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MLB Top-5: Pretenders or Contenders?

With the All Star break upon us, let’s take a look at the top-5 teams in baseball to this point (As of July 1): Are they pretenders or contenders?

Credit: Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

*Slash Line: (BA/OBP/Slugging)
**Stats through July 1, 2017

#5–Colorado Rockies

Led by manager Bud Black, the Colorado Rockies are a fascinating team. Coming in to the year, like every year, the question was whether or not the Rockies would get enough pitching to complement their strong offense. Halfway through the season the Rockies sit 48-34, and in third place, lurking behind the Dodgers and D-backs.

Colorado ranks in the top-10 of best offenses in all of baseball so far this season. As a team they are hitting .268 with 96 HR’s, and 409 RBI. Their home to road splits differ drastically. At home they are hitting .288 compared to just .248 on the road.

Will they be able to produce down the stretch on the road? It’s going to be tough in my opinion. But, their offense would be the reason, if they do end up making the playoffs. Offensively they are led by Charlie Blackmon (.313, 18 HR, 59 RBI), Nolan Arenado (.299, 15 HR, 63 RBI), and Mark Reynolds (.282, 19 HR, and 61 RBI).

On the other end of things, the Rockies pitching is ranked 18th in all of MLB, with an ERA of 4.47. This is the area of their team that I believe will ultimately lead to their postseason run coming up short. It’s hard to rely on your offense to lead you through the whole entire season.

They are led by Kyle Freeland (4.09 ERA), Tyler Chatwood (4.41), and Antonio Senzatela (4.58). The recent return of Jon Gray from the DL will boost the rotation, but is this pitching staff enough to lead the Rockies into the postseason? With the Dodgers and D-backs looking so good this year, I believe the Rockies will be the team left out. It’ll be an interesting race for the second wild card down the stretch in the National League.

Final verdict: Pretender

#4–Washington Nationals

In potentially the worst division in baseball, the Nationals have made it look easy so far this season, minus the fact they don’t have a reliable bullpen. Through 79 games, Washington’s BP ranks dead last in all of baseball, and have changed closers more than once to this point. The Bullpen ERA sits at 5.09, which is dead last in the league. Despite that fact, Nationals sit atop the NL East standings at 47-33.

That mark is good enough for a 7.5 game lead on second place Atlanta (38-43). On the other hand, the starting rotation is outstanding, led by Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez. The teams starting pitching ERA is third in all of baseball at 3.74.

Scherzer leads the way with a 2.06 ERA, followed by Gonzalez (2.77), and Strasburg (3.51). If the Nationals can go out and find some bullpen help, their offense will carry them into the playoffs where they will look to advance past the NLDS for the first time since 1981, when they were the Montreal Expos.

Offensively speaking, the Nationals rank third in all of baseball with a .276 average, 121 HR’s, and 435 RBI through 82 games. They are led by Daniel Murphy (.333/.389/.568), Ryan Zimmerman (.330/.373/.610), and Bryce Harper (.318/.425/.598). If the Nationals can sure up some bullpen issues, this should be the team that can finally break through into the NLCS behind Scherzer, Harper and company.

Being in the NL East will also be beneficial as they will play the likes of the Mets, Phillies and Marlins a lot the rest of the way.

Final verdict: Serious Contender if they make bullpen additions

#3–Arizona Diamondbacks

Nobody saw this type of season coming for the D-backs after a lackluster 69-93 season just a year ago. In a very quick turnaround, Arizona positions themselves in second place in the NL West with a record of 50-31. Biggest question is whether they can keep up this pace and make it to the playoffs for the first time since the 2011 season.

The Diamondbacks offense jumped out of the gate quickly, but has slowed down just a bit of late. Arizona is ranked 14th in all of baseball offensively. They are hitting .264, with 106 homers, and 408 RBI’s after 80 games played.

D-backs are led by perennial all star, Paul Goldschmidt. Goldschmidt is batting .318 with 16 HRs and 66 RBIs. His slash line is (.318/.436/.592). With A.J. Pollock being sidelined for much of the first half of the season, other players picked up the slack including Jake Lamb (18 HR’s/65 RBI), Brandon Drury (8HR’s/38 RBI), and David Peralta (.317 average/ 8 HR’s). Other significant role players have stepped up including Daniel Descalso, Nick Ahmed, and Chris Owings. It’s been a total team effort to this point of the season offensively.

