Apparently the Braves are still in this thing, with both the Mets and Padres collapsing in the past week, so let’s look at what could happen over the last five days of the regular season.
All three NL division races are in play, with the leaders (New York, Chicago, Arizona) all holding two-game leads over second place (Philly, Milwaukee, San Diego). The Padres lead the Wild Card after they won last night, while the Braves beat the Phillies to remain three games back. The Phillies and Rockies are both one game back of San Diego, and the Dodgers were eliminated with last night’s loss.
So, the Braves are four games behind the Mets, with the Phillies two games ahead, and three games behind the Padres, with both the Phillies and Rockies two games ahead. They’re going to need some help, but the playoffs are still a possibility for what is suddenly one of the hottest teams in baseball.
It’s statistically somewhat unlikely that any of the division leaders will fall with five games to play, but I suppose anything could happen. The Mets would seem to be in the worst position, given their recent play, but the Phillies still have two more games against the Braves (facing Smoltz and Hudson), so it’s almost as much of an uphill battle for them as it is for the Braves themselves.
You can never count on the Cubs doing much of anything right, but Cool Standings still gives them an 89% chance to win the division. Their run differential (730-669) also suggests that they’re legitimately a better team than the Brewers (775-745). Of course, the NL-leading D-Backs have defied conventional wisdom about run differentials all year (695-710).
Realistically, the Braves are still a long shot for either race. The Braves still have to be four games better than the Mets over five days, with two more wins against Philly almost being an absolute necessity. The WC race is closer, but both the Rockies and Padres will have to start losing for that to work out. Here’s the remaining schedule for all of the teams in the NL East and WC races:
The Braves, as I mentioned, have two more in Philly, and then they travel to Houston for three.
The Phillies host Washington over the weekend after they get rid of the Braves.
The Mets host the Nats for two and the Marlins for three, which is theoretically a very easy schedule.
The Rockies play two more at the Dodgers before returning home for three against the D-Backs.
The Padres have one game in San Francisco and then play four at Milwaukee, with both teams possibly fighting for their playoff lives.
How will it turn out?
I’ll be rooting for the Braves the whole way, but they’re definitely in the worst position of any team not yet eliminated. The race is tough to handicap, though, because the Phillies could lose their next two games quite easily. The Rockies also have a tough schedule, so to me it’s really a toss-up. I’d take the Padres in a one-game playoff, since Peavy would be available for a Monday game, so I guess they would be my pick at this point.
The playoff seeds seem unlikely to change, since the Mets are four games up on the Cubs for the #2 spot. Right now, the D-Backs are #1, the Mets #2, and the Cubs #3. If the Padres do win the WC, they’ll face the Mets in a battle of two faltering teams, while the D-Backs would have to face the Cubs. If the Phillies or Braves win it, they would face the D-Backs instead, with the Mets facing the Cubs in the other matchup.
It should be an exciting weekend. Make sure to watch some baseball, even though there’s a full slate of college and NFL games. Skip Caray will be coming back from his health issues to do Sunday’s game, which is also the last Braves game on TBS before they go to national coverage next year. After 26 years as TBS’ signature program, with Caray also having done the first national Braves broadcast, it will be the end of an era in more ways than one.