Wild Card contenders have endured bumpy road, but opportunity still knocks

·3 min read

Sep. 20—Talk to fans of most of Major League Baseball's Wild Card contenders and you'll probably hear more than your fair share of complaints.

Sloppy play and prolonged slumps? Check. Underachieving stars? Check. Ill-timed injuries and COVID-19 outbreaks? Check and check.

That dynamic has made the Wild Card races feel like a race to the bottom at times, but it's also made for great drama as several postseason spots remain up for grabs.

Take the American League Wild Card race, which is now effectively a three-way battle for two spots between the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays. All three clubs have seen their fortunes and position in the standings rapidly shift over the course of the season, and now the three are neck-and-neck in a sprint to the finish.

For Red Sox fans the second half has felt like a prolonged and inevitable collapse. After spending most of the first half in first place, Boston endured a brutal August and fought through a devastating COVID-19 outbreak that sidelined a third of the big league roster.

The team saw a 10.5-game lead over the Yankees evaporate in less than a month, and yet despite the COVID outbreak the club has still gone 17-11 with a 6-2-1 record over the last nine series since Aug. 20. According to FanGraphs the Red Sox now have a 90.1% chance to make the playoffs.

By comparison New York has experienced much more volatility. Throughout the first half the Yankees suffered gut punch losses seemingly every other day and fell to 41-41 on July 4. From that point on the Yankees went 35-11, stormed back into the playoff race but then collapsed again. Following the team's historic 13-game winning streak the Yankees lost nine of 11 and saw its own 9.5-game lead over the Blue Jays disappear in barely two weeks.

The vibes are much better in Toronto these days, but as hot as the Blue Jays have been, there has been plenty of adversity along the way. If not for early injuries and other issues, the Blue Jays could be safely in the field by now.

How about on the National League side? What was originally thought to be a two-team race has devolved into a wildly compelling multi-team car wreck.

The San Diego Padres came into the season with World Series aspirations, but instead of challenging the Los Angeles Dodgers for NL West supremacy, the Padres have badly underachieved and now sit 3.5 games back in an increasingly crowded race for the last Wild Card spot.

The New York Mets, like the Red Sox, spent a good portion of the season in first place. Then Jacob deGrom got hurt, the offense went quiet and now the club's postseason hopes are all but dead.

That's left the St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies and Cincinnati Reds, all of whom have run differentials close to zero and have spent most of the year out of contention, as the favorites to take the second NL Wild Card spot. Whoever emerges from the pack will find themselves as historic underdogs against whichever one of the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants finishes second in the NL West.

Even fans of those two teams likely won't be thrilled about finishing with well over 100 wins and yet still being exposed to a one-game elimination situation.

Needless to say, there is a lot still to be settled, and many teams whose seasons felt like they were over at one point or another are very much still in the hunt. For all the bumps in the road, there is still plenty of opportunity for those able to take advantage these last two weeks.

Email: mcerullo@northofboston.com. Twitter: @MacCerullo.

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