We're in the home stretch of the 2021 MLB regular season, which means it's crunch time for potential wild-card teams.
The AL Wild Card race has all of the drama, the star players and the intrigue of the AL East. Will the New York Yankees, a team many had pegged as a World Series contender before the season began, hold on for a wild-card spot and face the Boston Red Sox in a play-in game? Or will one of those two be undone by the upstart Toronto Blue Jays?
You have to like the odds of a team with two MVP candidates in Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Marcus Semien. And don't count out the Oakland A's or the Seattle Mariners out west, the latter of which appears to be heading toward the end of a long, arduous rebuild and could end a 19-year postseason drought.
The NL Wild Card race, on the other hand, feels more like a race to the bottom.
The San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers have already clinched playoff spots, with the Dodgers occupying the top Wild Card spot and a ridiculous 17-game lead in the standings. One of them will win the NL West while the other will appear in a wild-card game, leaving just one spot left. A group of middling teams are vying for that one spot. It's entirely possible the Giants or Dodgers end up facing a team with a .500 record or worse.
These teams seem more like pretenders than contenders.
The San Diego Padres started the season with World Series aspirations but have collapsed in recent weeks. The New York Mets led the NL East throughout the first half of the season but failed to take advantage of a bad division. The ineptitude of the coastal teams has opened the door for two NL Central teams, the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds.
What can we make of the NL Wild Card race? Let's try to break down the odds for each team with some help from FanGraphs and the site's playoff odds calculator.
St. Louis Cardinals (76-69) 1.0 Game Lead, Playoff Chances: 40%
The only team playing like it wants to win is the Cards. This team might not have blown away the competition at the trade deadline, but the St. Louis front office did enough to give the them a fighting chance in this exact scenario.
Veteran starting pitchers Jon Lester and J.A. Happ have been a boon to a Cardinals staff ravaged by injuries. Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty have been injured for most of the season, Carlos Martinez is out for the season and Kwang Hyun Kim had a stint on the IL as well.
Entering Wednesday night's game against the Mets, Lester had a 1.90 ERA over his last four starts. The 37-year-old limited the damage in the 11-4 win over against the Mets and even pulled a double down the right field line in the fourth inning.
Happ has had one bad outing for the Cardinals, but otherwise he's gone 4-3 with a 4.15 ERA in seven starts. Happ and Lester are backed up by one of the best defenses in baseball.
A sweep of the Mets has the Cards in the driver's seat. They can step on the throats of the Padres in their next series and solidify their lead.
St. Louis could just be feasting on weaker competition. The Cardinals split a four-game series with the Dodgers earlier this month and lost one to the Brewers. They saw a lot of bad teams in August and took advantage but didn't fare well against the two best teams they faced (swept by the Atlanta Braves, lost 2-1 to Milwaukee).