As we approach the end of the August, we find the Phillies barely leading the pack on a mad dash to the finish line, everyone in a virtual tie. One small slump and you can find yourself playing golf in October. What makes this race interesting is that 3 (or 4 and in reality all 5) NL East teams and pretty much just the Astros can win the Wild Card. Further complicating matters is that the NL East plays almost exclusively against each other for the remainder of the season while the Astros play the mediocre NL Central (though, those Reds might win out and take the WC). The question remains, who has the edge?
The initial thought would be that Houston has a huge advantage playing against the weaker NL Central and having the NL East teams beat up on each other. Half of those teams have to lose each game, right? So, with Houston's easier schedule, it seems like they are a sure lock. Or are they?
|2 vs Milwaukee||2 vs Arizona||2 vs Los Angeles||2 vs Chicago||2 vs St. Louis||2 vs San Fran|
|7 vs Washington||6 vs New York||3 vs Cincinnati||7 vs Washington||7 vs Atlanta||6 vs Philadelphia|
|3 vs Cincinatti||6 vs Washington||5 vs St. Louis||6 vs New York||6 vs Philadelphia||6 vs Florida|
|6 vs New York||6 vs Houston||6 vs Milwaukee||6 vs Philadelphia||6 vs New York||6 vs Washington|
|6 vs Florida||7 vs Atlanta||3 vs Philadelphia||4 vs Houston||7 vs Florida||6 vs Atlanta|
|3 vs Colorado||3 vs Houston||4 vs Florida||6 vs Atlanta||3 vs San Diego||4 vs Colorado|
|7 vs Philadelphia||3 vs Cincinatti||4 vs Pittsburgh||3 vs St. Louis||3 vs San Francisco||4 vs St. Louis|
|7 vs Chicago|
By my count, the NL East teams play each other 63 more times. Thus, there NEEDS to be 63 more games won by these teams. Assuming they play each other roughly the same amount of times, this equates to around 13 wins per NL East team (if they lose out on all their other games). This is assuming they split all their remaining series (which is the least likely thing to happen). Houston has 34 more games remaining. They would NEED to win at LEAST 13 of those games to even have a shot at making the playoffs. Now, 13-21 isn't a good record, but it is the lowest possible win total they can have to even have a shot at making the playoffs.
In addition, for Houston, is that this implies that they have swept the NL East in their remaining games (7 games). While it seems good since they would only need to win 6 more (and hoping that Florida and Philadelphia make up those sweeps against the rest of the division), it is a highly unlikely scenario. While it seems good for Houston that the NL East will be beating up on each other, it is actually very bad for them. All 5 teams are still in the hunt (though, one will be the division winner). This means anything short of even distribution of wins could spell disaster for Houston. 2 or 3 teams in contention, they can hope for the bottom feeders to win for help, but the bottom feeders in the NL East are just as much competition. Now, they can only hope that one team wins out and the others all split.
Considering that all the NL East teams have to win half the game they play against each other and the fact that they probably won't be split right down the middle, this puts Houston on the outside looking in. If they have a September to remember and win 80% of their non-NL East games, they have a shot. Anything short of that, the hottest of the NL East teams will win the wild card.
Which NL East team? I have no idea. The Mets get 4 games against the weakest team in the league (Colorado, and Atlanta has them for 3) but 4 against the strongest (the Cardinals). Given the East plays the rest against each other, it is anyone's game with the slight favorite being Philadelphia because they are 1.5 games up right now. Of course, with one division winner and 4 teams going for the wild card in the division, the odds aren't good to begin with (roughly a 20-25% likelihood). Either way, it should be one fun ride.