With a month left in the season the NL has more or less separated itself along the lines most anticipated back in April. There are eight teams in the playoff chase and seven playing out the string, sorry Rockies, and that's the way it has generally been for weeks. Maybe the Marlins are a bit of a surprise, but this season has largely played out as forecasted.
The Cubs are the class of the circuit and the Nats have separated themselves as well. One of the Dodgers and Giants will win the NL West which leaves five teams for three spots. All five teams lost on Friday night. With the obvious understanding that anyone of these teams could go 20-10 or 10-20 over the remaining 30 or so games, let's take a look at the schedules to see if anyone has an advantage. Starting with the Bucs and then worst to first, here are the remaining teams and their opponents. (The remaining schedule is listed by opponents, but is not sequential to the calendar.)
Pirates: 67-64 2.5 back of 2nd WC (30 remaining 16 H, 14 A) Mil 2 H, 3 A; StL 3 H, 3 A; Cin 4 H, 4 A; Phil 4 A; Wash 3 H, Cubs 4 H. 21-22 since the ASB.
I think you can make a case the Pirates have the most favorable remaining schedule if you think the Nats & Cubs will mail in the last week of the season. The Pirates opened a 10-game homestand last night and only play three of their next 20 games against teams with a winning record (Cards Mon-Wed this week). They have a seven-game homestand against the Nats and Cubs at the end of September, but neither team will have anything to play for and both are likely to be resting starters and limiting the work of the better pitchers. They finish with three in St. Louis which could essentially be a play-in series.
Marlins: 68-67, 3 back of 2nd WC (28 remaining 16 H, 11 A) Clev 2 A; Phil 3 H, 3 A; LAD 3 H; Atl 4 H, 3 A; Wash 3 H, 3 A; NYM 3 A. 21-26 since the ASB.
The Marlins have a tough series this weekend going to Cleveland and while they have 16 remaining at home they are only 33-32 in South Florida. They finish the season with three at home with the Mets and then three at Washington which should have nothing to play for. If they survive the Tribe they could be in it until the end and may even get Stanton back. However, losing David Phelps was a big blow.
Mets: 69-66, 2 back of 2nd WC (28 remaining, 12 H, 15 A) Wash 2 H, 3 A; Cin 3 A; Atl 3 H, 3 A; Min 3 H, Phil 4 H, 3 A; Mia 3 A. 22-25 since the ASB.
The Mets schedule is softer than marshmallow. After this weekend the Marlins are the best team remaining on their schedule. Just based on that, you have to like the Mets chances. Even without Neil Walker.
Cards: 70-63, hold 2nd WC (29 remaining, 14 H, 15 A ) Cin 4 H, 2 A; Pgh 3 H, 3 A; Mil 4 H; Chi 3 H, 3 A (sept 23-25); SF 4 A; Col 3 A. 24-21 since the ASB.
Somewhat inexplicably the Cardinals are 30-37 at home and 40-26 on the road. In mid-September the Cards head on the road for a 10-game trip to San Francisco, Colorado and Chicago. They finish with three at home with the Pirates. Hard to know if that is good or bad with their home-road splits.
Giants: 72-62, hold 1st WC (28 remaining, 13 H, 15 A ) Cubs 2 A; Col 3 H, 3 A; Ariz 3 A; Pads 3 H, 4 A; Cards 4 H; LAD 3 H, 3 A. 15-29 since the ASB.
The Giants are two games into a 10-game road trip that also takes them to Colorado and Arizona. They are a major league worst 15-29 since the ASB. They have six left with the Rockies who are an NL West-best 25-21 since the break and six more with the Dodgers. They finish with both those teams at home.
Outlook: The Giants and the Cards are in control because of their current positions, but it's hard to feel good about the Giants chances the way they are playing and given their schedule, which is clearly the toughest of the group. I'll give the NL West to the Dodgers, but the wild card spots are too close to call. The Cards + 78 run differential and 24-21 record since the break are both best of the five. But since the break their run differential is actually -11. I'll play the homer card and call it a replay of last year with three teams from the NL Central getting in. But your guess is as good as, and probably better, than mine.