By Dan Schlossberg
Call them also-rans, have-nots, or cellar-dwellers but this is the time of year bad teams love.
Several teams have already clinched, others are on the verge, and a half-dozen others are consumed by the pressure of nailing down a playoff spot as a wild-card.
All of that makes baseball totally unpredictable.
Want some examples?
The Atlanta Braves, with the best record in baseball, lost five of their first six games after clinching the National League East at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia a week ago Wednesday.
Three of those losses came against the Marlins, who had gone 1-9 against Atlanta before last weekend’s series.
Not only did the Fish fry the Braves three games in a row but they won convincingly — especially with a 16-2 finale that sent the visitors back to Atlanta with their tail between their legs.
Even without Sandy Alcantara, their best pitcher, Miami played like Atlanta usually does: hitting so many home runs it embarrassed the opposition. Leadoff man Luis Arraez, a singles hitter fighting for the batting title, hit two home runs in one game and three on the weekend, while Jazz Chisholm, Jr. hit grand-slams on consecutive days.
As Yogi Berra might say, something’s not kosher in the State of Denmark.
Once they got home, where the Phillies wanted another crack at their likely NLDS opponent, things were not much better.
The Phils won two out of three, including a 6-5, 10-inning fiasco that featured two home runs by Nick Castellanos, who also made a game-saving throw in the bottom of the ninth to nail pinch-runner Luke Williams, carrying the winning run, at home.
Under normal circumstances, Castellanos could be the worst defensive outfielder in the National League.
And how about other teams? The Detroit Tigers beat Bobby Miller, the red-hot rookie phenom of the Los Angeles Dodgers, at Chavez Ravine. The moribund New York Mets swept the Marlins in Flushing.
It’s like a Little League game, where players say “You take it” instead of “I got it.”
Baseball history is filled with great collapses, two of them in 2011 when both the Braves and the Boston Red Sox blew certain paths to the playoffs with awful September play.
Maybe something changes after Labor Day. But something is definitely different, especially in the case of the Braves, who have played under .500 ball this month.
During the Wednesday broadcast, their announcer mentioned that even if the team went 5-6 the rest of the way, the Dodgers would have to go 10-2 to wrest home-field advantage in the playoffs.
That’s entirely possible, although it’s hard to conceive of Atlanta failing to right the ship with seven games remaining against last-place Washington.
Then again, there’s one word to keep in mind: spoilers.
Out-of-contention teams, with nothing to play for but future contracts, are full of loose, carefree athletes playing out the string. Some of them will be free agents while others will be seeking more money through arbitration. Others are hoping to prove healthy to enhance their trade value.
It’s going to be an interesting but bumpy ride to the Oct. 1 finish line.
Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ covers the game for forbes.com, Memories & Dreams, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, and other outlets. He’s also written 40 baseball books. E.mail him via firstname.lastname@example.org.