We all love the MLB Wild Card Game. It offers intrigue and anticipation and gives the fan an extra playoff game/round. Last year, baseball saw two polar opposite Wild Card races in the American and National Leagues. On one hand, there were six or seven teams hovering around .500 for the second AL Wild Card seeding for a good chunk of the regular season, while it was mostly a two- or three-team race for the two spots in the National League. Well, this season, the NL will be a completely different story. In fact, the race for the NL Wild Card game will be as fierce as ever and chaotically competitive in 2018.
Working under the assumption that the Washington Nationals (who have won the NL East in back-to-back seasons), Chicago Cubs (who have signed Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to potentially replace Jake Arrieta), and Los Angeles Dodgers (who were one game away from winning the World Series last season) will win their respective divisions, there will be a plethora of teams fighting for the two Wild Card spots.
Last season, the Arizona Diamondbacks (93-69) and Colorado Rockies (87-75) faced off in the NL Wild Card game and the D-Backs came out on top, 11-8. Both teams are sure to be back in the Wild Card mix next season.
The D-Backs, for the moment, possess a deep rotation which consists of Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Zack Godley, Taijuan Walker, and Patrick Corbin. That staff pitched to the third best ERA in baseball last season (3.66). With the game’s best first baseman, Paul Goldschmidt, as well as Jake Lamb, David Peralta, Brandon Drury, and A.J. Pollock in place, manager Torey Lovullo also has a respectable lineup.
On the other hand, the Rockies have established a reliable bullpen. Adding All-Star reliever Wade Davis and fellow righty Bryan Shaw, while retaining lefty Jake McGee, they’ve put in place a potent backbend. And while they don’t have a great starting staff, the Rockies have the bats to make up for their rotation’s production or lack thereof. With Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, Mark Reynolds, DJ LeMahieu, and Trevor Story in their order, to name a few, they have one of the game’s most dangerous lineups.
In addition to the D-Backs and Rockies, another NL West team, the San Francisco Giants, is also ready to hit the ground running in 2018. With prized lefty Madison Bumgarner coming back healthy and general manager Bobby Evans acquiring third baseman Evan Longoria and outfielder Andrew McCutchen, the Giants are a viable candidate to make it back to the postseason after winning just 64 games in 2017.
Then there’s the NL Central. With the Milwaukee Brewers adding outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, they’ve bolstered their lineup, adding onto what was already a deep offensive unit (Domingo Santana, Travis Shaw, Eric Thames, Orlando Arcia, etc.). And with an underrated rotation in place that consists of Zach Davies, Chase Anderson, and Jimmy Nelson, the Brewers can help take the pressure off their offense.
Another competitor within the Central that can make some noise is the St. Louis Cardinals. Acquiring Miami Marlins left-fielder Marcell Ozuna, the Cardinals have slotted one of the better hitting outfielders the game has to offer into their everyday lineup. Coming off a career year in which he hit .312 with 37 home runs and 124 RBIs, Ozuna is on the rise and can provide a power surge in the middle of Mike Matheny‘s order. After winning 83 games last season, Ozuna’s addition as well as some other reinforcements can put St. Louis in the Wild Card conversation.
While the NL East hasn’t been the most competitive in years past, the New York Mets are yet another team that could be playing for something in September. With a healthy pitching staff and some shrewd free agent signings in Anthony Swarzak, Jay Bruce, Adrian Gonzalez, and Todd Frazier, the Mets are certainly a legitimate candidate to make a Wild Card push if health prevails.
The D-Backs, Rockies, Giants, Brewers, Cardinals, and Mets could all be battling for two seedings to play in a one-game playoff; that’s nuts. And yes every team will be shooting for the playoffs, but those six in particular have the potential to finish with a winning record.
If the Dodgers fall off their pedestal, even a little a bit, the Rockies or D-Backs could strike and take the NL West, which isn’t impossible. The same goes for the Central. The Brewers rotation could improve on its successful 2017 campaign and the additions of Yelich and Cain could pay dividends for their order. If the Cardinals can get more production from their offense — which Ozuna should help with — they too could pose a division threat. If such an overtaking occurs in either division, then the Dodgers and/or Cubs would be battling for a Wild Card berth, which would be incredibly hard to fathom but further shows how intense the NL will be in 2018.
It’s the same story for the Mets in the NL East. While the Mets certainly need to stay healthy and garner consistency at the plate, the Nationals have only repeated as division champs once and are yet to get past the first round of the playoffs.
There are potentially ten or eleven playoff-caliber rosters in the NL, but only five will play in a meaningful October contest and only four will be in the NLDS. If you have a non-rooting interest or are just in awe of great and competitive baseball, then the 2018 NL Wild Card race will be right up your alley.