Next, let’s take a look at their pitching. Zach Greinke continues to have a great bounce back year after a disappointing 2016 campaign. He has a record of 10-4, with an ERA of 3.05, and 124 strike outs in 109.1 innings. Greinke has gotten his deadly slider back this year and the results show.

Followed by him, is 25-year-old, Robbie Ray. Ray has been just as, if not more impressive with a 8-4 record, 3.04 ERA, and 128 K’s in 100 innings of work. Overall, the D-backs pitching staff ranks 2nd in all of baseball behind the fore-mentioned Dodgers. Their team ERA is 3.39 and have 760 strikeouts in 737 IP. Rounding out their rotation they have Taijuan Walker, Zach Godley and Patrick Corbin.

The bullpen is also solid with a 3.31 ERA in 276 innings of work. So, with the Dodgers all but certainly making the playoffs, will the D-backs have enough to get a wild card, or can they overtake LA?

Final Verdict: Leaning towards Contender

#2–Los Angeles Dodgers

The month of June certainly changed the season around for the Los Angeles Dodgers. They finished the month with a 21-7 record and have jumped out to a 3.5 game lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL West with a record of 54-28. The Dodgers also broke a franchise record with 50 HRs during the month. Previously held by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1953 with 49 long balls.

Through 83 games, this Dodgers offense is hitting .257, with 118 Home Runs and 406 RBIs, good enough for the 4th-best offense in baseball. They are led by phenom, Cody Bellinger, who has started his major league career with 24 HRs in 64 games.

Other players with huge contributions to this point of the year are SS Corey Seager (.299/.401/.511) in 75 games, 3B Justin Turner (.388/.473/.565) in 58 appearances, and 2B Chris Taylor who has 10 Home runs an 37 RBIs in 65 games. This offense will most likely slow down at some point after being on a tear for more than a month now, but the Dodgers have the pitching to be serious contenders in the fall.

The Dodgers, of course, are led by Clayton Kershaw. In 17 games, Kershaw, has a 12-2 record with a 2.32 ERA, and an astonishing 135 strike outs in 116.1 innings pitched. Dodgers have the best pitching in all of baseball to this point in large part because of Kershaw. He leads the way for a rotation including Brandon McCarthy, Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill and Alex Wood.

This gives the Dodgers plenty of options to choose a three-man rotation heading into the playoffs. Not to mention their untouchable closer, Kenley Jansen. Jansen’s unbelievable season continues as he boasts a 0.79 ERA, with 59 K’s in just 34 games. Behind late against the Dodgers, you have no chance.

Final Verdict – CONTENDER

#1–Houston Astros

With the way the Astros offense has looked all season, it seems their focus will be on solidifying their pitching staff heading into the second half of the season. Through 81 games the Astros offense is hitting .283, with 128 home runs and 424 RBIs. This pace will most likely regress some in the second half of the year, but the Astros have given themselves a nice 13.5 game cushion on the second place Angels in the AL West with a 54-27 record.

Top to bottom they have the best lineup in all of baseball, and there are no easy outs for pitchers. Astros are led by arguably the best lead off hitter in all of baseball, George Springer. His slash line thru 75 games this season is (.289/.367/.581).

Other All-Stars from this team include second baseman Jose Altuve (.330/.401/.528) and SS Carlos Correa. (.308/.387/.533) It’s hard to believe that this lineup will struggle all at the same time during any point the remainder of the season. They have a knack for hitting big home run after home run, leading the league with 128 long balls.

Next, we take a look at the pitching staff. With Dallas Keuchel currently on the DL (9-0, 1.67 ERA), Lance McCullers and Mike Fiers are leading the way for Houston. McCullers is 7-1 with a 2.69 ERA through 15 games started. In 87 IP he has struck out 103 batters. Fiers, isn’t far behind with a 3.98 ERA, but pitches to contact a bit more with 74 strike outs in 83.2 innings. If these two can hold down the rotation until Keuchel returns, there’s no reason for concern as the team has a pitching staff ERA of 3.95 which currently ranks 6th in all of baseball.

The only question mark is the bullpen (4.14 ERA), which they will look to sure up with potential moves prior to the deadline. A postseason rotation of McCullers, Keuchel and Fiers would be formidable with this potent offense that shows no signs of slowing down come October.

Final verdict – CONTENDER

Other teams to watch out for in the second half of the season include the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Milwaukee Brewers, Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs.

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