MLB Coverage: National League Playoff Race

If there was any hope for some extra drama in the National League playoff race, this week pretty much eliminated it. There are still six teams vying for five spots, and when the Washington Nationals were swept by the Atlanta Braves, it not only furthered the Braves’ chokehold in the NL East, it realistically took the Nats off the list of wild-card possibilities.

It’s that second wild-card spot that could still promise some drama. Right now, Cincinnati is holding it, but the Reds are drifting out of the NL Central race—now seven games back of the Pittsburgh Pirates—and the Cincy season is now becoming more about whether they can hold on and get into the playoffs.

Johnny Cueto still has no timetable to begin a throwing program or make a rehab start, and the Arizona Diamondbacks are within 4 ½ games of the Reds for the last postseason berth. Arizona came up with two clutch wins over Tampa Bay this past week, keeping them in the mix for both the wild-card, as well as being 5 ½ back of the still-blazing hot Los Angeles Dodgers.

Los Angeles, whose current hot streak was the subject today’s MLB coverage, took three of four in St. Louis this week, and now gets ready for a weekend series with Tampa Bay that will draw Fox coverage on Saturday and ESPN on Sunday night. The Cardinals join the Reds in being NL Central teams that seem to be struggling to hang on, but St. Louis won a key early-week series against Cincy, and the Redbirds have a comfortable 7 ½ games lead for a wild-card berth.

The Pittsburgh Pirates continue to sport the best record in baseball, though Atlanta is now within a half-game after their 13-game win streak. Pittsburgh took advantage of a schedule sequence against Colorado and Miami over the last week and went 5-1.

The Pirates have a four-game cushion in the NL Central, and now make a road trip to play the Rockies this weekend. After that it’s a big three-game series in St. Louis with the Cards trying to keep the division title in play.

One thing to keep an eye with Pittsburgh—closer Jason Grilli’s potential return from the disabled list has been pushed back into September. Even if the bullpen can’t continue to hold up without him I can’t see a collapse like that of 2012, but it’s going to take everything the Buccos have in their arsenal to beat out St. Louis and get automatic passage into the Division Series.