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'Contender or Pretender' for All 30 MLB Teams at the One-Quarter Mark

Benjamin KleinContributor IIIMay 17, 2013

'Contender or Pretender' for All 30 MLB Teams at the One-Quarter Mark

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    A quarter of the 2013 Major League Baseball season is in the books, and the contenders are already starting to break away from the pretenders.

    Other teams, mind you, have played horribly to start the year, and their playoff hopes are basically down the drain—marring an incredible turnaround in the remainder of the season.

    Nonetheless, there are certainly more teams that are still in the hunt than I would’ve expected. Parity is a term that should be used lightly in this situation, but many clubs are only a game or two apart from each other in the standings.

    Just because a team has played well thus far, though, doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be able to play at a high level going forward, and vice versa for a couple of the teams that are only a handful of games out of first place.

    So let’s take a look at which teams are the real deal and which ones are posers while also weeding out who is on the brink of being a contender as well as who is already out of the race.

     

    *All statistics in this article were obtained via FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. All contract information was obtained via Cot’s Contracts. All injury information was obtained via Baseball Prospectus

Baltimore Orioles: Contender

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    The best thing about the Orioles is that they remain in the playoff hunt—although there’s still plenty of time left—and they don’t really have a strong No. 1 starting pitcher. Wei-Yin Chen is a fine pitcher (3-3, 3.04 ERA), but he’s not an ace, and he is currently on the disabled list with a strained oblique.

    Baltimore has the 16th best pitching staff in baseball, according to FanGraphs, but it certainly won’t be easy making it into the postseason with guys like Freddy Garcia in the starting rotation. A trade toward the July 31 deadline would make a ton of sense for the Orioles, and I would expect them to pull the trigger on one.

    The Orioles’ offense has really carried the team to where it is now. Manny Machado has been on fire this season, hitting .343/.379/.541 with five home runs and 24 RBI, and he looks to be an early MVP candidate. Chris Davis got off to a great start, Adam Jones has been good as usual and not many regulars have failed to produce. If Baltimore keeps playing like it has been, expect the Orioles in the playoffs again.

Boston Red Sox: Pretender

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    The Red Sox played very well in April, but have yet to be as successful in May. Boston opened the season with an 18-8 record that was one of the best in baseball, but inconsistent hitting and pitching has dropped the team to just six games over .500.

    Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester are both 6-0 on the season, but it’s inevitable that they will lose eventually. The rest of the rotation has been fine, despite a couple of bumps and bruises along the way. The bullpen, though, has been an issue and currently ranks 14th in the league in terms of WAR, according to FanGraphs.

    Boston has the third best offense in the game, according to FanGraphs, but not everyone is contributing. Dustin Pedroia only has one home run, Jonny Gomes is hitting .188/.329/.319 and Will Middlebrooks is hitting .208/.238/.424. If Boston doesn’t see an increase in production from the bottom half of the lineup, count the Red Sox out.

New York Yankees: Contender

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    Despite a boatload of injuries, the Yankees have played very well through the first quarter of the regular season. New York has been without nearly it’s entire starting infield as well as Curtis Granderson in the outfield all season long. Even still, the Yankees remain in first place in the highly contested AL East.

    How the Yankees have been able to stay above .500 this year is beyond me, but they’re playing extremely well with what they’ve got, and they are only going to get better. Mark Teixeira should be back soon, and Derek Jeter will be at shortstop before you know it. Kevin Youkilis has a strained back and could return in the near future as well.

    Hiroki Kuroda and CC Sabathia have been outstanding atop New York’s rotation while those pitching behind them have been less consistent and have battled injuries themselves. Mariano Rivera has been great after missing nearly all of 2012, and he looks poised to finish his career out on top.

Tampa Bay Rays: Outside Looking In

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    The Rays were just a game above .500 entering Thursday’s matchup against the Boston Red Sox, but they had gone 7-3 in their last 10 games. Tampa Bay has thrived at home (14-7), but needs to play considerably better going forward when on the road (6-12).

    Tampa Bay’s top pitcher, David Price, has really struggled this season through his first nine starts. He’s 1-4 with a 5.24 ERA in 55 innings, but he left Wednesday night's start early with what has been diagnosed as a strained triceps—which has him on the 15-day disabled list. Luckily for the Rays, Matt Moore has pitched like an ace, as he’s 7-0 with a 2.44 ERA in eight starts.

    What may be even a bigger story for the Rays, though, is how good James Loney has been. Loney leads the league in hitting with a .379 average while also having three home runs and 20 RBI. He’s arguably been Tampa Bay’s second-best hitter behind Evan Longoria, who’s hitting .329/.395/.591 with nine homers and 26 RBI.

