Welcome back, welcome back! It’s another edition of Patience or Panic and with just a few weeks left in the season we’re gonna do things a little different this time. Instead of listing individual players and assessing their performance, we’re going to take a look at the playoff picture and since the clock is ticking we’re going to assign these teams a number from one to five to determine how panicked they should be as we inch closer to the postseason. We start in the NL West:
The San Diego Padres
We won’t waste any time on the Dodgers or Giants here, as both those teams are going to make the playoffs. At this point, it’s just a matter of who will win the division and who will be the wild card.
However, for California’s other NL West team, the darlings of the offseason, things are a bit different.
The Padres are completely falling apart. They’ve lost four in a row, eight of their last ten, and have fallen from holding the second wild card spot to five games back of the St. Louis Cardinals, with the Philadelphia Phillies and Cincinnati Reds also in front of them.
The scary part for San Diego is that this is happening despite Fernando Tatis Jr. (.362/.412/.532) and Manny Machado (.327/.353/.531) playing exceptional baseball over the course of this cold streak.
Instead, the problem lies with other key contributors. Jake Cronenworth has an OPS of .677 since the start of September, and is just 3-for-15 since returning from the injured list on September 17th.
Adam Frazier has hit .265/.325/.303 with no home runs and just four doubles since being traded to San Diego at the deadline, a far cry from the .836 OPS he was providing in Pittsburgh.
Yu Darvish, who was acquired to be the ace of the team over the winter, has posted a 6.23 ERA in the second half and a 6.41 ERA in September alone.
The Padres have just 12 games left, time is running out.
Panic Level: 5
The Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies currently sit four and a half games back of the Cardinals for the second wild card and three games back of the Atlanta Braves for the AL East division crown. So at least they have options.
Bryce Harper looks like the NL MVP and has really backed it up of late, slashing .354/.476/.785 since September began. Zack Wheeler (who was a contender for the NL Cy Young before Mad Max Scherzer went berserk) leads the Phillies pitching staff to the tune of a 2.83 ERA across 200+ innings.
The Phillies will have an opportunity going to finish strong, closing out the season facing Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Miami. The series against the Braves (in Atlanta) looms large, because the Phillies could have the opportunity to jump their rivals for the division lead if the current standings hold or if Philadelphia gains even a game in that race.
They’re currently on the outside looking in both for the wild card and the division, but with Harper and Wheeler play great baseball and other players like J.T. Realmuto (.310/.355/.552 over the last week) and Jean Segura (.304/.339/.518 over the last two weeks) continuing to pull their weight, the Phillies could conceivably be in charge of their own destiny.
Panic Level: 3
The St. Louis Cardinals
You had to know this one was coming. Entering play Wednesday, the Cardinals have won their last ten games in a row and have gone from having a 2.8% chance (per Fangraphs) to make the playoffs to now being four games up in the wild card race and having a 90% chance to make the playoffs. They’ve swept the Mets and Padres, split with the Dodgers, and taken a series from the Reds.
Some of this is due to the usual suspects. Adam Wainwright has been phenomenal all year, and Paul Goldschmidt has a .925 OPS in September. However, Goldschmidt’s production pales compared to the 1.027 OPS and seven home runs in 20 games that Tyler O’Neill has in September.
But the Cardinals turnaround has also been spurred by unlikely contributions from Jon Lester and JA Happ as well. Lester has been especially good, with a 2.59 ERA in four September starts.
Not only that but the Cardinals get Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson back in the next week or so as well, although in what capacity we do not know.
The Cardinals close the season with the Cubs then the Brewers and the Cubs once more, so they are firmly in the driver’s seat.
Panic Level: 1
The Cincinnati Reds
The Reds collapsed nearly as badly (nearly being the key word) as the Padres. They briefly held the second wild card spot before dropping series to the lowly Cubs and Pirates, as well as the Cardinals and Dodgers.
Lucky for them, they close out the season with four more against Pittsburgh, four against Washington, and two with the White Sox, who are just waiting for the playoffs at this point.
Unlucky for the Reds is that they are four back of the red-hot Cardinals, and the Cardinals get to face the Cubs six more times, including to close out their season.
Joey Votto is heating back up (.389/.593/.1.000 over the last week) and Jonathan India (.269/.376/.457) is a Rookie of the Year candidate, but with a rotation that has a 4.93 ERA since the start of September (10th-worst in baseball), the Reds sure have a lot of work to do and will need a little help from the Cardinals if they hope to get into the playoffs.
Panic Level: 4.5