The National League's wild card chances could go in any number of ways

With the NBA and NHL postseasons nearing their conclusions and summer’s official start is just one week away, Major League Baseball is about to take center stage in the sports world.

Most MLB teams are still in the playoff race, especially in the National League. The three division races seem to be just about over, as the Philadelphia Phillies hold a 10-game lead in the NL East, the Milwaukee Brewers hold a seven-game lead in the NL Central, and the Los Angeles Dodgers hold a seven-game lead in the NL West.

The good news? Unless you’re a fan of the Colorado Rockies or Miami Marlins, your team is still within three games of a playoff spot thanks to the expanded wild card.

Excluding the projected division winners, the Braves, who currently have a three-game lead in the first wild card spot and a five-game lead overall, the Rockies, and the Marlins, nine teams are battling for the final two spots. ‘

Who will prevail?

NL East

The East already has two of the playoff teams on our list, the Phillies and Braves, and also has one of the teams we’re already counting out, meaning that if the division is going to claim a second Wild Card spot, it’s going to come down to the Washington Nationals and New York Mets.

Washington Nationals

While the young upstart Nationals are just a game out of the third spot as of this writing, their outlook has been aided by a five-game winning streak that took the team from 27-35 to 32-35.

The Nats likely don’t have the pieces to continue to tread water and will ultimately fall short, but the emergence and development of starting pitcher Jake Irvin and shortstop CJ Abrams, the centerpiece in the trade that sent Juan Soto to San Diego, should give Washington fans something to follow for the rest of the season.

New York Mets

Routinely baseball’s weirdest franchise, the Mets have done it again. Heading into the season with MLB’s highest payroll, partially due to the “dead money” they’re paying pitchers Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, both of whom were traded last season, it feels like the Mets should be right up there with the Phillies in competing for a division crown.

Instead, they’re 29-37 and three and a half games out of the third wild card. Perennial All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor has been good but power-hitting first baseman Pete Alonso has just 14 home runs this season, putting him on pace for 34 which would be a career low in a full season. Making things worse for the Mets is the fact that 2023 NL All-Star pitcher Kodai Senga has yet to make his 2024 debut after a shoulder strain suffered early in spring training.

If Senga makes his debut soon and is lights out over the last three months of the season and Alonso gets his power back, the Mets could contend, but it’s just as likely at this point that they’ll be sellers at the trade deadline, as Alonso, who is in a contract year, would almost certainly fetch a bigger return than anyone else on the block.

The NL East’s playoff teams will be the Phillies and Braves.

NL Central

All offseason long, the NL Central was seen as a division that would be up for grabs. Longtime Brewers manager Craig Counsell left the team to join the rival Chicago Cubs, the St. Louis Cardinals acquired multiple starting pitchers, the Cincinnati Reds had another year of their young core featuring Elly De La Cruz, Spencer Steer, and others, and while the Pirates were seen as a longshot, it was clear Paul Skenes would be up to pitch soon.

Even with all of this, Milwaukee charged out to a big division lead behind catcher William Contreras picking up right where he left off in his 2023 breakout season. Contreras leads all catchers with a .305 batting average and is second among catchers in Fangraphs WAR at 2.5

Can any of the other NL Central teams make it to October? Let’s take a look.

Chicago Cubs

A franchise-record 18 wins in April gave way to a dreadful 10-18 record in May, including a stretch where the Cubs lost a series to every other NL Central team in two weeks at the end of the month. Rookie pitcher Shota Imanaga has been one of MLB’s best pitchers, and the rest of the young pitching staff has largely held its own, but bullpen woes, injuries, and offensive inconsistencies have plagued the team.

Despite the woes, the Cubs are not in as bad of a spot as they could be. Bullpen issues can be fixed at the trade deadline, and if Chicago wants to get ambitious at the deadline, it has the pieces to acquire Alonso or another impact bat like Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr, who the team was recently linked to. The Cubs likely aren’t as good as they showed in April but also not as bad as they showed in May making them the perfect candidate to stick around and snag a wild card.

