A week after my first post, the top five teams in the NL Wild Card Race remain unchanged. However, a mere 2 1/2 games separate three teams jockeying for the second and final wild card spot.
It may be time to write off the defending NL West Champions. The past week has seen the Diamondbacks lose 5 of 7, falling back to a .500 record. Although Justin Upton is finally showing signs of life, posting a .314/.385/.486 line since the start of August, the Diamondbacks folded in the face of strong competition, falling to the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals in their past 2 series. The D’backs remain a threat in the race, but in order to make another playoff run, they will have to beat quality teams such as these over the last 2 months of the season.
The Dodgers posted a mediocre week, following up a sweep of the lowly Chicago Cubs, by losing 2 of three to the Colorado Rockies and their historically bad pitching. Despite their roller coaster week however, the Dodgers actually gained a game on the Pirates and now sit just 2 1/2 games back. New addition Hanley Ramirez has made contact since moving out west, batting .304 over the past week, but his .304 slugging percentage is unacceptable. The Dodgers remain aggressive, picking up Joe Blanton from the Philadelphia Phillies, and have filled the gaping lineup holes at third base and left field, but their pitching has started to falter behind Clayton Kershaw. If first-half surprise Chris Capuano can’t regain his early season form, the Dodgers could see themselves slip out of contention.
The Cards experienced an up-and-down week as well, posting a 4-3 record that included several strong victories as well as a 15-0 debacle at the hands of the San Francisco Giants. Despite losing Lance Berkman once again, the Cardinals’ offense remains strong. The rotation has mostly solidified itself with Adam Wainwright dealing, posting a 2.32 ERA and .91 WHIP in the past 30 days, but the bullpen continues to struggle. Mitchell Boggs, had his 23 game streak snapped by a Marco Scutaro grand slam in the aforementioned 15-run loss. Boggs had been a rare bright spot in the Cards’ bullpen, and they absolutely need him to shake off his bad outing in order to continue to make up ground on the Pirates and Cincinnati Reds in the Wild Card and Division Races.
The Pirates have had a rough week, avoiding a sweep at the hands of the Reds, before losing the first 2 games of their weekend series against the lowly San Diego Padres. The offense, which was nearly unwatchable in the first half of the season outside of Andrew McCutchen has vastly improved, bolstered by strong weeks from new faces Travis Snider, Gaby Sanchez, and Starling Marte. A.J. Burnett continues his renaissance season at the top of the Pirates’ rotation, but first-half ace James McDonald continues to struggle, allowing 7 earned runs against the aforementioned Padres in his last start. The Pirates absolutely need McDonald to turn things around in order to maintain their tenuous hold on the final Wild Card spot.
The Braves enjoyed an excellent week, winning 5 of 6 games against the Houston Astros, Phillies, and New York Mets. Despite the relative weakness of this competition, the Braves have proven their mettle, and begun to pull away from the rest of the crowded NL Wild Card field. Ben Sheets, out of baseball due to injuries since 2010, has dominated competition, posting a 4-1 record with a 1.41 ERA, and Craig Kimbrell has repeated his historic 2011 thus far, striking out 52 and walking just 1 (!) in his past 29 games. Andrelton Simmons‘ return in the next few weeks should bolster an already strong lineup enjoying strong seasons from Michael Bourn, Jason Hewyard, and the ageless Chipper Jones. If the Braves put together another few weeks like this past one, they should comfortably clinch one of the two Wild Card Spots.