The MLB postseason starts in just over a month. In the National League, four of the six spots have all but been secured. The Dodgers will easily win the NL West, the Cardinals will win the NL Central, and the Mets and Braves will battle it out for the NL East title ultimately pushing one of them into the NL’s four-seed. That leaves the five and six-seeds up for grabs. Two spots and three teams vying for a playoff berth: The San Diego Padres, Milwaukee Brewers, and Philadelphia Phillies.
Sure, teams like the San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks are still technically in the race, but let’s be real, nobody expects them to make a run at the postseason. COULD it happen? Sure. Then again, my ex-girlfriend could decide to take me back. I find neither of these scenarios very likely.
Barring some cosmic interference from the powers that be, the final two NL Wild Card slots will be given to some combination of the Phillies, Brewers, and Padres. The Brewers are looking for their fifth consecutive postseason berth. The Phillies haven’t reached the playoffs since 2011, and the Padres haven’t reached the playoffs in a normal, non-COVID-shortened season since 2006. You’d think each of these teams would be dying for an opportunity to compete for a World Series, but based on the last few days, each team seems more than happy to let the other two take their place.
Over the weekend, the Padres were on the road for a three-game set with the Dodgers. The Padres lost that series. There’s no shame in dropping two of three to Los Angeles on the road. No shame at all. Where the shame does start to set in is their offense though. Over their last three games (two @ LAD, one vs. ARI), the Padres have scored a total of five runs.
I understand having trouble scoring against six innings of Julio Urías followed by Blake Treinen, but there’s no excuse for recording only three earned runs across 6.1 innings against the likes of Heath Hembree, Phil Bickford, Chris Martin, Craig Kimbrel, and Ryan Pepiot. They stranded 11 runners in that game! The Padres led off the fourth with a pair of walks. How did the inning end? Strikeout, strikeout, pop fly. I know it was the bottom of the Padres’ lineup, but you couldn’t even move them over. These are must-win games at this point in the season, and nobody seems capable of doing any damage outside of Machado and Soto!
Fortunately, the Padres were rid of the Dodgers following that game. Their first game of their home series against Arizona featured Ryne Nelson on the mound for the D-Backs. This was his first-ever Major League start. He pitched seven shutout innings, allowing only four hits. This guy had a 5.43 ERA in Triple-A this year to go along with a 5.51 FIP and declining strikeout rates each of the past three seasons in the minors. His fastball sits at around 95 mph — nothing overpowering. The Padres couldn’t touch him. Sure, Nelson was allowing a few too many fly balls for comfort, but he was missing barrels and forcing mostly weak-to-medium contact. No harm, no foul. I know facing a new pitcher can be tough since there isn’t much of a scouting report to go off of, but this guy wasn’t supposed to dominate in his first career start as much as he did, especially against an offense that’s supposed to be as dangerous as San Diego’s.
The Phillies haven’t been much better. They just wrapped up a series with San Francisco. The Giants had lost seven in a row and 11 of 13 heading into that series with Philadelphia. Did the Phillies take advantage? No. They surrendered 13 runs to the Giants — tied for the second-most runs the Giants have scored all year. This Giants team had been hanging on by a thread all season and finally started to see their playoff hopes fade away, but the Phillies just had to give them a reason to stick around, huh? San Francisco had swept just two opponents in a three-game set or longer since the start of June. Just two!
The Phillies may have an edge over the Brewers in the standings right now, but now is no time to lose games to the lowly Giants! The Giants gave catcher Andrew Knapp, who currently has an OPS of .393 in 2021, seven plate appearances in this series. Knapp reached base or drove in a run, in four of them. That’s arguably the hottest streak of the entire season for Knapp! You can’t let guys like that beat you.
Then, there are the Brewers, who’ve actually won two of their last three games. That’s great! You know what isn’t great though? Dropping three of four to Arizona over the weekend and only scoring two total runs in those losses. I’ll give the Brewers credit for scoring eight runs in their lone win, but they needed 10 innings to do so. Imagine needing extra innings to avoid getting swept by the Diamondbacks. I know they’ve been hot, but the Brewers are clearly the better team and are in must-win territory. They’re on the outside of the playoff bubble looking in right now. And scoring ten runs total over a four-game stretch against Arizona is not going to help.
Good news for the Brewers though, they have seven straight games against Colorado, San Francisco, and Cincinnati to figure things out before they start an eight-game stretch against the Cardinals, Yankees, and Mets. If the Brewers want any hope of passing Philadelphia or San Diego, they’re going to need to win at least five of those next seven.
At this rate, whichever teams can play even .500 ball until the end of the season will probably get a spot in the postseason. Given that the defending World Series champions, the Atlanta Braves, had the worst record of any playoff team last year, it’s not absurd to say that any team that reaches the playoffs has a decent shot of hoisting the World Series Championship Trophy at the end of the year. That said, if the Phillies, Brewers, or Padres want that opportunity, they better start whipping themselves into gear. Now’s not the time to have a season-defining slump.