Back in the middle of spring training, the Atlanta Braves were the overwhelming favorites in the NL East. As of March 16, the Braves were -340 to win the division with the Phillies at +350. The only division with a heavier favorite was the NL West with the Dodgers

As we hit the middle of May, just about one-quarter of the way through the season, the Braves are not in first place. Sitting atop the NL East are the Phillies, though it's only two games. The Phillies actually have the best record in all of baseball with the Braves right in the rearview mirror. 

I strongly believe the Phillies have staying power here. They've been slow starters each of the past two seasons before hitting their stride. Last year through 41 games, they were 20-21. In 2022, they were 19-22. We know where they ended up in those seasons, so to give themselves so much better a start provides hope that they can hang with the mighty Braves all year. 

It's possible in thinking about the Phillies to have the powerful offense come to mind first, but their rotation this season has an argument as the best in baseball. It's not quite as top heavy as in the past two years. Zack Wheeler -- Sunday's stinker against the lowly Marlins notwithstanding -- and Aaron Nola are good, but Ranger Suárez has thrown like an ace and Cristopher Sánchez is very good. Spencer Turnbull was even outstanding before Taijuan Walker's return saw him move to the bullpen.

On the Braves' end, maybe the biggest selling point is the issues they've already dealt with. Ace Spencer Strider is done for the season while the offense has been disappointing, compared to last year and the expectations for this season. Matt Olson, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Austin Riley in particular struggled in the early going. While we can expect a downturn from Marcell Ozuna, no one else is really overachieving. They won't get Strider back, but Max Fried is looking better and Chris Sale resembles his old self. The rest of the rotation has time to get settled. 

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And through all that, the Braves are still only two games off the best record in baseball. That's a pretty good sign that they'll end up at the top again, right? 

The Phillies just don't seem like they're going to go away, though. 

The odds have come closer together. The Braves are now -240 to win the division while the Phillies are +165. That's quite a move compared to preseason odds when 75% of the season remains. SportsLine projections have the Braves and Phillies both winning exactly 100 games. The Phillies win the division 50.3% of simulations with the Braves taking it in 49.3% of the time.

What looked to be the fifth-most competitive division out of six entering the season instead looks like it might really go down to the wire with two teams flirting with 100 wins. As I love to say here, that's all kinds of fun. 

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As for the Power Rankings, you won't be surprised to see the Phillies and Braves very close to the top here ... 