Toronto Blue Jays: Out of It Already

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    The Blue Jays have had horrible luck to start the season and look to be much too far out of the race to do anything down the road. Entering Thursday, Toronto was seven games under .500 and 8.5 games behind in the division. Absolutely nothing has gone right for a team that was supposed to do big things this season.

    The starting rotation, which looked to be unstoppable on paper, has been an absolute disaster. Those who have stayed healthy have had a tough time not allowing runs. R.A. Dickey, J.A. Happ, Brandon Morrow and Mark Buehrle all have ERAs above 4.00, while Josh Johnson has posted a 6.86 ERA in four starts.

    Jose Reyes injuring his ankle early on in the year has really taken a toll on the offense. Emilio Bonifacio and Macier Izturis have barely done anything at the plate or in the field, while Munenori Kawasaki hasn’t been much better, either. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion have combined for 20 home runs, but they need more help.

Chicago White Sox: Out of It Already

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    The 2013 White Sox look nothing like the team that won 85 games last season and finished second in the AL Central. Instead, the current White Sox look like one of the worst teams in the league and have played like it, too. Their 17-21 record has them in the cellar of the division, and they don’t look to be making much progress.

    Chicago has been a bit of an interesting story, though. The team has the second-worst offense in baseball, according to FanGraphs, and the league’s third-best pitching staff. So, in a nutshell, the starters and relievers are doing their best to keep runs off the scoreboard, but the offense isn’t providing nearly enough run support.

    The biggest problem is that those in the heart of the lineup have done anything but produce thus far. Adam Dunn is hitting .156/.255/.391 with nine home runs and 18 RBI. Paul Konerko is hitting .215/.278/.346 with four homers and 16 RBI. Jeff Keppinger is hitting .185/.182/.207 without a long ball and just eight RBI. That’s why Chicago isn’t winning.

Cleveland Indians: Contender

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    If Ubaldo Jimenez could find whatever he left with the Colorado Rockies, the Indians could potentially top the Tigers within the AL Central this season. But he’s 3-2 on the year with a 5.55 ERA while averaging 4.29 walks per nine innings. He needs to pick up the slack, to say the least.

    Cleveland’s offense has really kept the team in contention thus far. Carlos Santana, Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds and Ryan Raburn all already have WARs above 1.0 while several are close behind.

    What’s impressive is that the Indians have the second best offense in baseball, according to FanGraphs, and they’ve done so without the help of Michael Bourn, who’s been limited to just 16 games due to injury. Luckily, things have just clicked for the rest of the offense, and it’s been able to provide plenty of run support thus far.

Detroit Tigers: Contender

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    Unless something goes seriously, seriously wrong with Detroit’s pitching staff, expect the Tigers to be playing in October. The staff is currently tops in the game, according to FanGraphs, and that’s mainly because of the success that the starting rotation has had.

    Anibal Sanchez and Justin Verlander are both 4-3 with ERAs under 2.10, while Max Scherzer and Doug Fister each have five wins and ERAs under 4.00. Rick Porcello (1-2, 6.68 ERA) has been the lone weak link. The bullpen, which looked out of sorts with Bruce Rondon as the closer, has been fine since Jose Valverde re-signed.

    Providing the starters with plenty of run support has once again been Miguel Cabrera, who looks like a contender for a second-straight Triple Crown. He’s hitting .369/.441/.599 with eight home runs and 41 RBI through 28 games. If Victor Martinez (.215/.272/.306) and Alex Avila (.184/.257/.320) could hit a little better, Detroit’s offense would be nearly unstoppable. 

Kansas City Royals: Contender

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    The Royals have gone on a 3-7 slide in their last 10 games, and they’re still within two games of the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central. Pitching has been key for Kansas City, as the staff currently ranks 10th in the game in terms of WAR, according to FanGraphs.

    James Shields has been reliable atop the rotation with a 2-3 record and 2.48 ERA, while Ervin Santana is 3-2 with a 2.79 ERA. Jeremy Guthrie has been very underrated this year, too, even though he’s gone 5-1 thus far. Walks have been an issue for some of the relievers, but Greg Holland is still one of the best late in games.

    Kansas City should be able to continue playing like a contender because several key offensive players have yet to get hot. Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Jeff Francoeur have all played at least 34 games and none are hitting higher than .250. If they could get going and if Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon can stay hot, look for the Royals to be sleepers.

Minnesota Twins: Outside Looking In

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    The Twins are hanging in there within the AL Central, entering Thursday just 3.5 games behind the Tigers. While it’s still somewhat of a long shot that Minnesota makes it into the postseason, I’m not hanging up the towel just yet. It’s only been a quarter of the season, and a lot can happen the rest of the year.

