There is going to be a ton of banter for the next 10 days about which MLB teams are buying and which teams are selling at the trade deadline, but let's pivot a bit on that lingo and figure out whether we should be buying or selling teams as legitimate threats to secure one of the four wild-card spots for the 2021 postseason.
Headed into play on Tuesday, there were 16 teams (including the six division leaders) with at least a 6 percent chance of making the postseason, per FanGraphs' playoff odds. Take out those six division leaders and add in Seattle (listed at 4.2 percent despite an impressive record) and, voila, we have 11 wild-card contenders to either buy or sell.
It's a subjective dance, and the numbers won't necessarily match the number of playoff spots available. I'll tell you right now that I have three of the American League teams denoted as a "Buy," even though there are only two wild-card spots in each league. If anything, I was closer to increasing that number to four or even five than I was to decreasing it to two.
Translation: The wild-card race in the American League should be highly entertaining right down to the wire.
In the National League, well, not so much. At this point, it seems almost inevitable that the NL West will secure both wild-card spots, though a lot can change in the next two-plus months. If nothing else, it's worth looking at the remaining schedules for Cincinnati, Philadelphia and San Diego to get a sense of what sort of chaos could be coming our way in September.
Teams are presented in alphabetical order.
Playoff Odds: 8.9 Percent
It bears noting up front that Atlanta's postseason odds are just about entirely dependent upon winning the mediocre NL East, as the Braves are 4.5 games back in that race and eight games out of the wild-card picture. So, no, we are not buying sub-.500 Atlanta as a wild-card contender.
Could this team win the division, though?
Well, with Ronald Acuna Jr. out for the rest of the season, most likely not.
Even before losing their biggest star, it felt inevitable that pitching would be their downfall.
Charlie Morton has been fine, but he's a far cry from the likes of Jacob deGrom, Corbin Burnes, Zack Wheeler, Clayton Kershaw and Kevin Gausman. And with Ian Anderson and Huascar Ynoa on the IL and Mike Soroka unlikely to pitch at all this season, Atlanta's starting rotation doesn't get any prettier from there.
Beyond that, the bullpen is overrun with mediocrity. The only reliever with an xFIP of 3.75 or better is Jesse Chavez, who has pitched all of nine innings for the year.
Somehow, they've gotten by rather well up until now and boast the best run differential in the NL East. But it feels like the bottom is going to drop out sooner or later, because there's not a single guy Atlanta can turn to if it desperately needs a quality start or a scoreless inning of relief. Couple that with adjusting to life without Acuna, and a playoff push is improbable at best.
That said, if the Braves swing big at the trade deadline, it wouldn't take that much to improve enough to feasibly catch the Mets.
Playoff Odds: 8.9 Percent
It's a bit of a miracle that the Reds are above .500 (48-46) and still in the hunt for a playoff spot, considering Mike Moustakas has been both banged up and ineffective, the bullpen is a disaster and Eugenio Suarez (.170) is seemingly determined to break Chris Davis' all-time record (.168) for the worst batting average in a season with at least 500 plate appearances.
On the flip side of that coin, though, Nick Castellanos is putting up MVP-ish numbers, Jesse Winker is enjoying easily the best season of his career and Wade Miley has unexpectedly reprised his role as an ace in his mid-30s.
Can the Reds overcome the former and lean on the latter for a postseason push or will they fade out of the conversation altogether?
Getting swept by the NL Central first-place Brewers to open the second half of the season sure felt like the first nail in Cincinnati's coffin, but here's some fun news for Reds hopefuls: Only 11 of their final 66 games are against teams with at least 48 wins, and they still have 13 games remaining against the Pirates.
If Castellanos and Winker keep cooking and if they can improve their dreadful bullpen before the trade deadline, it's not hard to envision the Reds resuming their pre-All-Star-Break winning ways.
In the span of 40 games from May 30 through July 11, the Reds went 26-14. And that portion of the schedule—10 games against Milwaukee, seven games against San Diego, zero games against Pittsburgh—was a whole heck of a lot tougher than what they'll face the rest of the way.
If you're asking a straight "Will this team make the playoffs: Yes or No?" question, I would have to lean no. They're six games back of the Padres for the second wild-card spot and 7.5 games behind the Brewers in the Central and they just don't have much in the lineup beyond their dynamic duo. But if you're roughly matching the FanGraphs playoff odds for a betting line and giving me +1000 odds on the "Yes" option, I'd hammer that quite hard.