First Quarter Baseball Season Breakdown: National League
It’s hard to imagine that we’re already a quarter of the way through the baseball season, but alas, here we are in mid-May with most teams having played 40 games. The season is still young and most teams (sorry Braves and Twins) have at least some hope of turning things around and making a run for the playoffs. Others have a steady hold on first place in their division, showing no signs of slowing down. Let’s take a look at each division – focusing primarily on one team – and see how the National League is shaping up to this point.
NL East Division:
Probably the most shocking start of this season comes out of this division in the Philadelphia Phillies. Not even the most optimistic diehards would have predicted that they would be tied for first place with the Nationals on May 18th, especially given the fact that they have the second fewest runs scored in all of baseball with 136 (outpacing only the Braves at 123 runs). Nonetheless, they are. They’re winning games with their pitching staff lead by starters Vincent Velasquez and Aaron Nola, and their closer Jeanmar Gomez. Hector Neris have proved to be a solid setup man thus far, sporting a 1.44 ERA and 11.88 K/9 in 23 appearances. The question is – how long can they keep this up? Surely they can’t go on to win 90 games and vie for a playoff spot without their offense being able to produce more than 3.3 runs per game. At some point, their bullpen is going to need to be bolstered, otherwise their arms will begin to drain down the stretch as Neris is on pace to appear in 91 games.
The Nationals and the Mets have both started off as expected with their pitching staffs producing the number two and three ERAs in baseball, respectively. They will likely be the two teams battling for the division come September. Miami has shown positive growth from last year and the players seem to enjoy playing for their new manager Don Mattingly, but the loss of Dee Gordon to suspension for PEDS at the top of the lineup will prove difficult to overcome. They are still a very young ball club that needs another year or two to mature.
As for the Braves, well…yeah…moving on.
Tim’s Take: Nationals go on to win the division. Mets will have to battle it out for the wildcard spot.
NL Central Division:
The talk all around baseball this year has been the hot start of The Chicago Cubs. Sitting at 17 games above .500 and a comfortable 6.5 game lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates, they have been dominant in pretty much every aspect of the game to begin the season. They are two runs shy of outscoring their opponents by double (216 RS vs. 109 RA), have the best team ERA at 2.69, and are 6 games ahead of where they were last year at this point (21-16). Jake Arrieta has not skipped a beat from where he finished last season, Jon Lester is looking like the ace that they paid $155 million for, and Jason Hammel (their no.5 starter) is off to the best start of his career. All three of them have an ERA under 2.00 and a WHIP under 1.2. That’s pretty impressive.
I’m not saying they’re going to win 118 games this year, though they currently are on pace to do just that, just simply highlighting how dominant their pitching has been to this point. They do have some tests coming up with their next four opponents who are all over .500: San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies, and The Los Angeles Dodgers. Let’s see if all of those ERAs are still intact after facing all of them.
Both the Pirates and the Cardinals have had potent offenses, but their pitching staffs have not been what they were in the past. The Cardinals usually post one of the best team ERAs in all of baseball, but so far this year they are outside the top third. If they are able to turn that around, their offense is strong enough that they could potentially give the Cubs a run for their money in the division, but it’s definitely a long shot. Neither the Brewers nor the Reds have shown much to be potential contenders.
Tim’s Take: Cubs will slow down a bit, but still win the division handily. Cardinals will emerge as runner up.
NL West Division:
According to most pundits, the Arizona Diamondbacks “won” the off-season, and came into the year with as much hype as anyone. Signing Zack Greinke to a $210 million contract, as well as picking up Shelby Miller from the Braves looked to give their starting rotation the boost it needed to help take them to the next level. Instead, both of them sit at the bottom of the ERA leaders for the team (Greinke at 5.08 and Miller at 6.94). Maybe the Dodgers were smart not to sign a 32-yr old pitcher coming off the best year of his career to a 6-yr $210 million deal after all? Granted, pitching at Dodgers Stadium is quite a different game than pitching at Chase Field, but no one saw this much of decline to begin the season for Greinke.
For Miller, while he has looked better in is past couple starts (he had his first quality start of the season against his former team on May 7th), he hasn’t been giving the team any innings to work with. In 8 starts this year he has pitched a total of 35 innings, fewer han 5 innings per start. It’s no wonder their bullpen has pitched the most innings of any in baseball by 9 innings, or one full game. Offensively their team has been performing very well with an overall average of .270, and OBP of .328. That’s the reason that they could still be a sleeper team in the NL West this year. If Greinke and Miller both shake off their slow starts, which they likely will to some degree, their offense is strong enough to help outweigh some of their pitching shortcomings.
The Giants currently hold first place by 1.5 games over both the Dodgers and the Colorado Rockies after winning six straight games. They seem to be hitting their stride, but if Jake Peavy and Matt Cain continue to implode every fourth and fifth day, it will be difficult to hold up. Clayton Kershaw is being Clayton Kershaw, and the Dodgers are beginning to see productive power from their young players in Joc Pederson, Corey Seager, and Trayce Thompson. Don’t be surprised if Thompson starts to see a lot more playing time over the slumping Yasiel Puig and Carl Crawford. Trevor Story has been a nice surprise for the Rockies, but they will likely taper off as they always do, and the Padres don’t have enough offense to take them places.
Tim’s Take: Dodgers will win the division (possibly some bias there). Giants will finish a close second and face off against the Mets for the wildcard play-in game.