Biggest Movers
Rk Teams Chg Rcrd
1 51-26
The Phillies have now won 20 of their last 25 games. The strength of schedule isn't the best, but winning games at this high of a clip against any MLB competition is amazing.
1 49-28
Craig Kimbrel has melted down several times in the last three weeks and the Orioles would be the perfect landing spot for Mason Miller. The question is, will Mike Elias part with the gigantic package the A's would need in order to move Miller? My hunch is no, but my hope is yes.
-- 48-31
The Dodgers have won 14 of 16 before dropping a series to the Padres. They've gone 0-2-1 in three series against the San Diegans this season.
-- 43-32
I think my biggest concern would be if they needed rotation help in July, because the farm system is pretty depleted at this point, making it very difficult to swing a trade for a needle-moving starting pitcher.
1 52-28
Aaron Judge looks like his old self again and that means most fearsome 2-3 hitter duo in baseball belongs to the Yankees (at least until Freddie Freeman starts homering much more frequently).
5 43-35
This is just an absolutely monster run from the Twins. Their extended hot streak is now a 17-3 record in the last three weeks.
5 42-37
It would be easy, given recent history, to only see the Guardians and Twins as legit AL Central contenders, but the Royals are right there (tied with the Twins, a half-game back). Also, how about the season Seth Lugo is putting together. After dominating on Sunday with 12 strikeouts in eight innings, he has a 1.66 ERA and 0.66 WHIP.
3 49-26
Last week I said the Guardians had a fun week on tap, with an opportunity to show the Tigers who is boss (they won two of three) and to bank easy wins against the White Sox. They lost three of four to the last-place Sox. About four weeks ago, I said the offense was bound to slow down and a legion of Cleveland fans told me I was stupid. It has slowed down. Shrug.
2 37-41
Starter ERA: 3.22 (5th in MLB). Bullpen ERA: 4.58 (24th).
2 45-33
Christian Yelich is back from injury and killing the ball again. He's now hitting .364/.435/.691 through 15 games this season.
4 41-41
The Padres have won eight of 11 with series wins in Arizona, Chicago (North side) and against the Dodgers. Quite a nice run. They need to sweep the Road Rockies now.
3 45-35
After finishing April with 11 wins in their last 14 games, they started May with six losses in their first 10 games. Same ol' inconsistent M's, huh?
3 37-40
How in the world did this offense go into Coors Field and only score six runs... in three games combined? That's baseball for you!
Red Sox
1 42-36
Jarren Duran is a throwback leadoff man. He only has one home run, but nine doubles, six triples and nine steals. I'm generally a huge fan of home run-swatting leadoff men, but variety is fun, too.
1 36-41
Spencer Torkelson finally homered! He hit his first of the year on Sunday. If they want to hang with the Guardians, Twins and Royals, they'll need him to do this a lot more.
-- 38-40
It feels like big upcoming stretch for the Rays with the chance to establish themselves as the third-best team in the AL East -- which should mean a playoff team this season. They get four games in Boston, three in Toronto and then three more against the Red Sox at home.
1 37-39
Prospect Christian Scott has looked mostly very good through two starts, including an incredibly tough assignment in the Braves. Very promising.
1 38-39
Fun week on tap for the Nats: They've got three against the White Sox (a chance to sweep a bad team!) and then three in Philadelphia (chance to show their ability to stand toe-to-toe against a titan!).
6 38-40
The sweep in Cincy was at least slightly encouraging. We've also seen some signs of life from Corbin Carroll.
2 36-42
After another big game on Sunday, LaMonte Wade Jr. is hitting .340 with a .480 OBP this season. Becoming an All-Star for the first time at age 30 would be a nice story.
Blue Jays
1 35-42
The Blue Jays have gone 0-5-1 in their last six series.
1 29-51
They've lost six of eight since climbing to .500, but it was a fun run while it lasted.
-- 37-40
The stuff was there for Paul Skenes in his debut and it was ridiculous. He'll need to improve his command and work deeper to games, but I'm willing to bet he was all over the place due simply to first-start nerves on Saturday.
2 38-40
I have repeated the 2018 Dodgers starting 16-26 and 2019 Nationals starting 19-31 many times when discussing these Astros. They don't have a bunch more time before getting deeper in the season than those Nats before turning it around, but the top teams in the AL West aren't making it tough on the 'Stros. They are only 6.5 games out. They'd be at least nine out in any other division.
8 36-41
The Reds have now lost 10 of their last 11 games. I suppose if there's a silver lining, it's that they were eight games under .500 through May 25 last year and got to first place less than a month later. That is to say, they can rally around a "we've done this before" message in the clubhouse.
2 39-37
Perhaps a glimmer of hope with the comeback win on Sunday, especially with Paul Goldschmidt having a big game. Still, it's gotten pretty bad and the Willson Contreras broken arm this past week was a crushing blow.
-- 30-46
Is *this* finally the time Jo Adell can stick? It's only been 105 plate appearances, but he's got seven homers, seven steals and a very good OPS. He's still only in his age-25 season.
White Sox
1 21-58
They've gone 9-7 since that 3-22 start!
1 27-51
The Rockies had not won back-to-back games all season through May 8. They've now won four straight. Baseball!
2 27-50
Everyone from their once-promising rotation is either hurt, has a 5+ ERA or both. That would include Braxton Garrett, Sandy Alcantara, Trevor Rogers, Jesús Luzardo, Edward Cabrera and Eury Pérez.