Breaking down the Brewers' NL playoff race

The Milwaukee Brewers are within striking distance of the lead in the National League Central Division and the second wild-card spot in the NL.

Entering Thursday's games, Milwaukee is 2 1/2 games behind Chicago in the Central and 3 games in back of Colorado for the second wild-card position.

If the Brewers are going to claim a playoff spot, a lot of it will fall on their shoulders.

In their final 16 games, the Brewers will play the division-leading Cubs four times and fellow playoff contender St. Louis three times. Milwaukee can certainly help itself by taking those series.

* -- Games will be played at Miller Park but the Brewers will be the road team.

No team will play more games at home down the stretch than Milwaukee, although that does come with an asterisk.

The Rockies seem to be in the most favorable position. After Thursday (in which they host Arizona in an afternoon game), they play just one team with a winning record: The Los Angeles Dodgers, who they finish up the season with at home in a three-game series.

Otherwise, the Rockies face San Diego (twice), San Francisco and Miami in their other 13 games. Colorado is a combined 20-9 vs. the Giants and Padres so far in 2017. Also, the Rockies play nine "true" home games, more than any other of the playoff hopefuls.

The Cardinals and Cubs not only still play the Brewers, but they also face each other twice, with three games in Chicago and four in St. Louis.

The Cubs only have six home games remaining starting Friday (they host the New York Mets on Thursday), the fewest of any of the contenders. Chicago also will play at Tampa Bay and home against Cincinnati.

St. Louis and Milwaukee will close the season with three games at Busch Stadium. Besides the two series against the Cubs, the Cardinals also play at Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

There's a lot of scenarios here: St. Louis could overtake Chicago with a pair of sweeps or be knocked out of contention, and Milwaukee hurt in the process. Or they could split and the Brewers get hot and gain ground.

Needing a lot of help from below-.500 teams is not a good path to the wild card, so keep your eye on the out-of-town scoreboard the next couple weeks on the Cubs and Cardinals.

Of course, Milwaukee needs to take care of business, too, and not falter against the Marlins, Pirates and Reds.

Any way you slice it, it should be a fun and interesting final 2 1/2 weeks.