The six major players in the NL East and NL Central are coming down the home stretch for the final 19 games of the 2008 season and the way things could play out, the once considered dominant Central division may not have the wild card.
The Cubs have a just a four game lead over the Brewers while the Cardinals are nine back, but with six games to play against the struggling North Siders, that lead could be cut significantly. Meanwhile in the east, the Phillies are two games behind the Mets.
In the Wild Card, the Brewers are up four on Philly, five on the Cardinals, and six on the Astros. Of the final six teams left for the three playoff spots, the advantage would tend to favor Philadelphia and New York, based on schedules.
First, we’ll start with the Phillies, they play 13 of their final 19 games at home where they are 10 games over .500 with nine of those games coming up against Atlanta and Washington. They’ll also play Florida for six games beginning with three on Monday in Philadelphia. Their biggest challenge will come in a four game set at home against Milwaukee.
PHILADELPHIA PROJECTED RECORD: 12-7 (90 WINS)
The Mets, who despite losing two out of three this weekend have a two game lead on the Phils and also have a favorable schedule with 12 of their last 19 at home. They too will play Washington and Atlanta for six and host Florida for three games. Their biggest challenge comes against the Cubs for four games, but they will be in Shea Stadium. Their biggest question mark will be the closer by committee, with Billy Wagner apparently out for the year, but their offense has been incredible.
NEW YORK PROJECTED RECORD: 10-9 (90 WINS)
The Cubs have the toughest hill to climb, yes even more so than the Cardinals. They play 162 games because they all count and the baseball gods have a way of evening everything out come the end of September. The best record in the National League must play 13 of their last 19 on the road all against teams with playoff hopes. The Cubs play St. Louis six times including three starting on Tuesday at Busch. They must also play the Brewers six times, at Houston (who has won nine of their last ten) and three at New York.
CHICAGO PROJECTED RECORD: 9-10 (95 WINS)
The Milwaukee Brewers have struggled recently and have only been able to gain two games over the last nine over the struggling Chicago Cubs who have lost 8 of 9. It doesn’t get too easy for the Brewers, with Ben Sheets hurting, but they do control their own destiny playing the Cubs six times, the Reds six times, and Pittsburgh three. Their big test comes on the road for four at Philly.
MILWAUKEE PROJECTED RECORD: 11-8 (93 WINS)
The team to watch is Houston. The hottest team in the National League, they could very well be this year’s version of Colorado. They host Chicago for three, but then play Pittsburgh for seven, on the road in Florida, and then finish the season with Cincinnati and Houston.
HOUSTON PROJECTED RECORD: 14-5 (90 WINS)
The Cardinals have blown 30 save opportunities this season. Even if the bullpen of Izzy, Franklin, and Perez could have kept a third of those, the Cardinals would be tied with Chicago. St. Louis has the hitting and the starting pitching to keep them in most ballgames and I don’t think they go away easy. What helps is four games against Arizona are at home, and they play the Cubs six times, plus a very friendly six games with Cincy and three with Pittsburgh (who has played the Cards tough, but will play a lot of young guys down the stretch) at home.
ST. LOUIS PROJECTED RECORD: 12-9 (89 WINS)
I was against the Wild Card when it first started, but that added dimension has given baseball a new look in the month of September. I’m projecting six teams to all be within six wins of each other. It will be an awesome three weeks of the season. That’s not counting the Dodgers who could finish around 85 wins as well to win the West.
So, to recap:
New York 90-72
St. Louis 89-73
I’m predicting a one game playoff between Philadelphia and the Mets with the winner taking on Milwaukee for the Wild Card, while the Cubs will host the Dodgers. Check back to see how I do with my predictions.