Jean Segura of the Milwaukee Brewers hits a double against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
The playoff race in the National League might be a little wilder than you thought. Three teams have asserted themselves as ... well, kind-of contenders.
Last week, I wrote about Ryan Braun's MVP chances. In my argument, I suggested that the Brewers were "lousy." A couple of commenters and e-mailers took exception to that. They were right. The Cubs are lousy. The Twins are lousy. The Astros are … well, I'm sure there's a word in German for it. But the Brewers aren't lousy.
Heck, they aren't even that bad. And if you want to squint, well, let's not get crazy here, but …
The Milwaukee Brewers are almost in contention for a playoff spot.
I know, I know. Not really. But kind of. Enough to talk about. They're six games behind the St. Louis Cardinals with 22 to play. To catch the Cardinals, they would have to go 16-6 if the Cardinals went 10-12. Not likely, but certainly not impossible. There will never be a book with a title of The Time the Cardinals Went 10-12 in Their Last 22 Games. That's not an outlandish scenario.
Of course, the Dodgers are ahead of the Brewers, too. And even if both the Dodgers and Cardinals went on extended losing stints, there would be the small matter of the Brewers winning at a .700 clip. Not likely.
But possible! And the odd thing? There are three of these teams in the NL. There will always be teams who make an improbable charge at the end of the season. The second Wild Card makes this even more likely. If you thought the Braves and Cardinals were wild last year, wait until you get a load of the teams that will challenge for the second Wild Card one of these years, possibly as soon as this year, even if you hate yourself for thinking it.
They aren't lousy. Mea culpa. Their bullpen is, though. A DVD of 2012 Brewers bullpen highlights would just be a loop of the gas-station fight from Zoolander for 90 minutes. But bullpens are odd, mercurial things to begin with. Remember when John Axford was the best? That was, like, 200 days ago. If you can't trust bullpens to be good, maybe you shouldn't trust them to be bad.
And if the Brewers can wrangle in that bullpen, they have a few good things going on. Braun, for one. And two. But an underrated part of the Brewers' mini-resurgence has been their troika of found starting pitchers. Marco Estrada, Mike Fiers, and (!) Mark Rogers have all added value for a team missing Zack Greinke and not really missing Randy Wolf. With Yovani Gallardo repeating some of his success from last season, and Shaun Marcum coming back strong, the Brewers have something approaching a rotation they can feel comfortable with, if not now then next year.
That's something of a common theme with these teams.
I'll give you a minute.
For all of the drama, for all of the injuries, for all of the rebuilding talk, the Phillies still have a helluva rotation. Tack Jamie Moyer and a right-handed Brian Matusz on the back end of that rotation -- it's still one of the better rotations in the league.
And behind that rotation, the Phillies have gone 22-14 since July. They have Tyler Cloyd and Kyle Kendrick doing good things in the rotation. They also have a lineup that features Kevin Frandsen and Nate Schierholtz, which didn't exactly lead the 2007 Giants to the Promised Land. But that rotation ... Juxtapose the Phillies' season with that of the Red Sox. One of them is a "Dammit, that didn't go well." The other is an apocalyptic vision of scorched earth.
The late-season surge might not result in a playoff berth for the Phillies, who were certainly expecting one, but it's certainly not as discouraging of a season as it could have been. Again, the Red Sox.
Unlike the other two teams up there, the Diamondbacks haven't been doing that well. They should be better -- a Pythagorean record of 73-67 before Sunday, or about a game-and-a-half behind the division leading Giants -- but since taking a three-game series in Miami, the Diamondbacks are 5-10, effectively taking them out of the race.
But the Diamondbacks still have oodles of talent. One of their top starting pitchers is out for the season following Tommy John surgery, and their top prospect hasn't contributed a lick, but the Diamondbacks still have a rotation filled with high-caliber arms. Wade Miley is the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, and both Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs have been impressive.
And they have a ton of Rockies and Cubs left on the schedule. If you're looking for a sleeper team to cause all sorts of second-Wild Card chaos, you could do worse than the Diamondbacks. But if I have to rank the three also-rans, I'll do it thusly:
The Phillies have a bunch of Marlins, Astros, and Mets coming up, and they also have a lot of games against a Strasburg-less Nationals team that's going to be worried about setting their rotation for the playoffs and giving their position players ample rest.
Not likely. But one of these seasons, there will be a team that will take the second Wild Card spot and blow our minds. There's no time like the present, really. Except for all the things going against these teams. But that's picking nits. It could happen.
Probably not. Feels like I've typed "probably not" 59 times in this article. But I guess that's the point. Still could happen, though.