This was a quick glance I was planning on pumping out late last week before the apartment-moving fiasco took control of my life, and fortunately for me (and everyone), the NL Wild Card got even more interesting over the weekend.
For the sake of saving some space, we'll try to limit this discussion to the four teams that are legitimately involved in the hunt: the Rockies and Giants, tied at the top, the Braves, 3 back, and the Marlins, 4 games out.
The Giants just finished an emotional 3-game sweep of the Rockies to get back into a tie, and begin a series in Philadelphia, well, a few minutes ago, and could see their playoff chances dashed in a heartbeat if they're not careful with the homer-happy Phillies. They say good pitching can nullify good hitting, and this is the ultimate test for San Francisco. So I don't look like I'm talking about events that already happened, I'll point out that while I type this paragraph, the Giants and Phillies are scoreless in the second inning.
A great deal of folks have pointed out that the Giants are in prime position for a letdown, and while I think that may be true for most clubs coming off a huge series, I believe the Giants will play the Phillies very tough. If they lose games in this series, it will be because they get outplayed, not because they've got nothing left. I wouldn't put as much stock in the letdown theory, and while I can't tell anyone who to bet on any particular game, I would not be surprised to see 3 hard-fought contests as the Giants try to measure themselves against the NL's elite. San Francisco also signed Brad Penny to a Minor League contract late last night. Bet on Penny in his first start with the Giants, then bet against his continued success. He'll pitch with a chip on his shoulder, but inevitably, his poor pitching will cause his ERA to rise into the 5's, just like it did with the Red Sox.
The Rockies have a slightly easier road to navigate through their next series, hosting this weird, decapitated version of the New York Mets. Still, the Mets have been playing for their pride, and as we all can attest, it's a lot easier to succeed when you're fighting for your namesake as a huge underdog than when the expectation is for you to clobber. The Rockies open up a homestand after getting run out of San Francisco later tonight, with Jorge De La Rosa opposing Mike Pelfrey in a game the Rockies are going to put a great deal of pressure on themselves to win. I do think the Rockies will win tonight's game, but beware Colorado taking the Mets lightly in games two and three. In terms of late acquisitions, the Rockies got their mitts on Jose Contreras, trading away a former California League Pitcher of the Year by the name of Brandon Hynick, a rather polished youngster that the Rockies, I can only assume, felt had the stuff to be a four-A player, but not much of a success in the Show. Jose Contreras has a weird arsenal of pitches that should confound batters that haven't seen him before, so I would once again advise getting a few dollars on Contreras when he's facing teams for the first time, but be very careful about backing him at Coors and against guys he's faced previously.
As far as the two NL East Wild Card contenders are concerned, I might go ahead and drop a Chick Hearn-ism and put it in the refrigerator. They won't win it. The only chance that either of them has to catch Colorado or San Francisco is to win the remainder of their games against one another. Atlanta has the clear advantage with the young (and younger) Marlins digging deep to find some energy late in the season, while the veterans on Atlanta know a bit more about saving some strength for the finish.
From a betting perspective, I think keeping a close eye on the Giants, Rockies and Braves is the way to go. Taking a peek at matchups is certainly still worth doing, but we'll get a very good idea of which of these four teams will play with a fire in their belly, and which will go belly-up into the fire. Then, once it's clear, hammer that (or those) team(s) with some 2-unit monsters.