An Early Look at The Best Divisional Races Part 1: The Fun Ones

Although its early in the season, we’ve definitely seen some surprise teams come forward as divisional front-runners. Most notably the Braves, who have the best record in the NL, but also the Phillies and Pirates have come on with a strong start to the season. To go along with this, we see teams like the Dodgers and the Nats get out to slow starts with some ground to make up. Albeit, I know its early and there is a lot of season left, so I’m guessing this blog would be completely different in two months. But that’s for then, and here’s for now:

(Note: After writing a few of these I realized this was gonna be a marathon blog so I decided to break it up into two parts.)

1. NL East

This has been the most surprising division so far, as many people probably had the Nats taking it in their preseason predictions. Personally, I thought they would start to regress with the Phillies coming on, but I don’t know if anyone saw the Braves coming out and being this hot.

The Braves are led by the insurgence of the lovable Ozzie Albies, as well as a comeback season from savvy veteran Nick Markakis and continued great play out of Freddie Freeman. They lead in NL in average, OBP, slugging, and runs, and have the second least strikeouts. They also are the fastest and youngest team in the MLB. Their pitching has been better than expected, led by Julio Teheran and up-and-comer Sean Newcomb, as well as relievers Dan Winkler and Shane Carle who have ERAs of 0.98 and 0.75, respectively. With a young team, it will be interesting to see if they are able to keep up this success or if we’ll see them start to regress towards the mean.

Next, we have the Phillies. The Phillies have been led by Aaron Nola who’s had an outstanding season thus far and I wrote about earlier today here. Him, along with offseason Jake Arrieta make a great 1-2 punch who currently are also 1-2 in pitchers with the least hard contact made against them. This fits into Philly’s model of success this year, their keeping balls in the ballpark and not letting the other team score a lot of runs, which usually works out okay. Along with them, Odubel Herrara is hitting an insane .360/.430/.561. He along with fellow youngins Maikel Franco and Rhys Hopkins are leading their pffensive charge. Like the Braves, the Phillies are young, but with Nola and Arrieta leading the way, if they can get Velasquez to live up to potential and Eickhoff to pitch well coming off the DL this team could definitely be a force to be reckoned with.

Next we have the Nats and the Mets. The Mets got off to hot start and then Nats did not, but they have since flipped at the Nats have gone on a 13-2 run in their last 15 to push back into third place. The Mets, meanwhile, started 11-1 and are 9-17 since. They have not won two games in a row since April 13th. My guess is that the Nats will continue to stay hot, they’ve shown that they are a playoff contender in the past and will continue to be. This is why I think this will be the most fun race to watch, as the Nats continue to get better and better and we’ll see how the Braves and Phillies respond.

2. NL Central

The NL Central was a lot of fun last year with the resurgence of the Brewers as a contender to go along with the age-old Cards-Cubs rivalry. This year, the pesky Pirates have decided to throw their hats in the ring. Their in first place this far, but not by much as only 1.5 games separate them and the fourth place Cubs.

The Pirates have been red-hot so far. Among NL teams, they are currently first in strikeouts, second in average, runs, and OBP, and third in slugging.  However, their pitching has been sparse, as only Trevor Williams has a sub-3 ERA among their starters. Although they’re in first, I definitely see this team starting to regress as the dog days of Summer start to kick in and cool down the bats a little bit.

Next, we have the Brewers who have built on their near playoff run last year with another good start to the season. They added a few pieces this offseason most notable Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich, who are both having good seasons to start. Much like the Pirates, pitching could be the downfall as none of their starters have sub-3 ERAs and they are also plagued with injuries as Wade Miley, Chase Anderson, and Zach Davies all currently sit on the DL. However, they have been bolstered by a strong bullpen performance as Matt Albies, Jim Jeffress, and Josh Hader all boast sub-2 ERAs.

Sitting in third is the Cardinals. The Cardinals lost a key piece in Yadier Molina who is expected to be out 4 weeks after taking an errant foul tip to the groin. The Cards have relied a little on the long ball, hitting the 4th most homers in the NL, but mostly its been the domination of their pitching staff with the second best ERA in the NL and letting up the least amount of homers. Carlos Martinez leads the crew, with Michael Wacha and Luke Weaver having pretty good seasons and Jack Flaherty having a few big spot starts. But their most important guy so far has been up-and-comer Miles Mikolas, who currently boasts a 5-0 record with 2.51 ERA and a 0.964 WHIP. Mikolas looks like he could be their next ace, and they need someone if they want to compete in this division.

Lastly we have the Cubs sitting in fourth place. Obviously the Cubs are the most dangerous team of this bunch, but as we’ve seen by the Nationals and Dodgers performance so far there could be a changing of the guard in the NL. Joe Maddon is going through his early season fucking with everything and anything before they will settle into a groove in mid to late June. The Cubs have been hitting, tied for second with the Pirates in runs, second in OBP, third in slugging, and fourth in average. They continue to have one of the strongest line-ups in the MLB, however thus far, their pitching has been lacking. Prized free agent Yu Darvish and Jose Quintana both have ERAs over 5, Chatwood has a BB/9 of 7.6, and Hendricks and Lester have been fine. Luckily, the bullpen has picked up the slack with Morrow, Strop, Edwards Jr, Cishek, and Duensing all out to hot starts. If their starters can pitch like the best in the MLB rotation they were supposed to be, I don’t see the Cubs losing this division.

Between the NL East and Central, it looks like we’ll have the Braves, Nats, Phils, Pirates, Brewers, Cards, and Cubs fighting for 4 playoffs spots. Should be fun.

3. AL East

The AL East doesn’t have a lot of depth, but boy do they have some HEAVYWEIGHTS at the top. The Yanks currently own the best record in baseball and are a scorching 20-3 in their last 23. Meanwhile the Red Sox started the season 17-2 and now sit one game behind the Yankees with the second best record in baseball. Obviously the Yankees have Judge, Stanton, Severino, Chapman, Betances, Didi; the Red Sox have Mookie (who has been kicking ass and taking names all season), JD Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, Benintendi, Devers, and Chris fucking Sale. Every single Yanks-Sox game will be must watch this year, and I pray to god that we see Sale-Severino as many times as possible. This definitely feels like its going to be close all year and it has all the makings of an Yanks-Red Sox ALCS which would just be incredible.

 

That’s all for today, I’ll be back tomorrow with the other three divisional races.

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