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4 Biggest X-Factors in 2019 NL Wild Card Race

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 31:  Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals pitches in the first inning during a baseball game against the Miami Marlins at Nationals park on August 31, 2019 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The NL Wild Card chase is a little more open than that of the Junior Circuit. Let's say there are six teams in playoff hunt and/or picture that aren't leading their divisions at the moment. The Nationals, Cubs, Phillies, Diamondbacks, Brewers, and Mets are all above .500 and within four games of the second Wild Card. What puts a team over the top?

4. The Ability to Protect Christian Yelich

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - SEPTEMBER 02:  Christian Yelich #22 of the Milwaukee Brewers hits a home run in the ninth inning against the Houston Astros at Miller Park on September 02, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Last year's NL MVP has been pretty much neck-and-neck with Cody Bellinger all year, but the Brewers' offense has not gotten to his level in terms of pure hitting. Mike Moustakas, Yasmani Grandal, Eric Thames, and Ryan Braun have all produced power and runs, but Yelich is the only Brewer even hitting over .260 (no one's approaching his .326 average) in over 100 games.

3. The Mets vs. the Contenders

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - AUGUST 17:  Starting pitcher Jacob deGrom #48 of the New York Mets throws in the first inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on August 17, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images

The Nationals series in mid-August brought the loudest Citi Field crowd in probably three years. By taking two of three and later sweeping the Indians, the Mets looked poised for October. Yet, back-to-back home sweeps at the hands of the Braves and Cubs, respectively, almost proved the doubters who reasoned an easier schedule was the cause of the Mets' winning steak correct. Well, they have one of the toughest Septembers of any team, so let's see.

2. Replacing Jake Arrieta

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - AUGUST 06:  Starting pitcher Jake Arrieta #49 of the Philadelphia Phillies throws a warm-up pitch during the first inning of the MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on August 06, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Philadelphia had a pitching problem entering 2019, maintained it all the way through the season, and have now arrived in September without Jake Arrieta (bone spurs, surgery), though he never really showed up in '19 to begin with. Does Philly have an ace in the hole to finally step up and fill their rotation gap? It's not Drew Smyly, is it? Without a reliable secondary option, Philadelphia isn't making up the necessary ground. If someone gets wildly hot, they have a shot.

1. Sean Doolittle

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 17: Sean Doolittle #63 of the Washington Nationals reacts after giving up a home run against the Milwaukee Brewers during the ninth inning at Nationals Park on August 17, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Speaking of that Nationals-Mets series, Doolittle has had an uncharacteristic season, where the Mets, in particular, have torched him. He has 28 saves, which is not bad, but his ERA is 4.25, higher than that of each of the Nationals' starters. It's not all his fault, though. The only Washington reliever to pitch in 20 or more games and have an ERA below four is Fernando Rodney, who was on the A's until June.