By Cameron Irwin
Despite sitting at 46-45 at the All-Star break, the Arizona Diamondbacks have been slowly creeping in on the Cubs for the second National League Wild Card spot. By the season’s end, they will overtake the Cubs for said spot.
The Diamondbacks have one team remaining on their schedule with a record above .500: three games at home against the St. Louis Cardinals. Other than that, the Diamondbacks have the Reds, Marlins and Padres at home and on the road, four series that pose no threat to them.
The Diamondbacks looked out of contention near the trade deadline, especially when they made intriguing moves by trading Zack Grienke to Houston for four prospects and trading for Mike Leake, who nearly threw a perfect game this year for Seattle.
Despite these starting pitching swaps, Arizona finds themselves right in the thick of the playoff mess.
A trio of unlikely offensive heroes have emerged in Arizona and will continue to power this offense well into October. Ketel Marte is leading the team with a .328 batting average paired with 32 homers and 91 RBIs.
Even after sending Paul Goldschmidt to the Cardinals in December, the Diamondbacks have found themselves a first baseman whose power numbers are similar in Christian Walker. Arguably, Walker is having a better season this year than Goldschmidt, batting three points higher and getting on base more in nearly 70 less plate appearances. Though the departure of Goldschmidt may have seemed devastating at the time, Arizona has found a suitable replacement.
In addition, Eduardo Escobar, acquired from the Twins last year at the trade deadline, has significantly improved his offensive power. The second baseman is hitting .270 and leads the team with 33 home runs and 110 RBIs.
Pitching has been a struggle for the Diamondbacks, but the young core is looking to improve as the season winds down. With a few of the weaker teams coming to town to close out the season and an offense that has been on fire lately, Arizona will claim the final Wild Card spot.
By Miguel Agyei
With the MLB regular season coming to a close and the playoffs coming up in about three weeks, all eyes are on of the most closely contested races: the race for the National League Wild Card.
In the current NL standings, the Chicago Cubs, Washington Nationals and Arizona Diamondbacks sit in second place, with the Nationals in possesion of the first Wild Card spot. Should the Cubs not catch the first place Cardinals, they will capture the second NL Wild Card spot.
With injuries to Javier Baez, Craig Kimbrel, Addison Russell and other key pieces, some may believe the injury bug may cost the Cubs, but this couldn’t be further from the case.
Manager Joe Maddon’s lineup card is filled with depth. Thanks to the mid-season acquisition of Nick Castellanos, the return of Ben Zobrist and, most recently, the call up of top prospect Nico Hoerner to replace Russell. Add those names to a roster with healthy bats to the likes of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras, and offensive production is not a concern.
The Cubs’ experienced pitching staff is another strength. The rotation is anchored by Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks, who were an intergral part of the 2016 championship run. Along with Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels and Jose Quintana, the Cubs’ experienced rotation won’t falter under the pressure of a playoff race.
Cameron believes the Diamondbacks will take the second NL Wild Card. Arizona’s team was not constructed to be a playoff roster and its young team is far from battle tested. Despite an easy remaining schedule, the team needs to perform nearly flawlessly down the stretch in order to leapfrog the Cubs. It will be too much for a team that sold at the trade deadline to handle.
The Cubs roster is filled with depth and veteran experience, two factors that will lead them to make their fifth consecutive playoff appearance.