Buckle your seat belts, baseball fans, because the National League wild-card race is about to get, well, wild.

After Tuesday’s action, the Pittsburgh Pirates hold a three-game lead for the top wild-card slot. The Chicago Cubswho throttled the Pirates 5-0 at PNC Park to win their sixth straightsit in the second slot, half a game up on the defending champion San Francisco Giants.

After that, it’s the Washington Nationals, who have ceded first place in the NL East to the New York Mets and now find themselves three games back in the wild-card scramble.

That’s four playoff-quality teams battling for two spots, assuming no team wins its division. The math is simple; the picture isn’t.

First, let’s consider San Francisco. The Giants trail the archrival Los Angeles Dodgers by just two games in the NL West, so they have a decent shot to claim the division. 

They’re also about to embark on a rough, protracted stretch of games against the other wild-card hopefuls.

On Thursday, the Giants open a four-game set with the Cubs at Wrigley Field. On August 13, they welcome the Nats for four games at AT&T Park. On August 20, they visit the Pirates for four games, and after that they host the Cubs for three more.

That’s 15 head-to-head matchups in the span of 21 days that could determine whether the Giants bust the odd-year curse and return to the October stage.

The Cubbies have no games remaining against Washington, but in addition to their seven August meetings with the Giants, they have eight games against the Pirates, including a makeup of Monday’s rainout.

“I love it. I think it’s great,” Cubs skipper Joe Maddon said of his team’s slate of games against the Bucs and Giants, per Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. “To really ascend in a division you have to play the better teams within your group and beat them.”

Speaking of which: The Nats and Mets will clash six more times, including a season-ending three-game series at Citi Field. Considering the fact that the two clubs are tied in the loss column entering play Wednesday, that race could easily go down to the wire, further muddying the picture.

Is your head swimming yet?

Well, take a breath, because now we’re going to talk about tiebreaker scenarios. The advent of the second wild-card spot necessitated some new, ridiculously complicated rules.

Let’s say two teams tie for the No. 2 wild-card slot. They would then meet for a one-game, do-or-die showdown, hosted by the club with the better head-to-head record, with the winner moving on to play in the Wild Card Game. 

Simple enough, right? But what if three teams tie for the second wild-card slot? What if, say, the Cubs, Pirates and Giants all finished with identical records? 

This is where we tread into the realm of A, B and C designations and where your brain might hurt a little.

Team A plays Team B in Team A’s home park, and Team C plays the winner in the winner’s home park to determine who goes on to the division series. 

How are the A, B and C designations assigned? They’re chosen by the clubs themselves, with choosing order determined by head-to-head records.


This might all sound impossibly esoteric, and it is. But it’s also completely plausible. None of the teams in this mix are vastly superior to any of the others. It’s an intriguing melange of talented squads, each with strengths and flaws. 

The Pirates are the closest thing to a lock, but they’re dealing with injuries to veteran A.J. Burnettwho is on the shelf with a strained flexor tendon in his pitching elbow—as well as infielders Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer, both of whom are likely out until September, per Jay Jaffe of SI.com.

The biggest blow is the loss of Burnett, as ESPN.com’s Christina Kahrl spelled out Monday:

[While] they’re one of the NL’s best teams at the moment and should be able to bank on a wild-card bid, the timing for Burnett’s injury probably couldn’t come at a worse time.

That’s because [Pittsburgh is] heading into an especially tough three-week stretch on the schedule, facing the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Mets, Arizona Diamondbacks and San Francisco Giants. … 

That’s two first-place teams, three wild-card contenders who would like to take the Pirates down a peg and a tough Snakes club. Even with a four-game lead in the wild-card hunt over the Giants and Cubs, that stretch already represented a big challenge for the Bucs with Burnett. 

The Giants, too, are saddled with injury, as Jaffe noted. All-Star second baseman Joe Panik, a key cog in San Francisco’s offense, is on the 15-day disabled list with an ailing back.

Right now, the young, hard-charging Cubs look like the most formidable contender of the top four teams in the NL wild-card standings. Then again, it’s tough to discount the Nationals, who were supposed to be the closest thing the NL had to a postseason lock, according to ESPN’s prognosticators and just about everyone else.

And so we go, round and round. The only way to settle this will be to play out the full 162-game slate and maybe a few tangled tiebreakers after that.

It definitely won’t be easy, and it almost certainly won’t be simple. But it should be a whole lot of wild, wild fun.


All statistics and standings current as of August 4 and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

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