It’s hard to overstate the importance of this weekend for all four of the National League wild-card contenders because of how it will set the stage for the final two weeks of the season.
The St. Louis Cardinals hold a half-game lead over the San Diego Padres, and they will match up against each other for three games. The Cardinals have won five consecutive games, sweeping the New York Mets at Citi Field, and the Padres won their last two games in their four-game series against the San Francisco Giants.
“We’re excited to get into St. Louis,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. “We’re playing a team that we’re trailing, and we’re fighting for the same thing. What more can you ask for?”
The Cincinnati Reds have lost 12 of their last 17 games, and now they’ll have to survive a home series against the Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitching staff. They’ve dropped seven consecutive series, dropping two of three games on their road trip to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cardinals and Chicago Cubs.
“The good thing that I like about this team is they’re always working together like a family, and that’s a really important thing when you want to be in the postseason,” said Asdrúbal Cabrera, who drove in the game-winning run in Thursday’s 1-0 win. “I know we had a tough week, but I still believe in this team.”
The Philadelphia Phillies have an opportunity to essentially end the Mets’ playoff hopes in their three-game series at Citi Field.
A look at the weekend ahead for the wild-card contenders:
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS (76-70, half-game lead)
The Cardinals are the one team surging in the wild-card race and now they have a chance to create some separation between themselves and the Padres. They beat the Mets by seven runs in two of their three games this week and outlasted them in an 11-inning thriller Tuesday.
Paul Goldschmidt, Tyler O’Neill and Nolan Arenado have carried the offense throughout September. Adam Wainwright has been dominant in their rotation and the Cardinals’ bullpen has largely pitched well.
“Ultimately, the best baseball is when you’re doing it all together,” manager Mike Shildt told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “You’re getting the hitting, consistent at-bats. You’re getting the quality pitching. It’s just about doing it all together at one time.”
Friday: RHP Miles Mikolas (0-2, 5.47) vs. RHP Vince Velasquez (3-6, 5.95).
Saturday: RHP Adam Wainwright (16-7, 2.88) vs. RHP Yu Darvish (8-10, 4.32).
Sunday: TBD vs. RHP Jake Arrieta (5-13, 7.05).
SAN DIEGO PADRES (76-70, half-game back)
The Padres lost the first five games on their 10-game road trip, totaling only six runs. The offense finally came to life in their final two games against the NL West-leading Giants, winning 9-6 on Wednesday and 7-4 on Thursday.
“There’s nothing we can say in the clubhouse to tell somebody to try harder,” reliever Craig Stammen told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “Because everybody is trying almost too hard at this point.”
One concern for the Padres over the final two weeks of the season is how injuries have piled up. Blake Snell went on the 10-day injured list with a groin injury. Chris Paddack may miss only one start, but he went on the 10-day IL with right elbow inflammation.
They’re now relying on pitchers who were released by other teams, like Vince Velasquez and Jake Arrieta, to help them reach the postseason.
CINCINNATI REDS (76-71, one game back)
It was a miserable road trip for the Reds, finishing with a 3-6 record against the Cubs, Cardinals and Pirates. They dropped three one-run games and a pair of two-run games.
Next up is a 10-game homestand against the Dodgers (three games), Pirates (three games) and Washington Nationals (four games).
“You only get to be part of a playoff chase so many times,” said Jesse Winker, who returned from the injured list Friday. “You don’t know the next time you’re going to be one game back for the Wild Card. I just felt like I want to play, and that’s it.”
Friday: RHP Luis Castillo (7-15, 4.24) vs. RHP Walker Buehler (14-3, 2.32).
Saturday: RHP Sonny Gray (7-7, 3.80) vs. RHP Max Scherzer (14-4, 2.17).
Sunday: LHP Wade Miley (12-6, 3.09) vs. LHP Clayton Kershaw (9-7, 3.33).
PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES (74-72, two-and-a-half games back)
The Phillies avoided dropping a series against the Cubs on Thursday, rebounding from a 7-0 deficit in the fourth inning for a 17-8 victory. It was their first series victory this month.
They have only three games left against a team with a record above .500, facing the Atlanta Braves from Sept. 28-30. They’re three games behind the Braves in the divisional race, so they still have multiple paths to the postseason if they can begin a hot streak.
Friday: RHP Zack Wheeler (13-9, 2.86) vs. RHP Taijuan Walker (7-9, 4.29).
Saturday: RHP Aaron Nola (7-8, 4.58) vs. RHP Carlos Carrasco (1-2, 5.59).
Sunday: RHP Kyle Gibson (10-7, 3.49) vs. LHP Rich Hill (6-7, 3.88).