As casual baseball fans, we have a tendency to only pay attention to first place teams this time of year, not considering the potential threats that exist within the Wild Card picture. This year is a lot different.
The New York Yankees have the second best record in baseball, and they’re closer to being the second Wild Card team than they are to being in first place within their own division. Still, everybody looks at the Yankees as strong contenders for a World Series title, as they should. Regardless of their place within the AL East standings, the team with the second best record in the game is a Wild Card team in the American League. In the National League, the Milwaukee Brewers currently hold the top Wild Card spot, while also being the team with the second best record in the NL.
On Monday, the Brewers took on their division rival, the first-place Chicago Cubs. Head-to-head competition hadn’t gone so well for Milwaukee to that point, losing nine of thirteen to the Cubs entering play on Monday, but when you’re hot, you’re hot. The Brewers are hot right now, and there’s arguably nobody on the planet who’s hotter than Christian Yelich. The 26-year-old took home NL Player of the Week honors for the second time in six weeks after hitting .444 with a 1.516 OPS, a week that included four homers and hitting for the cycle.
The Brewers haven’t been in first place since July 31, and even then, they were tied for first with the Cubs. They haven’t been alone in first place since July 12. But since August 19, when they avoided a sweep at the hands of the Cardinals, the Brewers have the best record in the National League, winning 10 of their last 14. In that time, they’ve taken over the top spot in the Wild Card, although the Cubs still hold a somewhat comfortable four-game lead in the NL Central. That could change if the Brewers sweep the rest of this three-game series.
Despite not being in first place, Yelich has emerged as a major player in the National League MVP conversation. Coming into play today, the outfielder is hitting .315 with a .934 OPS. He trails Scooter Gennett by five points for the NL batting title, and his OPS is tied for fourth behind Matt Carpenter, Paul Goldschmidt, and Nolan Arenado. Essentially, the NL MVP picture minus Javy Baez and Freddie Freeman.
The thing about Yelich is that he’s consistently been one of the best hitters in the league all year long, but has really turned it on in the second half. Since July 9, Yelich is hitting .355 with a 1.085 OPS, 16 doubles, 16 homers, 3 triples, and 47 RBI in his last 49 games. Over that span, he leads the majors in batting average, slugging percentage, and is one point shy of Carpenter for the major league lead in OPS. It’s criminal how underrated he’s been in 2018 as one of the game’s best hitters.
And for as great as he’s been to this point, he’s going to have to keep it up, as the Brewers’ greatest strength is obviously their offense, and he’s the centerpiece of that.