When Major League Baseball drew up its plans to add a second wild card to the postseason in both leagues earlier this decade, it likely had a season like 2018 in mind. The largest lead for any postseason spot is the Cubs’ 3.5-gamer over the Brewers in the Central. The Braves and Diamondbacks lead their respective divisions by half a game. The three second-place teams, the Brewers along with the Phillies and Rockies, are all tied atop the wild card standings. The Cardinals are just a half-game behind them, and the Dodgers are a game back of the Cardinals. That means we have eight teams in the NL either holding a postseason spot or within 1.5 games of one at the start of this week. Not only could all three divisions come down to the wire, but it’s nearly a guarantee that both wild card spots will, as well.
What does that all mean? Well, not only are fans in, say, Phoenix concerned with what’s happening in Denver and Los Angeles, they also have to pay attention to developments in Milwaukee and St. Louis and Philadelphia and Atlanta. Brewers fans care what the Dodgers do every day, and Phillies fans have to pay close attention to the Rockies. As we’ve drawn closer to the end of the season, the NL standings have only gotten tighter. It’s going to be one heck of a stretch run in the senior circuit, and the league office has to be happy that the second wild card is finally paying off in this specific way.
Hitters to Watch This Week
Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees
Stanton was a force in the Yankees’ sweep of the Blue Jays over the weekend, going 5-for-11 with two homers and three RBI. Since Aaron Judge went on the DL, Stanton is hitting .300/.375/.678 with nine homers and 18 RBI in 104 plate appearances. The AL East belongs to the Red Sox, which is remarkable given that the Yankees are 78–46, good for the second-best record in baseball. They’re four games clear of the A’s, who hold the second wild card spot, and 7.5 games ahead of the Mariners, who sit in third in the wild card standings. Stanton is now hitting .285/.353/.543 with 32 homers and 80 RBI in his first season in the Bronx.
Justin Turner, Dodgers
Turner had a great weekend against the Mariners, going 7-for-13 with two homers and six RBI, helping the Dodgers take two of three from an AL postseason contender. Turner’s hot series coincided with the Dodgers finally breaking out of an August malaise that has them in third place in the NL West, behind the Diamondbacks and Rockies. Injuries have limited Turner to 65 games this season, but he has been excellent when healthy, hitting .305/.398/.498 with nine homers in 259 plate appearances.
David Peralta, Diamondbacks
Peralta returned to Arizona’s lineup on Sunday after missing two straight games with an illness, going 2-for-5 with a solo homer in the team’s 4–3 win over the Padres. He has been one of the best hitters in baseball this month, slashing .393/.448/.820 with seven homers and 12 RBI in 67 August plate appearances. Peralta has resumed the trajectory he set for himself in a breakout 2015 campaign, carrying a .300/.359/.532 slash line with 23 homers and 65 RBI this season, helping push the Diamondbacks to the top of the NL West with six weeks left in the regular season.
Pitchers to Watch This Week
Jacob deGrom, Mets
In what has been a career season during a terrible year for his team, deGrom just had arguably his best start of the year. He threw his first complete game of the season his last time out, holding the Phillies to one unearned run on seven hits, striking out nine and walking none. He has picked up wins in three straight starts to get him to 8–7, which is actually a bit unfortunate. After all, how much fun would it be to see a pitcher win the Cy Young with more losses than wins? As great as Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola have been this year, deGrom has to be considered the favorite for the NL Cy Young. He has a 1.71 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 204 strikeouts in 168 innings this season.
Blake Snell, Rays
Snell has made three starts since returning from the DL, allowing one run on five hits in 14 innings, striking out 13 and walking three. The Rays have kept him on a strict pitch count, with him topping out at 76 pitches in his last time on the mound. He should slowly pitch his way behind any limitations, but with just six weeks remaining in the regular season and the Rays comfortably out of the postseason hunt, it wouldn’t be a huge shock to see the team play it safer than necessary with their star pitcher. He’s scheduled for two starts this week, facing the Royals on Tuesday and Red Sox on Sunday.
Max Scherzer, Nationals
Scherzer is doing everything he can to win his third consecutive NL Cy Young, although, unlike the first two, this one would likely come without a trip to the postseason. If the Nationals do miss out on October, it will be anyone’s fault but Scherzer’s. He was great again in his last start, tossing six shutout innings with seven strikeouts in a win over the Marlins. The 34-year-old now has a 2.11 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 234 strikeouts in 174 2/3 innings this season. He’ll take the ball on Wednesday in the finale of a three-game series with the Phillies.
Series to Watch This Week
Indians at Red Sox, Monday through Thursday
In what may end up as an ALCS preview, the Indians spend the beginning of the week in Boston for a four-game series with the Red Sox. This series lost a bit of its bite with Chris Sale and Trevor Bauer going to the DL, but it should still give us some of the best baseball of the week. It isn’t often that you get four legitimate MVP candidates in one series, but that’s exactly what we’ll have with Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor on one side, and Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez on the other. The Indians will send to the mound, in order, Corey Kluber, Shane Bieber, Carlos Carrasco and Adam Plutko. The Red Sox will counter with Rick Porcello, Nathan Eovaldi, Brian Johnson and David Price.
Astros at Mariners, Monday through Wednesday
The Astros salvaged the finale of last weekend’s series with the A’s, keeping them in first in the AL West by one game. The Mariners, meanwhile, are 4.5 out in the division and 3.5 behind the A’s for the second wild card. Any time two of these three teams get together the rest of the season, it will be a big series, even for the team that isn’t involved. Including these three games, the Astros have six games left with the Mariners, and just three with the A’s. The Mariners and A’s will meet seven times the rest of the season. The pitching matchups for this series are
Gerrit Cole against Felix Hernandez on Monday, Collin McHugh against Mike Leake on Tuesday, and Charlie Morton against Marco Gonzales on Wednesday.
Cardinals at Rockies, Friday through Sunday
The Cardinals and Rockies are two of the hottest teams in baseball, with both playing their way right back into the thick of the NL postseason picture over the last few weeks. The Cardinals have won 10 of their last 12, and briefly overtook the Brewers for second place in the NL Central this weekend. At 68-57, they’re four games behind the Cubs in the Central and a half-game behind the three-team logjam atop the NL wild card standings. The Rockies are part of that three-team group, along with the Phillies and Brewers, but they’re also just half a game shy of the Diamondbacks for first place in the NL West. The Cardinals are on track to throw Miles Mikolas, John Gant and Austin Gomber in this series, while the Rockies are slated to go with Antonio Senzatela, German Marquez and Tyler Anderson.