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The NL Wild Card Race Should be a Wild Ride in 2018

Last season saw a rumbling tectonic shift in the battle for the National League’s two Wild Card playoff slots.

The Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies shook up their front offices prior to the start of the 2017 season and saw instant returns as both teams dropped their old school approach to the game and went on to capture the league’s two Wild Card playoff spots.

In 2018 we can expect the battle for the NL Wild Cards to get tougher and even more competitive as the Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Mets, and San Francisco Giants join the Rockies and D’Backs in the hunt for Wild Card gold. (Maybe it’s more like Wild Card tungsten or aluminum.)

Let’s go ahead and recklessly stipulate that the Washington Nationals, Chicago Cubs, and Los Angeles Dodgers will likely take their respective divisions in 2018. Which allows us to focus on the predictable winners and possible pretenders in the Wild Card races.

The Two Previously Dominant Teams
I don’t see either Arizona or Colorado taking a step back from their 2017 gains in the upcoming season.

The Diamondbacks (93-69) had the third best record in the NL last season, winning one more game than the Cubs.

Colorado smartly focused on further building up their bullpen this offseason (Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw, and Jake McGee) and their 824 RS led all National League teams in 2017.

So let’s look at the teams who will push the D’Backs and Rockies for a 2018 Wild Card birth.

The Two Newly Improved Teams
Last year the Milwaukee Brewers (86-76) missed tying Colorado (87-75) for the second Wild Card spot by one game. While the Rockies have improved their bullpen, the Brewers have seriously retooled their offense and defense.

Milwaukee signed free agent CF Lorenzo Cain (5 years/$80m) and picked up OF Christian Yelich in a multi-player deal with the Marlins on January 25th. The Brewers also saw OF Domingo Santana, 25, have a break-out season in 2017 (.875 OPS, 151 games), and have several other viable outfield options on their roster.

But the Brewers need starting pitching. And maybe a lot of starting pitching.

Count on them to sign one of the following free agent starters in the next ten days: Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, or Alex Cobb. A trade with Tampa Bay for SP Chris Archer is less likely, but that also has to be on the Milwaukee front office’s front burner.

Despite the holes in their starting pitching, the Brewers are the number one contender to join Arizona and Colorado in the hunt for the Wild Card. But seriously pushing the Brew Crew to get some National League Wild Card glory are their Central Division neighbors, the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Cards may have one of the best crop of talented young starters in the game:
– RHP Carlos Martinez, 26
– RHP Alex Reyes, 23
– RHP Jack Flaherty, 22
– RHP Luke Weaver, 24
– LHP Austin Gomber, 24

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

They will join veteran pitchers Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, and Miles Mikolas to round out the starting rotation and add depth to the bullpen.

The Cards’ offense (7th in the NL last season with 761 RS) was dramatically strengthened by the acquisition of power-hitting outfielder Marcell Ozuna, picked up in mid-December from the Miami Marlins.

Ozuna (145 OPS+, 191 hits) is easily one of the top three hitters in the National League and will provide the Cardinals with the additional power bat they needed to get.

With the St. Louis Cardinals joining the Brewers in pursuit of the 2018 NL Wild Card sweepstakes, it means that for the Chicago Cubs to win the NL Central Division title, they’ll have to perform well in the 38 games they have against two greatly improved teams in their own division.

The Two Outlier Teams
And the envelope for the two longshot Wild Card contending teams of 2018? It’s the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants.

The Mets have two factors playing in their favor this season. First, their starting pitching has the potential to bounce back from a terrible 2017—a 5.01 team ERA that pushed them to 14th among NL pitching staffs.

Few Major League teams have the opening power punch of 25-year-old RHP Noah Syndergaard and 29-year-old RHP Jacob deGrom in their rotations. Add to that the Mets talented group of (admittedly injury-prone) young starters, any of whom could make 2018 a breakout year.

The second factor in the Mets’ favor this season is the deconstructed Miami Marlins and the not-quite-there-yet rebuilding Atlanta Braves. That’s 38 total games against one floundering team and one rebuilding team— which should give the New York Mets a good opportunity to snag a bunch of wins.

The San Francisco Giants have a more difficult path to the land of the Wild Cards.

Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

The Giants are built, in a sense, not to last. Unlike teams constructed with depth, when predictable injuries hit key San Francisco starting players this season there will be a precipitous drop-off in offense and pitching.

San Francisco has certainly improved last season’s historically bad offense (29th in MLB with 639 RS and a -137 run differential). But the upgrades (3B Evan Longoria, RF Andrew McCutchen) are older and don’t bring a lot of additional power to the table.

Starting pitching starts out strong with LHP Madison Bumgarner and RHP Johnny Cueto, but drops off with 33-year-old Jeff Samardzija (4.42 ERA in 32 GS) and several untested younger arms.

It remains to be seen if the Giants’ bullpen (4.34 ERA, 19th out of 30 MLB teams) will be improved enough with the return of soft-tossing closer Mark Melancon from injuries.

The 2018 season should bring an intense second-tier battle for the two NL Wild Card slots. And the prediction here is that Milwaukee and St. Louis will have a lot to say about which teams travel to the postseason via the Wild Card train.

