There are less than 20 days left in the MLB’s regular season, but there are several teams still alive in the playoff hunt. The American League has the Rays, A’s, and Indians fighting for two wild card spots (Cleveland is also in the mix for the AL Central at 5.0 games back). And the National League has the Nationals, Cubs, Brewers, Phillies, Diamondbacks, and Mets all involved for the wild cards, with Chicago and Milwaukee also realistically involved in the NL Central behind the Cardinals.
So which of the wild card contenders would make for the best television for October baseball? This is how I rank the non-division leaders in terms of entertainment value for the postseason.
1. Washington Nationals
Most baseball fans are really going to want to see the menacing Mad Max in the postseason again. The Nationals are a very talented team with a top-tier starting trio of Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin that can go up against any team and win in a five- or seven-game series; and the offense led by Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto, and Trea Turner can put up serious numbers.
2. Oakland Athletics
I think most people that have seen Moneyball give an inside look at A’s executive Billy Beane and the way he does things want Oakland to get a world championship. The A’s seemingly always get a bunch of guys out of nowhere to play well, and they are again an excellent team despite being without starting pitcher Sean Manaea for most of the season. Manaea is now back and looks better than ever, so he’ll bring more energy if the A’s can get back into the postseason.
3. Philadelphia Phillies
While the A’s are the opposite of high-priced roster, a lot of this exercise is about the star power of teams. There aren’t many more polarizing figures in baseball than Phillies star Bryce Harper, who can catch fire with the best of them and put a team on his back for a deep October run. Philadelphia also has J.T. Realmuto and Rhys Hoskins among others in a lineup that has yet to reach its potential for a sustained stretch in 2019. The subpar pitching may make it a quick exit for the Phillies, but it’d be entertaining nonetheless.
4. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs have a case for any of the top three spots, as the atmosphere at Wrigley Field (where Chicago is 47-24 this year) is sensational in the fall. They have a veteran pitching staff that includes two proven playoff performers (Jon Lester and Cole Hamels), along with a former NL MVP (Kris Bryant) in a solid lineup that also has Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez (if he’s back from injury for the playoffs), and Jason Heyward
5. Cleveland Indians
The addition of Yasiel Puig at the trade deadline alone made me almost put the Indians as high as No. 3, but they settle in at No. 5. After a narrow World Series loss to the Cubs in 2016, the Indians fell in the ALDS in each of the past two seasons; but they’ll likely be without Jose Ramirez to start the postseason, which hurts their chances to seriously compete with 100-win teams.
6. New York Mets
We know one New York team will already be in the postseason, but there’s a chance the Mets join the Yankees. At 3.0 games back of the NL’s second wild card position, the Mets are currently the furthest away of any of these nine teams. But if they can get in, likely NL Rookie of the Year Pete Alonso (47 homers this season, five away from tying Aaron Judge’s rookie record) would be fun to watch along with that potent pitching staff.
7. Tampa Bay Rays
The A’s might have the lovable underdog role on lockdown, but the Rays are another small market team that typically gets love from many average fans hoping to see franchises such as the Yankees get knocked off.
8. Milwaukee Brewers
If not for 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich’s season-ending fractured kneecap, the Brewers would be higher than No. 8 among the most entertaining wild card teams in the postseason. There are still well-known players like Ryan Braun and Lorenzo Cain for Milwaukee, but their entertainment value goes down without the MVP.
9. Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks are my pick for the least entertaining team with a chance to make the playoffs, but they might have the best chance to sneak in from the National League if the Nats or Cubs slip. Arizona has an end-of-season schedule that includes the Padres twice and the Marlins. Dropping two in a row to the Mets hurts as they try to make a run, though.