No, seriously, don't laugh. You can't write off the Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers just yet. Both teams are 69-71 and six games behind the Cardinals for the second wild card (with the Dodgers and Pirates also ahead of them), but didn't we learn last year that crazy, ridiculous things can happen in September?
Is it possible for either team to catch the Cardinals? Sure. Consider:
St. Louis is 75-65. If they go 10-12 the rest of the way, they finish 85-77. And they're 4-8 over their past 12 games.
That means the Phillies or Brewers have to go 17-5 to win 86 games or 16-6 to tie (and assume the Dodgers and Pirates slide as well). The Phillies are 12-4 over the past 16 and the Brewers are 15-5 over the past 20.
The Phillies also have a pretty favorable schedule the rest of the way: Miami (3), at Houston (4), at the Mets (3), Atlanta (3), Washington (3), at Miami (3), at Washington (3). They do have a tough series against the Braves and two against the Nationals, but Washington will likely be resting its best pitchers in the final series. If the Phillies go 9-1 or 8-2 over these next 10 games, you never know. The Brewers have a little tougher slate: Atlanta (3), Mets (3), at Pittsburgh (3), at Washington (4), at Cincinnati (3), Houston (3), San Diego (3).
In the end, both teams will likely fall a few games short and will reflect back on bullpens gone awry. The Brewers lead the NL with 31 bullpen losses and have lost 10 games when leading heading into the ninth inning, most in the majors in a category where most teams have only a few such defeats (the Pirates have none, the Orioles one). The Phillies are 58-2 when leading after eight innings, but they've lost 11 games when leading after seven. While their bullpen has pitched the fewest innings in the NL, it's tied for second with 23 bullpen losses. Jonathan Papelbon, the $50 million closer, has six losses by himself.
Both teams, of course, expected to be stellar at the back, but Papelbon and setup man Antonio Bastardo have each allowed seven home runs. For the Brewers, John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez have also each allowed seven home runs and have combined for 15 blown saves and 14 losses. With just average performance from those two guys, the Brewers would have an additional five or six wins ... and be right there with the Cardinals instead of six games back.