4 thoughts on “The NL Wild Card Race Should be a Wild Ride in 2018

  1. Please stop labeling this a site to do with the Giants in any way shape or form. Or doing anything to give people the impres sion you are a Giants fan or represent Giants fans in some way. For the love of 9-inches, 5oz., and 108 stitches, know something about the game before writing about it. First, stating as fact that Ozuna is one of the top three hitters in the NL “easily” as if the only question is where within the top 3 he would land is ridiculous. He may have more great seasons and continue to hit really well, but last year was his first really good year, and even then he wasn’t “easily” one of the top three in the NL just based off thhe one season which is a bad idea in general. Usually you should use at least a couple season’s of success to point to someone being a top three hitter i.e., Votto, Goldschmidt, Harper, Blackmon, Murphy, Bryant, Turner, Martinez, Posey, Freeman, etc. just off the top of my head with at least two years or more of success, and I believe it’d be pretty hard even with just the one season to argue he’s “easily” top 3. Probably difficult to argue he’s even top 3 just in his breakout year last year, where he exceeded his career slash numbers by about 40-100 points, and increased his bests in HR and BRI each by about 50%. Just a quick look at Fangraphs shows in the NL he was 12th out of hitters in WAR, barely beating Harper and Freeman who were hurt, if you take out fielding and running, and go to just Offensive WAR he slides up a spot to 11, also 11th in wRC+, 13 in wOBA since you gotta move him up for Stanton moving leagues, 11th in SLG, 20th in OBP, 7th in AVG. If you want to also see consistency and not just one huge year, and even being generous going for 750PA over a couple years, dude falls completely off the front page in most areas. So, top 3, not so much. Certainly not “easily”. Now when you talk about the additions of Cutch and Longo saying they are “…older and don’t being much extra power…”, what Giants team did you watch last year? Their third base position was good for a combined .229/.284/.333 line and about 18HR, the entire outfield hit 38HR all season and collectively slashed about 20-25 points higher than 3B. That’s, pathetic production even at the advanced ages of 31 and 32 both players are very significant upgrades. McCutchen hit 28HR by himself last season. He will certainly be a major power and overall production upgrade over Parker/ Span/Hernandez. Longoria if just average foe himself also represents a major upgrade over last year’s third base collective, not to mention he brings Gold Glove calibre defense along with any offensive upgrades. I know age has been a storyline this off-season, but it’s post age 35 season where the drop happens. Charts show ages 30-35 are still very productive seasons. It’s actually pretty difficult to be as wrong as you were in this article. What’s really baffling is that MLBTR actually linked to it. You kind of have the broad strokes that come from the major outlets, but when you tried to insert your own opinion or analysis, it was just terrible. I’m hoping you don’t get your confidence or self-worth from this column. It is not my intention to be mean spirited, but it is hard to just let that slide on a page that seems to be trying to represent Giants fans. Best wishes with your future endeavours and articles, I hope they are more accurate and don’t try to state an opinion, that is easily proven wrong, as an accepted fact. Good luck.

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    1. Justin–
      Thanks for taking the time to respond in detail. But as Patrick Dempsey once said, “Opinions vary…”

      Several things:
      I represent myself and my perspective on the Giants and Major League Baseball. Not only have I never claimed to “represent Giants fans”, I don’t think Giants fans need anyone to represent them. They do a pretty good job of handling that by themselves.

      Also, we can certainly disagree on where Marcell Ozuna will be in the NL power hitting rankings this season. But when discussing the elite power hitters in the National League going into the 2018 season, for me Ozuna has to be in the mix.

      And I would be amazed if other baseball fans and sports writers didn’t have their own top three NL power bat lists that are different from yours and mine.

      My last thought is that we’re talking about professional sports here– Major League Baseball. So you write, “I’m hoping you don’t get your confidence or self-worth from this column”, because you and I disagree about several sports issues.

      I like it when people passionately discuss baseball, and it’s fun when we vigorously disagree. But I am disappointed when some commentors feel their opinions need the extra added boost of playground name-calling. It’s demeaning and, ultimately, really boring.

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  2. Totally agree with the above comment. Growing up in NYC, I have been a NY/SF Giants fan for my entire life (I am now 73 years ago) and continue to follow them closely. Richard Dyer should stick to bass playing and stop writing about the Giants – or about Baseball at all for that matter.
    Grant Brisbee at “McCovey Chronicles” can be overly satirical/cynical and occasionally writes really dumb columns, but at least he knows what’s going on with the Giants. The first time that I read “The Giants Cove”, it seemed like it was written by a Dodgers fan. Nothing here but a lot of uninformed nonsense and a meaningless over-the top proclamations not only about the Giants – but about other teams and players as well. Like the above comment – this is not meant to be mean…..just to simply state that IMHO – Richard Dyer should not be writing baseball commentary.

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  3. In response …Baseball is a business. Again: ” Baseball is a business “. There is the athletic part of the sport and the business part. They are intertwined. A knowledgeable fan understands this. If they don’t they should.

    Last year the Giants cleared an estimated profit of over $247M and that’s after PAYING OFF the ballpark all the while losing 98 games.
    If a casual fan doesn’t mind being spoon feed pablum from the Giants marketing department that’s fine. But if a fan really wants to understand if the team is being well run or making an real effort to win… well, that’s another thing.

    This is one of the few columns that can be critical and insightful about how the Giants are being operated. You won’t find cheer-leading here. Weigh the team record and farm system against what is being written. The fans pay the bill (in fact, didn’t each MLB team just get a check for $50M -as in MILLIONS- for being part of a new video program?). That’s real money.

    For that kind of money the Giants need to earn our money and our loyalty. With that kind of profit… 98 losses is not cutting it.

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