MLB: Phillies tighten their grip on top NL wild card spot, final two up for grabs

September 25, 2023

National League division races have all been clinched. The Atlanta Braves take the East, Milwaukee Brewers the Central and the Los Angeles Dodgers the West. The Phillies are out ahead of the group, with a four-and-a-half game lead on the first place wildcard position. That sets the table for a wildcard race that currently consists of four teams within three games of the second wildcard spot with just eight days left in the 2023 Major League Baseball season.

Here’s a rundown of the teams still in contention. Who’s in? Who’s out?

(Standings and odds are through August September 24. Odds are attributed to Fangraphs. Stats are through September 24)

Here comes the fun, American League playoff race showdown

1Philadelphia Phillies8669+5
2Arizona Diamondbacks8173+0.5
3Chicago Cubs8174--
4Miami Marlins80751
5Cincinnati Reds79772.5

Philadelphia Phillies

Runs per game: 4.92 (No. 8 in MLB)
Opponent runs per game: 4.43 (13)
Record since Aug 1: 30-20
Odds to make playoffs: 100%

Why they make some noise in the playoffs: With a likely rotation of Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Ranger Suárez in their wildcard match-up, they can play with anybody. The bullpen has been impressive in September, sporting a group ERA of 3.30 and striking out over ten batters per nine innings. The FIP looks a little questionable (4.33) but they’ve been able to keep runners from scoring with the high strikeout rate. The offense ranks No. 3 in team wRC+ (125) in the major leagues since August 1. This is a team that is good at just about everything and anything short of a first round win would be a disappointment.

Why they may have an early exit: The offense in September has sputtered to the tune of a 106 wRC+. Philly is 12-10 this month hitting just .236 as a team. They had a similar offensive month in May that resulted in a 10-16 record. If the Phillies continue to struggle offensively as they head into the first round of the playoffs, it could spell trouble. They’re striking out at a higher clip (25.6%) than they have the rest of the year (23%) collectively. The good news is, they’re still walking at a 10.7% clip and the home runs (39 in September) haven’t slowed. Taijuan Walker may not be on the first round roster, he carries a 6.00 ERA over his last six starts, walking 17 batters and striking out just seven per nine innings. They’ll need Walker to turn it around if they proceed to the second round.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Runs per game: 4.65 (14)
Opponent runs per game: 4.75 (19)
Record since Aug 1: 25-23
Odds to make playoffs: 84.4%

Why they make the playoffs: The starting rotation has had a good month. Despite the 5.64 ERA, they rank eighth in team FIP for September and are allowing less than a home run per nine innings. This suggests they’ve had a bit of bad luck and the .344 average on bases-on-balls-in-play allowed number suggests the same. The offense is doing a good job of limiting strikeouts (20.4% since Aug 1) despite not doing a ton of damage (91 team wRC+ since Aug 1). The bullpen holds a 2.17 ERA this month and has looked more sharp of late. They’ll play one more game against the Yankees before a three game series against the White Sox and a chance to get ahead of the pack behind them before what could be a postseason deciding three game series versus Houston.

Why they miss the playoffs: Despite limiting strikeouts, the offense lacks run scoring ability. They have just 18 home runs in September as a team, putting them ahead of only Colorado, Cleveland and the Chicago White Sox in that category. With a team wRC+ of just 93 in September so far, they’ll need to pitch well enough against a potent lineup in Houston to stay in games if the lineup continues to scuffle. Zac Gallen holds a 5.55 ERA in September in four starts and they’ll need their top rotation arm to get back to form. As a matter of fact, Brandon Pfaadt, Zach Davies and Ryne Nelson all hold ERA’s over five in their September starts. The Diamondbacks can’t afford to give up that kind of run production over the final seven games to hold onto their wildcard spot.

Chicago Cubs

Runs per game: 5.08 (6)
Opponent runs per game: 4.46 (15)
Record since Aug 1: 29-21
Odds to make playoffs: 56.3%

Why they make the playoffs: Chicago’s offense has been brilliant with a 117 wRC+ (good for No. 5 in MLB in September) for the month and Seiya Suzuki has caught fire. Hitting to a slash line of .365/.421/.718 with seven home runs in, good for a 198 wRC+ his last 95 plate appearances. That is a breath of fresh air after a July in which he sported an 81 wRC+. The rotation in its last 22 starts has an ERA of 3.79 with a good FIP  (3.59) to back it up. Righty Javier Assad has come on strong in his last six starts with a 2.84 ERA.

Why they miss the playoffs: The Cubs have a tough road to get to the promised land. Their last six games come against two division leading teams in the Braves and Brewers. With only a one-game lead on the Marlins, they’ll need to finish strong. They have a red alarm area of their team that could halt their postseason hopes — the bullpen. For the month of September they’ve pitched to a 4.30 ERA with a 4.66 FIP and are allowing over four-and-a-half walks per nine innings. Their relievers are getting hit hard, with a 35.8% hard hit rate in the same time frame, and its hurt them — allowing more than a home run per nine innings pitched. Six blown saves alone in the month of September, that won’t work.

Miami Marlins

Runs per game: 4.16 (26)
Opponent runs per game: 4.49 (16)
Record since Aug 1: 24-25
Odds to make playoffs: 52.2%

Why they make the playoffs: First, the schedule is favorable. They’ll play the Mets and Pirates – each a three game series — to finish the season. The offense is holding its own with a 105 wRC+ this month, and starter Braxton Garrett has been on fire in his last nine outings with a 2.36 ERA and allowing less than 2 walks per game. Sandy Alacantra is also doing his part, sporting a 3.28 ERA in his last 49.1 innings pitched. They’ll need these two frontline rotation players to continue to pitch well over their last couple starts.

Why they miss the playoffs: Eury Perez was placed on the 15-day IL with joint inflammation on September 23, taking him out of the rotation for the remainder of the regular season, that puts a solid dent in a rotation that is already No. 23 in rotation fWAR in September (0.8). But the Marlins have bigger problems, the bullpen holds a 5.58 ERA in 98.1 innings pitched for the month. With four blown-saves and 17 home runs given up (third most allowed in MLB) in that time, it’s a matter of holding on to leads. The offense has been average, but Jazz Chisholm has been below average this month, with a wRC+ of 94, and so have Josh Bell (87), Jacob Stallings (57) and Xavier Edwards (49). The Marlins will need more than Jake Burger, Luis Arraez and Jesus Sanchez to perform if they are to overcome their bullpen woes and make the playoffs.

Cincinnati Reds

Runs per game: 4.72 (10)
Opponent runs per game: 5.03 (26)
Record since July 1st: 21-28
Odds to make playoffs: 7.0%

Why they make the playoffs: With their last five games against teams with an under .500 record, the Reds have a chance to gain ground, but they’ll still need some help. The offense has managed decent production in the final month of the season (105 wRC+) and Rookie Noelvi Marte has been a huge help, sporting a .368/.410/.456 in 61 plate appearances since being promoted.

Why they miss the playoffs: Pitching, in every category. The bullpen holds a 5.33 ERA in the month of September, and averaging over four walks per nine innings is one of the root causes. The rotation has somehow been worse, with a 5.60 ERA in September and also walking more than four batters per nine innings. Rookie Andrew Abbott is in a slump, with a 5.72 FIP in his last four starts, and Brandon Williamson has made it through just 8.0 innings pitched in his last two starts, giving up eight earned runs and 13 hits.

We’ll leave it there, with the San Francisco Giants sitting four games back of a wildcard. Enjoy the race.

Casey Bellon

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