in the National League. The St. Louis Cardinals were 10.5 games back at this point, yet roared back to catch the Atlanta Braves, then ultimately won the World Series. Same with the 2007 Colorado Rockies, winning 21 of 22 games to finish the season en route to their World Series appearance. The point is, don't count a team out of quite yet, especially with around 15 games to go. 

The Braves have a double digit chokehold on the N.L. East, while the Los Angeles Dodgers have a double-digit chokehold on the NL West. The N.L. Central has a three-horse race between Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and St. Louis for its division crown, where the two runners-up should still get atop the medal stand and make the Wild Card one-game playoff. Simple enough? Well, let’s just throw out some hypotheticals. 

At the start of today, St. Louis sat atop the Central at 84-60. Pittsburgh, one game back at 84-61, has a two-game lead over 83-64 Cincinnati for the first Wild Card spot. The 87-57 Braves have a double-digit lead in the East, and the 85-59 Dodgers do too in the West. Miami, Chicago, Milwaukee, Colorado, San Francisco and New York have all been mathematically eliminated from both their division race and the Wild Card race, while Philadelphia, San Diego, Arizona and Washington all have enough games on their schedule to make the playoffs. 

The 67-78 Philadelphia Phillies only have to win 16 of their 17 remaining games to tie Cincinnati in the standings and force a one game playoff, assuming that the Reds win all 15 of their remaining games this year. San Diego has 18 remaining games at 66-78, meaning they too can only lose one more game to catch Cincinnati if the Reds tank.

Arizona and Washington are different stories. Not only are both mathematically still in their division race, but both have slightly more reasonable chances at winning a Wild Card spot. The D-Backs sit at 73-72 and the Nationals at 76-69, both with 17 games left to gain 9 and 6 games on Cincinnati, respectively. If Cincy were to play .500 ball the rest of the year (let’s round down to 7-8 to make this more fun), they would finish at 18 games over .500 at 90-72. The 90-win mark nowadays almost guarantees a playoff spot with the added Wild Card game. To get even with that, the D-Backs would have to win out and the Nationals would have to go 14-3. 

Now, let’s say the Reds don’t necessarily lose every game here on out but struggle to the finish, going 5-10. The D-Backs could go 15-2 while Washington could go 12-5. 

Philadelphia and Colorado need two unheard-of runs to make the playoffs, Arizona needs only one yet-still-equally-unheard-of run between either itself or Cincinnati, and the Nationals need two unlikely-but-not-out-of-this-world runs down the stretch to make the playoffs. A 13-5 stretch is not unheard of, and neither is a 5-10 one. 

You won't find any bold predictions here, but don’t sleep on the Nationals in the Wild Card race. They’ve won five straight, and at least for now have inserted themselves into the discussion. And don’t give up on any team until they absolutely have no chance left. You won't be sorry.

Reach Staff Writer Luke Holthouse here. Follow him here.



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