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  • A Check on the Standings and the Playoff Scenarios for the Brewers

    Matthew Trueblood

    Though it's been maddeningly elusive for the last couple days, a clinch is coming. The Milwaukee Brewers will win the NL Central and host the Wild Card Series next week. But who will they face there? Let's check in.

    Image courtesy of © Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

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    A wild weekend shook up the race for the final two Wild Card spots in the National League--in feel, if not in fact. The Diamondbacks still hold the second Wild Card position, but their lead over the Cubs is just half a game, after Chicago swept the Rockies at Wrigley Field. Thanks to two days of rainy weather in New York, the Snakes now have to play every day during the final week (in three different time zones), while the Cubs and Marlins rest Monday and the Reds (the final team truly in the mix for the two spots behind the Phillies in the Wild Card shuffle) have both Monday and Thursday off.

    The Brewers need just one win (or one Cubs loss) to clinch the division crown, but can't catch the Dodgers for the second seed (and the accompanying bye to the NLDS), so they have only to watch and wait to see which of these teams falls into the sixth and final playoff position. At this point, it looks most likely to be the Cubs, but there, the Brewers do have some agency. If they win or sweep the series this weekend at Miller Park, it could knock Chicago out of the postseason altogether.

    The Cubs don't enjoy the tiebreaker edge over any of their three rivals for the two spots still up for grabs--Arizona, Cincinnati, or Miami. All three clubs took the season series from Chicago, so if any of them finish tied with the Cubs, they'd get the edge. It's unlikely, then, that the Cubs can pass the Diamondbacks, who have a series against the necrotic White Sox in Chicago this week on their way home to play the Astros for the final weekend set. That Houston series will be tough, but not as tough as the Cubs needing to play three games apiece in Atlanta and Milwaukee.

    That's good news. The Diamondbacks are the team to avoid in all of this. As is a young team's wont, they've been very inconsistent this year, but they're capable of playing excellent baseball even against high-level competition. Corbin Carroll and Gabriel Montero are two of the five best rookies on the senior circuit, and their supporting cast is a group of veteran hitters who look a lot like the Brewers', only they're slightly better. Arizona's pitching isn't anywhere near being as deep as the Brewers', but overall, they're more dangerous than any of the other three. Brewers fans should root for them to claim the second Wild Card spot and go off to Philadelphia, rather than coming to Milwaukee.

    That leaves the Cubs, Marlins, and Reds in an all-out fight for the one remaining opening. Technically, both the Giants and the Padres are still alive, as of Monday morning, but with elimination numbers of 2, neither will even be alive by Friday. Again, both Miami and Cincinnati have the tiebreaker over the Cubs. The Marlins hold the tiebreaker over the Reds, too. Thus, Cincinnati is really up against it here. They have three more losses than Chicago, two more than Miami, and four more than Arizona, and they can't finish tied with any of them. The two off days this week should help them immensely, because they looked thoroughly exhausted this weekend against the Pirates, but playoff hopes are dimming in Cincy.

    That's a shame, because the Reds are the team the Brewers should most want to face in the Wild Card Series. They handled that team easily all year, and are a huge reason why they'll probably miss the playoffs. As worn out as their bullpen looks, though, they would make as easy an opponent as this format permits. Instead, the Crew is most likely to see either the Marlins or the Cubs.

    Which should they prefer? Where should Brewers fans' secondary rooting interests lie this week? It seems pretty clear. Craig Counsell and his team should, within reason, try to knock out the Cubs. That team is, itself, a bit of a shambles. Their bullpen is crumbling piece by piece, just a game or two more slowly than the Reds'. They have a better patchwork both in the lineup and in the rotation, though. Moreover, and most importantly, the Marlins now know for certain that they won't get Sandy Alcantara or Eury Perez back this season. Without either of them, the team just doesn't have any realistic path to beating the Brewers in the Wild Card Series. Luis Arraez's left foot is doing its best to escape completely, by snapping off at the ankle. Arraez has suffered two separate accidents resulting in a rolled ankle in the last week, an indicator of how tired he is and how hard it's been for him to stay on the field even this long. 

    The Brewers have made their choice. They'll use both Adrian Houser and Wade Miley during their series against the Cardinals, leaving Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta lined up to start the first two games of the Cubs series. That gives them the best chance to knock Chicago out, or at least contribute to their demise, and to get another look at the Marlins. Things could still change--and, as soon as Monday afternoon, they will. Since the Brewers have earned the privilege of caring relatively little about the fight for these lesser playoff berths, though, they can watch with only one eye, keeping their primary focus on preparing themselves to be fresh and keyed up when the tournament begins next Tuesday.

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