We're coming up on June and while there will be changes in the standings, we're at a point where we're getting closer to having a good idea which teams are contenders and which will be doing a little selling come July. As we glance at the AL teams looking like contenders, it's pretty closely aligned with how we expected coming into the season. Over on the NL side, we see some upstart teams looking to break through expectations and make the playoffs.
How real are they? Let's examine.
They've played 25 games on the road compared to 20 at home, and have won 17 of those road games. They've played a relatively difficult schedule, fared well for the most part against good teams, and have a very good +65 run differential (second in the NL to the Cubs). Behind the likes of Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis and Ronald Acuna, the offense has been one of the best in baseball. The bullpen has been good while young arms like Sean Newcomb and Mike Foltynewicz are looking great and Julio Teheran is pitching back to form.
Basically, everything has been great ...
... Almost too great. It feels like there's some evening out to come. Markakis is 34. He didn't just all of a sudden morph into Ted Williams. Some of the youngsters will go through rough patches. It happens during the course of 162.
I think the Braves will eventually need to trade for help, possibly in the rotation, bullpen (you can never have enough), third base and/or catcher.
I also think they have enough talent to overcome any of the upcoming speed bumps and stay in contention throughout the year. I really like this team. They have staying power, even if it won't be so rosy all the way through.
It makes sense, being in the same division, but the Phillies have also played a very tough schedule to this point. The run differential is very good, though +35 isn't nearly as tasty as the Braves.
Contrasting from the Braves, though, everything hasn't really gone as great as it could have. Carlos Santana should hit better. Rhys Hoskins is capable of picking up the power. Aaron Altherr and Scott Kingery are also capable of playing better. Odubel Herrera likely needs to come back to Earth a little, but others getting better will mitigate that.
In a way, it's funny to say this, but given that the Phillies have so many areas where their talent level should be performing better, it actually gives me more optimism than the Braves. I really like this team. They have staying power.
Some would say I have been hard on the Brewers for their early getting fat on terrible teams. I'd say I was simply keeping it real. They've still gone 14-1 against the Reds, Royals, Marlins and Padres. Before this last road trip, they were 7-15 against everyone else. It would have been folly to ignore how much of the record was window dressing. They simply had to prove they could start beating decent competition or we'd know they were a fraud.
Then they went into Colorado and took three of four. Then they went into Arizona and took two of three. Then they went into Minnesota and took two of three.
I still think the Brewers need serious help in their rotation, especially amid all the injuries, and the offense needs to be a lot more consistent. I still think the Cubs are going to win the division with relative ease come late September. I do think the Brewers will hang around in the wild-card mix, though, and that exceptional bullpen is a big reason why. It's not just Josh Hader (but seriously, watch him pitch sometime if you can), either.
I think we can all agree we massively overreacted to the Pirates dealing Andrew McCutchen (just one year away from free agency and past his prime) and Gerrit Cole (who really only had one very good season in Pittsburgh) this past offseason.
Still, the Pirates have absolutely feasted on weak competition, going 14-3 against the White Sox, Reds, Tigers and Marlins. It's good to beat up on those teams and playing the AL Central in interleague play is a big bonus for the NL Central teams, but that doesn't mean this kind of run is sustainable.
Francisco Cervelli, Colin Moran and Corey Dickerson (it's already started to level off, too) are playing above their heads. Trevor Williams and several members of the bullpen are pitching over their heads, too.
We might have already seen the beginning of the regression, with the Pirates dropping three of four to the Padres at home this past weekend.
I don't think the Pirates will be bad. They finished last season with 75 wins and maybe they top that this year. I don't think they'll stay above .500 over the long haul, though, so they aren't going to contend. That's my ruling as of May 21, that is. I could be wrong. It happens!
|Encouraging outing from Sonny Gray last time out, though it was against the Royals so maybe it doesn't count.||--||99-63|
|Very encouraging outing from David Price last time out, though it was against the Orioles so maybe it doesn't count.||--||78-84|
|I have no doubt that this front office is confident in itself and knew what it was doing in acquiring Charlie Morton. Still, don't you think in their most honest moment they'd start laughing about what a 34-year-old Morton is doing right now? Even funnier? He's their third-best starter. Ridiculous.||--||106-56|
|They're real, and they're spectacular.||4||101-61|
|Kris Bryant is actually underrated. Seriously. He's hitting .305/.427/.583 and has trimmed his strikeouts to the point that he's one of the better contact hitters out there. He's also only 26, has an MVP, a ring, and people saying he's not a superstar.||2||74-88|
|They're real, and they're close to spectacular.||3||87-75|
|They're real, and they are pretty, pretty, prettaaaay good.||3||86-76|
|In the wake of the Cano news, time for Guillermo Heredia to step up. He hit .400/.526/.600 last week. That's a start.||7||90-72|
|Marcell Ozuna and Dexter Fowler being this bad is puzzling.||2||93-69|
|What a weird week. No actual games until Saturday and then they lose three to the previously last-place Dodgers.||6||55-107|
|They needed the golden arm of Shohei Ohtani to avoid a sweep to the Rays.||5||73-89|
|Wins in six of seven, including taking a series from the Red Sox? Sneaky Sleeper indeed!||6||60-102|
|I noted coming into the season that the offense was a concern. To this point, the Rockies are ninth in the NL in runs, 12th in average, 12th in OBP and ninth in slugging despite playing home games in a hitter's haven.||1||68-94|
|After three games in Cincy, the Pirates only play the Cardinals, Cubs, Dodgers and Diamondbacks through June 13. Rough.||3||62-100|
|The only series they've won in the last month have come against the Rangers and Mariners.||2||92-70|
|The Mets were 3-10 in May before sweeping the Diamondbacks. Coincidence or turnaround?||3||101-61|
|The incredibly underrated Brandon Belt is hitting .313/.413/.594 with 11 homers and 29 RBI.||--||81-81|
|They're going to win the NL West now. As much as went wrong for the Dodgers before this last week, that much shifted in just a week's time. Still, we can't go nuts in the rankings after the four wins because before that was a six-game losing streak against the Reds and Marlins.||2||111-51|
|This is the best team of all-time to start a reliever on consecutive days. It's true. It's damn true.||6||86-76|
|Since a 12-5 start, the Blue Jays have gone 10-20. Only the White Sox (9-19) have been worse and that's only by a half game.||5||92-70|
|They could stand to see Brian Dozier wake up from his early-season slumber.||5||78-84|
|Christian Villanueva is going homer crazy again, with three in his last four. That's 12 on the season, only trailing Bryce Harper and Ozzie Albies.||--||89-73|
|They're only three games out. This is just hilarious to me.||2||66-96|
|The rotation ERA is 5.60 and a serious concern in terms of the rebuild, given Luis Castillo not building on last year and the health issues of a few others.||2||62-100|
|Kevin Gausman had been dealing (2.30 ERA in his previous seven starts) before his last outing (6 ER in 4.2 IP). It was against the Red Sox, so maybe we'll give him a pass.||1||83-79|
|Rougned Odor is hitting .169/.236/.231 for a 26 OPS+ this season. I've long since told everyone he's not worthy of regular playing time at the big-league level. At some point, I can't help you anymore.||3||68-94|
|Did you know Starlin Castro has 1,331 hits at age 28? Pete Rose had 1,327 hits through his age-28 season.||--||69-93|
|The White Sox have won three of four! Here they come!||1||81-81|
|The team leader in WAR is Jakob Junis. That pretty well sums it up.||1||65-97|