After going 3-3 on their recent road trip against the Pirates and the Yankees (despite some admittedly painful losses leaving behind a belief that it could have been so much better), the Brewers are well-positioned to take their division. The next step on that journey is a three-game series at home, against the Miami Marlins, currently nestled in the final Wild Card spot for the National League.
A couple of teams are fighting for that final berth, and the Cubs are still giving the Brewers a fight within the division, so let’s take a look at the weeks to come. Before we do, here are the current standings and projections:
Playoff Odds – 96.3%
The Phillies have been on an absolute tear since the All-Star break, with their offense coming to the fore in a slew of comeback wins, bolstered by the power output of Trea Turner, Bryce Harper and Nick Castellanos (who has cooled off of late). They have question marks in their rotation, with Aaron Nola struggling mightily this season and a huge load being placed onto Zack Wheeler’s shoulders as a result, but this offense can carry them through most teams.
This coming week, they start with a doubleheader in a four-game series with the Braves, before a three-game set against the Cardinals in St Louis. The Cardinals have played notably better baseball of late, with a 6-4 record over their last 10 games and an offense that seems to have finally clicked. The Phillies will have a little concern over a potential banana skin week, as the Braves show no signs of impugning the high quality of baseball they’ve produced this season, especially with three further games still to come against Atlanta after this week.
Playoff Odds – 85.3%
After a three-game sweep of the listless Giants this past week, the Cubs looked to be pushing back into contention for the NL Central, but going 1-3 with some tight losses to the Diamondbacks has stunted their momentum. Justin Steele, despite the massive career high in innings pitched, is going from strength to strength, allowing just one earned run across 15 innings in his two starts in September, while the back end of their bullpen (in particular, Mark Leiter Jr.and Adbert Alzolay) has struggled a little more this month, with WHIP’s north of 2.50. Cody Bellinger (1.043 OPS, five home runs) and Seiya Suzuki (1.226 OPS, 10 extra-base hits) are leading their offensive charge in September.
After a rough schedule against playoff-caliber competition last week, the slate eases up a little for the Cubs, with a three-game series in Denver against the Rockies to close out a 13-game stretch without any off days, before traveling to Arizona to face a Diamondbacks team that have come back to life of late, and who just took three of four against the Cubs this past weekend. Coors Field is always a tricky spot to go and play, and while this week looks less threatening on paper, any slip-up could be costly for the Cubs.
Playoff Odds – 43.0%
At the break, Arizona seemed certain to be in the playoffs, perhaps even as champions of the NL West, but a resurgent Dodgers team coupled with a cataclysmic implosion in July and August left their hopes resting on a knife edge. In September, however, they’ve steadied the ship, led by above-average contributions from Lourdes Gurriel Jr.(1.058 OPS), Ketel Marte (.994 OPS), Corbin Carroll (.919 OPS) and Gabriel Moreno (.848 OPS), together with some dominant pitching from Merrill Kelly and the straightening out of Zac Gallen, who dominated in a shutout against the Cubs on Friday.
This week for them looks similar to the Cubs, with a four-game road trip against the struggling, yet potent New York Mets, before hosting the Cubs for what is a huge series. One of these contenders could find a markedly different outlook depending on the results of that series, and all eyes will be on it in Milwaukee. They may not have Zac Gallen available for that series, something the Cubs will be excited about.
Playoff Odds – 30.5%
At times, the Marlins have looked like they were fading, only to bounce back in improbable ways throughout this playoff run. In September, they're 7-2, with series wins over the Dodgers and the Phillies. Offensively, they’ve had some hot bats to lean on in Jesús Sanchez (1.208 OPS) along with Jazz Chisholm (.306 Average), Luis Arraez (.344 Average), and in total have six hitters with an OPS over .800 this month, and all six with a slugging percentage of over .500. Their pitching staff has somewhat rebounded, too--particularly Sandy Alcantara, who went eight innings and conceded just two earned runs in his most recent start, but Eury Perez has given up four home runs in under 10 innings so far in September, and his workload this season could be catching up to him. Alcantara was also recently placed on the 15-day IL, so there are cracks appearing for the playoff hopefuls, especially with the struggles of Johnny Cueto.
This week they’re beginning with a four-game set at American Family Field against the Brewers, before a three-game series at home to the Atlanta Braves. Having won series against big playoff contenders last week, they’ll need to keep their form going in another incredibly tough week of baseball. Missing Alcantara, they’ll be relying heavily on Braxton Garrett and Jesús Luzardo to hold up their starting rotation against the Brewers, with two starters still to be determined. In reality, the offense will need to stay hot to remain in contention at the end of this week.
San Francisco Giants
Playoff Odds – 33.2%
On paper, the Giants should be relishing their position, with an offense that can do serious damage, led by the hot bats of Mike Yastrzemski, JD Davis, Mitch Haniger and Wilmer Flores, coupled with the on-base skills of LaMonte Wade Jr. The Giants have eight hitters with an OPS over .800 in September, but have been let down mightily by the back end of their rotation. In September, Kyle Harrison (7.59 ERA), Alex Wood (8.44 ERA) and Alex Cobb/Tristan Beck (10 ER in seven innings) have all struggled, as has their bullpen (beyond Camilo Doval’s usual excellence). They lost six straight games against the Padres and the Cubs, before sweeping the Rockies at home to finish the week, giving some glimmer of a resurgence.
This week is going to be an intriguing one for them, with a three-game series against the pesky Cleveland Guardians before a four-game stretch in Colorado, which can be as unpredictable as they come. Colorado are 2-8 in their last ten games, but always a threat at home. The Giants should be looking at a winning week, but neither of these series will be easy.
Playoff Odds – 14.2%
Despite being just as far back as the Giants, the Reds odds are significantly lower, perhaps in part due to the variance in performance of some of their rookies. Of recent note, there will be concern over the performance of Andrew Abbott, who was dominating opposing hitters for much of the summer. His workload may be catching up to him, as he's recorded a 6.10 ERA across his two starts in September. None of their regular starters have an ERA south of 5.00 this month, but there's a light at the end of the tunnel. The returns from the IL of Jonathan India, Joey Votto and Hunter Greene may galvanize the club. Votto’s return in July led to a surge that had them leading the NL Central, dominating any team not from Milwaukee. Both he and India homered in their first games back, and alongside the fiery-hot Will Benson (1.256 OPS in September), they can make this a lineup to fear once more.
The Reds have an upcoming week that a contender dreams of in September. All on the road, but they have a three-game set in Detroit against a Tigers team that are a slight improvement on recent expectations, with Kerry Carpenter and Spencer Torkelson flying the flag high, and then onto a three-game series in New York against the Mets. A big week could really force the race wide open, especially if there’s a fall from grace for the Diamondbacks or Cubs.
Every game becomes more and more valuable as time ekes away for the regular season, and it’s likely one of these teams has a big hot stretch to end the year. If the Brewers hold onto the NL Central title, who can you see taking the sixth seed in the playoffs? And who do you think matches up best with the Brewers?
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