If the Cubs hit their stride and take over the NL Central, who will be the main roadblocks in the Cardinals path towards a Wild Card Spot?
As much as I hate to say it, and I’m sure you, likewise, hate to hear it, the Cubs are beginning to hit their stride about a third of the way into the 2017 season. Now, I’m all for optimism, but I’m also for practicality, and the chances, as the North Siders and possibly baseball’s most stacked team, start to show signs of heating up, of the Cardinals winning the NL Central are possible, but not all too likely. A Wild Card position, however, is well within reach for the Red Birds. So, let’s take a look at who the Cardinals’ biggest opposition could be in the National League for gaining one of those Wild Card positions, and winning the one game playoff, four months down the road.
Colorado Rockies (currently 32-19)
If I’m being honest, I fully expect the Dodgers to overtake the number one spot in the NL West by season’s end. However, that does not dismiss the fact that the Rockies are a powerhouse in the National League. With a lineup as good as any in Major League Baseball, powered by the sweet swing of Nolan Arenado, and the consistency of Charlie Blackmon and DJ LeMahieu at the top of the order, Colorado is poised to make a run all the way through September.
If there’s one weak spot for Colorado, it’s their pitching. The “ace” of the staff, Tyler Chatwood, 10 starts into 2017, has posted a meager 4-6 record, pitching to the tune of a 4.50 ERA. As a staff, through 49 games, Rockies pitchers have posted a 4.14 ERA, good for just 17th best in baseball. Even so, this number has been carried by their over performing bullpen, led by closer Greg Holland, who has pitched to the tune of a 0.96 ERA through 20 games, a stat uncharacteristic of his career 2.34 mark.
Overall, the Rockies lack a true ace and have over-performed on the pitching end of things, which is why I look for them to fall from their number one spot in the NL West. That being said, their line up is elite, and there’s no disputing that, which is why I look for them to heavily compete for a Wild Card spot in September. Of course, when it comes down to it, pitching wins ballgames, and if the Rocks were to face off with the Cardinals in one game for the right to advance to the divisional series, I’d have to pick the Cardinals. But, beware, Arenado and the boys can be explosive, and cause heavy damage at any time, as shown by the trouncing we witnessed in Colorado Friday night.
Arizona Diamondbacks (currently 31-20)
Here’s another team in the thick of the race for the top of the NL West as things stand near the end of May that I don’t necessarily expect to be there at season’s close. However, if you remember, these guys were expected to be potential division winners in 2016, and if AJ Pollock hadn’t gone down to a season-ending injury in the first weeks of the season, or if Zack Greinke hadn’t tremendously under-performed, who knows, maybe they would have been.
This year, however, things seem to be clicking in the Urban Heart of Arizona. Goldy’s doing what he does best, quietly hitting .320, Greinke is back to his dominant self, and Pollock, after a hot start, looks to be back off the DL sooner rather than later. As well, the D’Backs have received some much-needed help from some rising stars such as short stop Chris Owings and young left-hander Robbie Ray. The snakes still hope Patrick Corbin can, at some point, live up to his lofty expectations as an elite starter, but for now, things are looking good for the Diamondbacks.
As a potential competitor for the Wild Card spot, or for a position in the Divisional Round via the one game playoff, these guys could be dangerous. They have the elite ace, they have the big time star, and they have the experienced closer who can lock down close games. Additionally, they have a formidable bench, which is an important asset down the stretch in the dog days of summer, and especially in the one game Wild Card game. I can’t pretend to have the ability to foresee four months in the future, but I can say this: If the Cardinals and D’Backs are battling it out for a spot in the playoffs, don’t take these guys lightly.
New York Mets (currently 20-27)
There’s a reason they’re last on my list, and that’s because I truly think this is an off year for the 2015 National League Champions. With only one true star in their current lineup and a bullpen that’s showing signs of its 2012-2014 self, the Mets have looked flat out bad so far in 2017. For the sake of not having to pick the Reds or the Brewers as my third contending team, because, let’s be honest, with those pitching staffs, there’s little to no chance they can maintain the level of play they have shown over the first two months of the season, I had to go with the Boys in Queens as my last choice for possible challengers for the NL Wild Card position.
Plus, the Mets are currently missing some key pieces. As usual, I might add, but still. Yoenis Cespedes begins his rehab assignment this upcoming Friday and should be back with the team within the coming weeks. Matt Harvey should be back around the same time. If they’re still in the race come July, Noah “Thor” Syndergaard could make a big impact upon returning shortly after the All-Star break.
Look, there’s no denying it. The Mets have one of, if not the, best pitching staffs in baseball. Once Cespedes returns, they’ll have their superstar back, to add to another one in the making in Michael Conforto. With a healthy team, they can be as dangerous as anyone in the National League.
But it’s the same old song and dance for the Mets in 2017. Injuries that cause their lineup to be comparable to that of a Triple-A team, injuries and under-performance on the pitching end of things, and just an overall inability to beat the teams that they’re supposed to beat.
This is why I was hesitant to put them on this list. But I also felt like I had to because of all their talent. If it came down to it in a Wild Card game against the Cardinals, with Syndergaard on the mound, how could you not pick the Mets? Especially after Thor’s performance against the Giants last year. I just don’t know if it’ll get to that point for New York.