    Minnesota’s pitching isn’t anything special, but if the Twins do end up making the playoffs, it’ll be because of the offense. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, though, are in the midst of quite the power outage. Each only has a pair of home runs, and the Twins need a lot more than that if they’re going anywhere.

    Aaron Hicks, who looked like a stud during spring training, has yet to look like he belongs in the big leagues. Through 33 games, he’s hitting just .143/.242/.268 with a trio of home runs and 15 RBI. Furthermore, Ryan Doumit, Chris Parmelee and Brian Dozier are all regulars who are dangerously close to falling below the Mendoza Line. That can’t happen.

Houston Astros: Out of It Already

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    Entering Thursday, the Astros had the worst record in baseball at 11-30. Houston cannot win at home and cannot win on the road. The major league roster looks more like a Triple-A team that’s been given the chance of a lifetime but lacks the talent to compete with the other clubs in the game.

    Houston is the only team in baseball that has a pitching staff averaging more than four walks per game. It’s also the only team with an ERA above 5.00and it’s just 0.21 points from hitting 6.00. Somehow, San Diego’s staff has been worse in terms of WAR, as the Astros are only ranked 29th, according to FanGraphs.

    Jose Altuve and Brandon Barnes are both playing relatively well on the offensive side of the ball, but only one will likely make it to the All-Star Game—and I’d bet on Altuve, for what it’s worth. There are several players just over or well under the Mendoza Line, and only one batter has more than three home runs—Rick Ankiel had five, but he was released. Why? I’ll never know. 

Los Angeles Angels: Outside Looking In

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    There’s no questioning how the Angels have played through the first quarter of the season. Los Angeles has been horrible, and the team entered Thursday 11 games behind in the AL West and 10 games under .500. There’s still reason to believe that they’ll turn things around going forward, though.

    Jered Weaver has only been able to take the mound twice this season because of a fractured elbow, and once he's back, there’s a chance that he pitches like the Cy Young-worthy pitcher that he has been in recent years. Jason Vargas (2-3, 4.03 ERA) and C.J. Wilson (3-2, 3.88 ERA) are certainly capable of pitching better as well.

    The offense hasn’t been as good as it could be either, and that’s because Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols haven’t gotten hot yet. Hamilton is hitting .214/.264/.358 with five home runs and 12 RBI, while Pujols has a slash line of .248/.349/.392 to along with six homers and 23 RBI. Once they get going, so will the Angels in general.

Oakland Athletics: Outside Looking In

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    Oakland just doesn’t appear to have the same spark it did late in 2012, but it’s still played just fine to remain in the hunt through the season’s first big chunk. The A’s are two games under .500, but getting back over shouldn’t be too much trouble. The hard part will be battling for the division crown.

    Oakland’s starting rotation doesn’t look to be very consistent or dominant. Jarrod Parker was supposed to be a leader, but he is 2-5 with a 6.86 ERA through eight starts this season. Tommy Milone and Bartolo Colon haven gotten the job done from time to time, but they are a combined 6-7 with 3.71 and 4.56 ERAs, respectively.

    In order for the A’s to start winning more games as the season goes on, Yoenis Cespedes has to step up. He’s hitting just .204/.270/.435 with seven home runs and 19 RBI. He’s well on his way to getting the “sophomore slump” phrase tagged on him. He’s Oakland’s offensive leader, and without him, the A’s are far from contenders.

Seattle Mariners: Out of It Already

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    The Mariners need to start hitting better if they’re going to make a run at a postseason berth in the remaining three quarters of the season. Seattle doesn’t have one starting position player that’s hitting .285 on the year, and just two regulars have an on-base percentage above .350.

    Jesus Montero continues to struggle at the plate, as he’s currently hitting .204/.257/.333 with a trio of home runs and nine RBI through 26 games. Brendan Ryan, although he’s known primarily for defense, has to hit higher than .149 if he wants to keep his job as the starting shortstop. Seattle won’t contend if it doesn’t hit more.

    If it weren’t for Felix Hernandez and Hishashi Iwakuma, the Mariners would already be well out of the hunt. But both starters have won five games, and each has an ERA below 2.00. Tom Wilhelmsen is looking like one of the best closers in baseball, which has aided Seattle late in games. That trio needs to keep it up for Seattle to have a shot.

Texas Rangers: Contender

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    It’s incredible how well the Rangers’ pitching staff has performed through the first quarter of the season—especially since Matt Harrison has made just two starts due to a back injury. The rest of the rotation has really stepped up in his absence, and when he returns, Texas will likely still be atop the AL West.

