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Cross off the Braves, cross out the Mariners, and I think we can stick a fork in the Tigers, too. Barring a collapse by the Red Sox or Yankees, it’s likely that the American Leagues playoff entries have been decided.  No, we don’t know how they are going to match up yet, but with 16-18 games left in the regular season, there doesn’t seem much time for anyone to really make a big push.

The National League isn’t quite that simple.   With time ticking away, only the Mets seem secure in a playoff berth.  Thanks to a recent six game winning streak Arizona looks to be on solid ground, but it’s too early to dismiss the Padres who are just 3.5 games back.   The rest, as they say, is up in the air.

In the Central, the Brewers and Cubs are neck and neck and just four games ahead of the Cardinals, but the Redbirds are just a loss or two from elimination.    But only one of these three teams is likely to see the postseason, since the Wild Card is a wild race but one in which the Cubs (or Brewers) find themselves 4-5 games out of.

The remaining contenders include the entire NL West (save the Giants) and the Philadelphia Phillies, all of whom are three or fewer games out.  And here it gets interesting.  Because the rest of the way none of the top contenders have a soft schedule.

For the Phillies, the remaining 18 games include one game against the Rockies; three each against the Mets, Cardinals, and Braves; and seven against the Nationals.  That’s 7 games against teams with .500 + records plus the Cardinal series.

Colorado will decide their own playoff fate with three games against the division-leading Diamondbacks, seven against the Dodgers, three against the Wild Card front running Padres as well as one more against the Phillies and a three game set with the Marlins.  That’s a rough road and possible the toughest schedule of any contender, save the Dodgers.  That’s 14 games against .500+ teams.

The Dodgers will have a single game left against the Padres, seven more with Colorado, and six games against the Diamondbacks.  Their only soft series will be a three game set with the Giants. That’s also 14 games against .500+ teams

San Diego will finish the season with only 10 tough games – one versus the Dodgers, three with Colorado, and four with the Brewers who’ll be fighting for their playoff lives as well.  Their easy stint includes six games against the Giants and four with the Pirates.

Division leader Arizona will have to face off six times against LA and three each against Colorado, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco. It’s certainly the softest schedule of the competing western teams and should allow the Diamondbacks to hold onto the division.

As to the rest (and not counting the loser of the Cubs/Brewers fight for the Central and the Braves - as all are much deeper in the hole), the Phillies certainly look to have the easiest schedule, while the Dodgers look so have the hardest.  It’s a situation that leaves the battle for the NL Wild Card as open as it’s ever been at this time of year and should produce some compelling baseball.

And may the best team win.