This was just another crazy week in what is becoming an enthralling NL Wild Card Race. Upheaval in the standings has become a background story to the Los Angeles Dodgers’ blockbuster trade with the Boston Red Sox that vaults them into the World Series conversation.
1. Cardinals (69-57, +120 Run Differential)
The Cards have finally begun to climb the standings and now occupy the final Wild Card slot. They posted a 4-2 week that allowed them to overtake the Pittsburgh Pirates despite a heartbreaking 19-inning loss to them on August 12th that sealed a series win for the Pirates. Luckily, the Redbirds quickly put that behind them and annihilated the woeful Houston Astros, before splitting the first two games against the division-leading Cincinnati Reds. Again, the Cards face a rubber game Sunday that could have huge consequences in the race for the NL Wild Card and the NL Central races.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers (69-58, +44)
The story of the Dodgers’ season has been the teams new ownership group. After making an aggressive deal for Hanley Ramirez and barely missing out on Ryan Dempster, the new regime just pulled off one of the biggest trades of all time, taking Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, and Adrian Gonzalez and their exorbitant contracts from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for some decent prospects and salary relief. This deal vaults the Dodgers into the conversation for best NL team on paper, as Gonzalez replaces the dreadful James Loney who had been below replacement level offensively this year.
3. Atlanta Braves (72-55 +84)
Despite retaining their hold on the top spot in the Wild Card, and holding one of the largest run differentials in the game, the Braves find themselves fighting three of the strongest teams in baseball for two playoff spots. The Dodgers and Cardinals have the talent to beat any team any day, and the Dodgers are especially scary to face in the one-game Wild Card Playoff format, as they could send out Clayton Kershaw. The Braves’ best hopes for a playoff run rest in the NL East, as the Cardinals and Dodgers gain on them, and possess more talent on paper.
4. Pirates (68-58 +18)
The Buccos have dropped out of the second Wild Card slot for the first time since this column began, and have actually fallen all the way down to fourth place in the race. However, they stand just one game behind the Cardinals for that second slot and remain an extremely dangerous team. But, the Pirates relatively weak run differential, suggests that they have reached their ceiling, a bad sign when considering that the teams they chase, the Cardinals and Dodgers have not peaked yet. The Buccos will post their first winning season since the early-1990s, but they appear to be sinking in the playoff race just as last year. Whatever ultimately happens in Pittsburgh, this season was a huge success and step forward for the Pirates.
5. Arizona Diamondbacks (64-63, +32)
The D’backs continue to underperform after their excellent 2011 season. They should be fighting with the Dodgers, Cardinals, and Braves for the Wild Card while challenging for the NL West considering their talent and run differential, but have remained consistently mediocre this season, floating right around the .500 mark week after week. There is still time to make a run, evidenced by the Cardinals’ and Tampa Bay Rays‘ miracle ascensions last season with only one Wild Card spot, but the Diamondbacks seem content to continue their inconsistent play until the offseason where they will reconsider trading Justin Uptonfor a package that could make them serious contenders for years to come in the National League.