By Blake Tarrants – Last Word On Baseball
April of 2017 wraps up on Sunday. Some teams have put themselves in an early position to dream big, some have digging to do, and some are stuck in the middle. Here is a recap of the National League standings by division as April concludes. There will also be a look at one big surprise and one disappointment.
National League April Review: Nats Bats, Giant Disappointment Highlight April in NL
National League Standings
The East has been dominated in the nation’s capital as the Washington Nationals have come out of the gates on fire this season to lead the division early. Bryce Harper appears to have returned to his MVP form of 2015, and this season may even be better. Harper’s slash line says it all .386/.500/.750.
Amazingly, Harper’s 1.250 OPS isn’t even the best on the team. That is because first baseman Ryan Zimmerman has gone completely nuts, hitting a ridiculous .410 with an OPS (1.347) that is good for second in the majors.
Second baseman Daniel Murphy continues to be a force at the top of Washington’s lineup, leading the team with 101 at bats. His three-year, $36 million deal from two off-seasons ago looks like one of the biggest steals in recent memory. He will likely join Harper as one of the big-ticket free agents in the monster class of 2018-2019.
Elsewhere in the division, the New York Mets, expected to be right up there with Washington this year, are off to a tough start. The slow start can mostly be attributed to injuries to key players. Lucas Duda, Yoenis Cespedes, and Noah Syndergaard have all faced injuries already. At just 10-13, they sit five and a half games back of Washington and are in fourth place in the division. Before clinching a series in D.C. with two straight wins Friday and Saturday, the Mets had won just one of their previous eight games and need to right the ship and get their players healthy pronto.
The Phillies and Marlins are off to surprisingly good starts, with two and one game leads on New York, respectively. However, neither team has the talent of the Nationals or Mets, and will likely have a tough time remaining competitive in what figures to be a top-heavy NL East.
The Cubs have not gotten off to the blazing start some may have expected, but Chicago still holds a respectable 13-10 record to lead the division. Most of the Cubs’ key contributors are playing well, including cornerstones Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, both of whom rank in the top 30 in OPS in the NL. If they can take Sunday’s rubber match against Boston, they will have finished April on a positive note.
The Cardinals have rebounded from a dreadful start and now sit just above .500 with a 12-11 record and just one game back of Chicago. They still need to improve their pitching and cut down on some of the uncharacteristic fundamental errors that have plagued them early on. The alarm bells should at least be quieted somewhat as they look to challenge their arch rivals for the division crown.
None of the rest of the Central looks good enough to keep up with the top, but you can’t help but notice the offensive surge from the Brewers. This is especially true of first baseman Eric Thames who has been an incredible international signing by Milwaukee. Signed to a three-year deal after spending time in Korea, Thames has taken baseball by storm, hitting .364 with 11 homers and an MLB-best 1.354 OPS. The Brewers’ pitching staff is still not there, though, and they look to be a couple of years away from contention, as do the Reds.
The NL West is where the drama has been to start the season. The Rockies and D-backs, both of whom have talented offenses but massive questions on the pitching side, have gotten off to very nice starts. On the other hand, the ever-present Giants and Dodgers, with deep pockets and plenty of prime-time experience, have not. The Giants sit at 9-15 and are just a half game out of last place and six back of division-leading Colorado. Madison Bumgarner has officially been ruled out until July, so the bad news keeps coming in for San Francisco.
The West will certainly be the division most up-for-grabs in the NL this year with the Dodgers sitting at .500 with a 12-12 record. The Giants will never be out of it until the math says so, and the D-backs and Rockies are surging. It is anyone’s guess who will take the crown, but the overall strength of the division should set up the other teams for a shot at a wild card.
Biggest Surprise: Rockies
You could make a case for either of the NL West leaders, but the Rockies’ start is even more surprising considering their lack of any proven pitching talent and the loss of first baseman Ian Desmond in Spring Training. Their offense, anchored by third baseman Nolan Arenado’s 1.037 OPS is dangerous against anybody, and their rotation has been surprisingly effective. Throw in new closer Greg Holland and this team may just be here to stay at the top.
Biggest Disappointment: Giants
The even-year magic did not show up in 2016, and this year has been even less kind to the boys from the bay. Bumgarner is just the tip of the iceberg. Reliever Will Smith, catcher Buster Posey, outfielders Jarrett Parker and Hunter Pence, and now shortstop Brandon Crawford have all spent various amounts of time on the DL. Big-money closer Mark Melancon has been there when needed, but the rest of the team just hasn’t been good enough to make the contract worthwhile so far. In short, the Giants face an uphill battle with the health of their key players as they try to stay competitive in what has suddenly become anyone’s division.