Cincinnati Reds

As noted above, the first full season of Cincinnati’s exciting young core was the main selling point going into 2024. Many expected the Reds to still be a year away from contention, and that’s likely the case.

However, Elly De La Cruz has been the same must-watch player he was in his half-season last year. De La Cruz leads all major leagues with 34 stolen bases (Milwaukee’s Bryce Turang is second with 24) and his 11 home runs are tied for the team lead. The flipside is De La Cruz has struck out an MLB-high 92 times and Reds outfielder Will Benson is second on the list with 87.

The Reds are likely still a year away, but they’re 8-3 so far in June and just a half-game back of the third Wild Card spot. If they can continue their hot stretch, they may be a team to watch down the stretch.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates are in a similar boat to the Reds. Probably not quite ready to compete yet, but still competent and exciting enough to want to watch and follow. They sit just a game out of the third spot, and feature exciting young players like shortstop O’Neil Cruz and starting pitcher Paul Skenes, the first overall pick in the 2023 MLB Draft who has already made the majors and already has 46 strikeouts in 33 innings of action.

For as fun it could be to see Skenes and the Pirates make a run, it likely won’t be this year. But, their time feels like it’s coming very soon.

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals overcame a horrendous 15-24 start to the season despite losing catcher Willson Contreras to a broken arm and rallied almost back to .500 at 33-34 and getting right back in the race. For the Cardinals to be able to continue, they’ll have to upgrade their starting pitching. The veteran-heavy staff of Sonny Gray, Kyle Gibson, Lance Lynn, Miles Mikolas, and Steven Matz isn’t doing much to strike fear in the hearts of other NL teams in 2024.

Rookie shortstop Masyn Winn has been excellent for the Cardinals, racking up 60 hits and batting .299 on the season. Winn recently had an 18-game hitting streak snapped.

The NL Central’s playoff teams will be the Brewers and Cubs.

NL West

The Dodgers winning the division is hardly a surprise. Since 2013, Los Angeles has won the division every single year except for 2021, when they still won 106 regular season games. The Dodgers being in the postseason is a foregone conclusion. The problem is what happens when they get there. Los Angeles won the World Series in 2020, but that’s it.

With the Dodgers already a lock and the Rockies too far out of the race, what do the remaining three teams look like?

Arizona Diamondbacks

The reigning NL champions seem to be going through a hangover, as it’s taken them a bit to get going. The Diamondbacks are 32-36 and the team’s big free agent, signing starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery, has been a disaster. Montgomery’s 6.58 ERA is the worst among MLB starting pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched this season.

Despite the struggles, it’s hard to count Arizona out. The group’s experience getting to the World Series last season has a big impact on their future, and if Montgomery figures it out, Arizona can grab one of the wild card spots. Second baseman Ketel Marte has been outstanding as usual for the Diamondbacks this season, leading the team with a .282 batting average and 14 home runs.

San Francisco Giants

Bob Melvin’s first year as Giants manager has seen mixed results. At 34-35, San Francisco currently has possession of the third wild card spot. While the Giants are lacking a power bat, catcher Patrick Bailey is off to a great start in his second season. The pitching staff has been hurt by Blake Snell suffering a pair of injuries and pitching just 23 innings so far. The Giants could sneak in if Snell comes back and figures it out, but it’s hard to slot them over Arizona due to the offense.

San Diego Padres

We round things out with the Padres. Mike Shildt’s first year as manager has gone well, with the team at 37-35. Outfielder Jurickson Profar has had a career year so far as he’s hitting .324 and is likely to be named an All-Star for the first time in his 11-year career. San Diego also benefitted from getting a jump on the trade market, acquiring second baseman Luis Arráez from the Miami Marlins. Arráez continues to hit the ball as well as he has the past few years.

Starting pitcher Michael King, one of the returns from the New York Yankees in the Juan Soto trade, has also been tremendous. King had his best game of the season earlier this week when he struck out a season-high 12 batters in a 5-4 win over the Oakland Athletics.

The NL West’s playoff teams will be the Dodgers and Padres.