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Diamondbacks one of six teams in contention for second NL Wild Card

Kirk Gibson’s optimism — weathered and worn by a season largely marked by disappointment and debacle — is still very much intact.

Three of the five pitchers in Gibson’s starting rotation are rookies. The left side of his infield is still fluid and undecided. His RBI leader is in a slump that has lasted nearly two months. And his leadoff hitter has played a total of seven big league games in his career. But he’s not going to point any of that out.

Gibson, instead, is keen to evince — not conceal — his team’s position in the National League Wild Card standings, juxtaposing them with the 2011 Cardinals, who were in a worse position at this time last season than the Diamondbacks currently are, the skipper would say.

“(Our position) is getting better,” Gibson said after the Diamondbacks’ 2-1 victory against the Dodgers on Wednesday night. “Things are getting interesting.”

It’s easy to deride Gibson’s buoyancy as irrational and gimmicky. The season is nearly 90-percent through and his team is 4.5 games back in the race for the second NL Wild Card spot. If you look closely, however, you’ll see why Gibson doesn’t mind his team’s chances all that much.

Five teams stand between the Diamondbacks and the second NL Wild Card spot at the moment. Here’s a look at each team’s final stretch of the season.

Arizona Diamondbacks – 4.5 GB

Games remaining: 19

Home games remaining: 12

Games against above-.500 teams remaining: 6

The Diamondbacks are the furthest back in the NL Wild Card race of the teams we’ll discuss. Yet, interestingly enough, their schedule is the easiest of the teams in contention. Aside from three games in San Francisco and four in Denver, all of the Diamondbacks’ remaining games are at Chase Field, where they are 35-34 so far this season.

More than one-third of the games remaining on the Diamondbacks’ schedule are against the Rockies and three are against the Cubs. Their other nine games are made up of two series versus the Giants and one against the suddenly-hot Padres.

Of course, as with last year’s world champion Cardinals, the Diamondbacks will need a lot of cooperation from the teams in front of them to even be in contention by the beginning of October.

St. Louis Cardinals – +2 GB

Games remaining: 18

Home games remaining: 9

Games against above-.500 teams: 9

The remainder of the Cardinals’ games are split between teams with winning records and teams with losing records. After beating the Dodgers 2-1 on Thursday night, the Cardinals added to their Wild Card lead. They have three more games left in their four-game series in Los Angeles, followed by nine consecutive games against either the Astros or the Cubs. The Cardinals finish their season with a six-game homestand against the Nationals and the Reds.

Los Angeles Dodgers – 2 GB

Games remaining: 18

Home games remaining: 9

Games against above-.500 teams: 12

The Dodgers, who are now 6-12 since their blockbuster trade with the Red Sox, have a tough rest of the way. They play host to the Cardinals for three more games — in a series that could very well be the ultimate determiner of the coveted second NL Wild Card spot — before embarking on a nine-game road trip to Washington, Cincinnati, and San Diego. Then, if they manage to survive that, they return to Dodger Stadium for their final two series of the season — one against the Rockies and one against the Giants.

Pittsburgh Pirates – 3 GB

Games remaining: 20

Home games remaining: 9

Games against above-.500 teams: 9

The Pirates played in a 19-inning game for the second year in a row. And, for the second year in a row, they have gone 5-15 following that marathon game, which has put them three games back in the race for the second NL Wild Card spot. And while the rest of their schedule looks challenging — with 20 games over the next 20 days — their most difficult series are being played in Pittsburgh. The Brewers, Reds, and Braves will all pay a visit to PNC Park over the next few weeks, which, in tandem with the other teams in contention, will be key in deciding their postseason fate.

Milwaukee Brewers – 3.5 GB

Games remaining: 19

Home games remaining: 9

Games against above-.500 teams: 10

The Brewers finish a homestand with a series versus the Mets this weekend before embarking on an incredibly difficult 10-game road trip that features a three-game stop in Pittsburgh, a four-game stop in Washington, and a three-game stop in Cincinnati. The road trip will undoubtedly be the main determining factor in the team’s postseason chances, as they have the fourth-worst road record (28-43) in the National League, behind only the Rockies, Cubs, and Astros. The Brewers close their season at home versus the Astros and Padres.

Philadelphia Phillies – 4 GB

Games remaining: 18

Home games remaining: 6

Games against above-.500 teams: 9

A mere six home games remain for the Phillies, who lost to the Astros late Thursday night. And those six games aren’t easy — with three against the Braves and three against the Nationals. However, the Phillies’ next six games are on the road against the Astros and Mets, and it will be key for them to capitalize on the matchups. Charlie Manuel’s newly-resurrected club will close the season with a road trip to Miami, then Washington and they’ll need to stay hot to make up their four-game deficit in the NL Wild Card race.

The Diamondbacks open up a series with the Giants, whom they’re 7-5 against this season, on Friday night. Like Gibson, the clubhouse remains positive about their postseason chances.

“We’re definitely not out of it,” Trevor Cahill said, after notching his eleventh win of the season on Wednesday night.

“We never thought we were.”