With roughly 80 games completed and the All Star game approaching it is safe to say which teams will not make a pennant run but difficult to see whether the current group of contenders can hold their lead from a large group of teams still vying for contention. Grading groupings are based on performance relative to the expectations from previous years as well as offseason moves made.
The Marlins and Astros both have 50 losses so far and have to be considered development squads at this point, although there are plenty of All Star caliber players putting up decent numbers like Stanton and Altuve their respective franchises have created a culture of losing. Still though they have World Series appearances in the last 10 years, so there is always next year.
Looking at this roster and some of the potential with Segura, Aoki and Gomez you would think that the Brew crew would be better than 33-49. Ryan Braun remains on the DL as Major League Baseball skirts around the Biogenesis scandal. Perhaps the Brewers are just a victim of an incredibly competitive division, but their pitching staff is lacking and no new talent seems to be breaking through.
Chicago White Sox
With a 33-47 record there seems to be a decline from their run last year when they went 85-77. Watching the infield drop a popped fly to bring in a game tying run was laughably bad although they did end up beating the Mets in extra innings. There are pieces there but it seems like the Royals and Twins have more fight and more upside as the year progresses. Chris Sale is a top tier pitcher, and there are plenty of power hitters in the lineup but they will need to play at a very high level to make a run in a crowded American League.
Although they are one game above .500 the Washington Nationals are graded tougher because of their MLB best record in baseball last year. As a team with so many franchise pieces in place there has been no run made at the Braves for the lead up to this point. Bryce Harper will make a splash, but will the aggressive, all out effort get in the way of his health? Stephen Strasburg has not gotten the run support he needs to make a CY Young run and his health always seems to be an issue.
San Francisco Giants
After their second championship run there is little talk about the Giants, and with the NL West being as close at is there is no need to panic. Starting pitching continues to be an issue, guys like Zito and Lincecum seem to have had better days. Still the Giants are an elite franchise with a yearly MVP candidate in Buster Posey who is on pace for 25 HR and 100 RBI again. Last year the Giants added Hunter Pence and Marco Scutaro who are staples in the lineup, but their dynasty run will be dependent on whether the starting pitching can hold up.
New York Yankees
There isn’t panic in the Bronx quite yet, and Derek Jeter will hope to bring a sense of calm once he returns. Injuries aside, the Yankees are graded on a tougher scale than any other team. Starting pitching seems to be mediocre, but there is so much experience that you cannot count them out, especially with Rivera. The big question is whether Alex Rodriguez has anything left in the tank. Many fans forget that his play got them the ring in 2009 – their third base production so far has been horrendous. Girardi is not afraid to make aggressive moves like bringing in Zoilo Almonte to replace the slumping Vernon Wells and sticking with the scrappy Jayson Nix at infield. A blockbuster trade could help secure a playoff birth, especially with Mark Texeira out for the year.
New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies
Both the Mets and Phillies are outside contenders for the NL East with an even less likely shot at a wild card. There have been incredibly bright spots with Matt Harvey and Domonic Brown. Expectations have been on the decline for the past few years, so their ability to hover around .500 is neither impressive or surprising.
Chicago Cubs and Seattle Mariners
The starting pitching for the Cubs and Mariners is much better than their record indicates, and even with a few power hitters in each lineup they are still a long shot at contention. With these franchises history this is not a surprise, but Iwakuma, Hernandez, Travis Wood, and Jeff Samardzija are pitching at an All Star level. There just seems to be inherent deficiencies keeping these clubs from actually competing on a yearly basis.
Anaheim Angels, Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins
Grouping the much hyped Angels with the Royals and Twins makes sense as these squads have performed at a completely average level thus far. The Angels have played well recently as they clawed their way to a 40-43 record, but starting pitching continues to be a concern. The Royals have made a run and turned a few heads, but with 38-42 there is plenty of room for improvement. The Twins get a C for being under 10 games behind in the division, but there just isn’t much to be excited about in the short term.
Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Dodgers
These two last place teams are fighting for contention in the hardest divisions in baseball. Last offseason these teams made headlines with huge acquisitions but their last place divisional spot is proving the acquisitions to be just hype. The positive is the success they had in June, and their divisions are the most competitive as a result. Reyes and Ramirez are back in the infield, and Adam Lind and Yasiel Puig are putting up All Star numbers.
San Diego Padres, Detroit Tigers
The Tigers have a Hall of Fame roster, with Max Scherzer being their ace at 12-0 with 131 strike outs. Relief and closing pitching are potential issues for both teams, but the Padres have been a bigger surprise than the Tigers streaky play. San Diego continues to throw young players into the mix. Logan Forsynth, Everth Cabrera and even Kyle Blanks have been fantasy sleepers this entire season. Padres fans can be hopeful that their starting rotation is solidified, maybe not as great as the Tigers though who lead the league with 9.22 K/9. But Tigers fans can’t help but be a little disappointed that even with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder they remain a half game behind the Cleveland Indians and only five games ahead of the Royals.
Colorado Rockies, Cincinnati Reds
There have been many bright spots for the Reds and Rockies, last night Michael Cuddyer’s 27 game hitting streak ended and Homer Bailey thew his second career no hitter. Despite all the hype in their respective divisions, the Rockies and Reds have many upper tier pitchers going under the radar starting pitchers like Mike Leake and Jorge De La Rosa who can keep games close. The Reds have the lowest team WHIP at 1.18. If their divisional competition falls off, look for the Reds and Rockies to make a run.
Tampa Bay Rays, Arizona Diamondbacks
The 1998 expansion teams have been very successful this year at times, Tyler Corbin, Matt Moore and David Price are elite pitching talents, and both teams have talent coming up in the works. Aaron Hill was one of last year’s biggest surprises and has shown immediate impact. Wil Meyers as well, after finally getting called up and hitting home runs right away. There are definitely ongoing issues at closer, but Rodney seems to be fearless and the Diamondbacks have an experienced Putz returning later this year.
Atlanta Braves, Oakland Athletics, Cleveland Indians
These three teams are current divisional leaders and the expectations are completely different coming into this season. The Braves have the largest lead after starting off incredibly hot. Their starting pitching has not been the reason, nor has Jason Heyward or B.J. Upton. They continue to have a nice cushion in the NL East and the competition level could fall off completely if the Mets and Phillies collapse. After last year’s success, the Athletics have maintained the same level of play. The Indians on the other hand are beyond what anything would have thought giving Terry Francona manager of the year through the halfway point. The Athletics and Indians have talent, but probably not as big as the Rangers and Tigers and their deeper payrolls.
Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers
Coming off disastrous seasons the Red Sox and Rangers have gone above and beyond to overcome those failures. Having new, young talent certainly helps. Jose Iglesias and Leonys Martin are Cuban phenoms that nobody is talking about and providing immediate impact at the bottom of the lineup. The Rangers have overcome plenty of pitching injuries but have the incredibly consistent Joe Nathan at closer. The Red Sox on the other hand have had good health and consistent performance from starting pitchers John Lackey and Jon Lester but are vulnerable at closer. The big hitters like David Ortiz and Adrian Beltre give these teams the edge over their divisional counterparts going into September.
Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals
Two teams with opposite recent history and expectations are holding the best winning percentage in the National League. The similarities this year are simple: great pitching and clutch hitting. Their success at the mound is due to calling up the right talent at the right time. Shelby Miller stood out early for the Cardinals and Gerrit Cole has been able to win right away. A.J. Burnett and Adam Wainwright are the aces, and Jeff Locke and Lance Lynn have been excellent. Yadier Molina and Russell Martin are great catchers and leaders, something that statistics do not necessarily reflect. The closers have been remarkably stable as well in their first full year in the role. The only difference between these teams is that most expect the Cardinals to be there in September, but the Pirates attempt to break a 20 year playoff drought continues to be one of the best baseball stories of the year.