    Yu Darvish (6-1, 2.73 ERA) looks like he’s on pace to win his first Cy Young award, while Derek Holland (3-2, 2.93) has also pitched like a No. 1 starter. Alexi Ogando, Nick Tepesch and Justin Grimm haven’t been too shabby, either, and they’re a big reason why the rotation is the second-best in baseball, according to FanGraphs.

    Although many may have thought that the loss of Josh Hamilton via free agency would be severely detrimental to Texas’ offense, the core of the lineup has kept things in check. Ian Kinsler is hitting .304/.368/.506, Mitch Moreland and Adrian Beltre each have nine home runs and Lance Berkman looks like his old self, hitting just under .300 on the year.

Atlanta Braves: Contender

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    Justin Upton is arguably the NL MVP through the first quarter of the season. He’s hitting .286/.404/.629 with 13 home runs and 23 RBI. He’s been extremely valuable and has made Atlanta look like a genius for acquiring him over the offseason. If only his brother were playing just as well...

    B.J. Upton, the Braves’ other big acquisition over the winter, is only hitting .145/.143/.286 with three home runs and six RBI. To say he’s gotten off on the wrong foot with his new team would be an understatement. Atlanta was supposed to have one of the best outfields in baseball, but B.J. has struggled and Jason Heyward was struggling before getting injured, too.

    Atlanta’s pitching staff has been OK so far, but it does need to be just a tad bit better going forward. Mike Minor is 5-2 on the year with a 2.75 ERA, and he has been the team’s top pitcher. Guys like Kris Medlen (1-5, 3.44 ERA) and Julio Teheran (2-1, 4.57 ERA) need to start winning more games as well. If they can do that, Atlanta should be able to win the NL East.

Miami Marlins: Out of It Already

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    Entering Friday, the Marlins had the second-worst record in baseball at 11-29, just a game ahead of the Houston Astros in the loss column. This, however, was to be expected, considering that much of Miami’s big league talent was traded over the offseason.

    The Marlins have the worst offense in the league and the 24th best pitching staff, according to FanGraphs. Jose Fernandez has been a nice addition to the rotation, though, and he has shown a lot of promise going forward. But Giancarlo Stanton hasn’t played in May due to a strained hamstring, which has certainly plagued the offense.

    Part of Miami’s future nucleus is already on the major league roster (Fernandez, Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Rob Brantly), but a couple more top prospects are still in the minors. Once guys like Christian Yelich come up, then Miami could be a contender.

New York Mets: Out of It Already

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    Matt Harvey has been the big story in Queens this season, as he’s 4-0 with a 1.44 ERA through eight starts—starting the first 10 games of his career in 2012. He’s been one of the top pitchers in baseball, but he needs a lot more help to get the New York Mets to October.

    Even with Harvey in the starting rotation, the Mets have the fourth-worst staff in baseball, just ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers, Houston Astros and San Diego Padres, according to FanGraphs. The offense has been a little better, but it is still far from the top 15 in terms of WAR.

    David Wright has been his usual self at third base and in the heart of the lineup. John Buck has provided an expected spark as well. Buck has already hit 10 home runs this season, which ties him for second in the NL. He is, however, just hitting .232 for the year while striking out 25.4 percent of the time. 

Philadelphia Phillies: Outside Looking In

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    The Phillies entered Thursday 3.5 games behind the Braves for the division lead and three games under .500. But I’m confident that they’re going to start playing considerably better and be contenders by the time the All-Star Break rolls around in mid-July.

    In order for the Phillies to make a run, though, they need contributions from a couple of their stars that have been lacking thus far. Ryan Howard needs to step it up offensively. Through 39 games, he’s hitting just .245/.284/.434. Domonic Brown, who was on fire during spring training, is only hitting .250/.298/.429.

    Philadelphia will be without former ace Roy Halladay for a considerable amount of time, which means that Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels will need to pick up the slack. Lee has been great, going 4-2 with a 2.86 ERA through his first eight starts. Hamels, on the other hand, has gone 1-6 with a 4.61 ERA through nine starts. He must turn his season around for the Phillies to have any sort of a shot at playing in October.

Washington Nationals: Contender

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    We know that the Nationals have the pitching to get them to the postseason, but that won’t be the case if the offense can’t score many runs. So far, that’s been the case, despite Washington still sitting in the No. 2 spot in the NL East, just one game behind Atlanta entering Thursday.

    Bryce Harper has shown no signs of a sophomore slump and is looking like he could add another trophy to his mantle. He’s hitting .298/.393/.629 with 11 home runs and 22 RBI through 27 games this season. The problem is that Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche, the team’s other two top power hitters, haven’t kept up.

    Zimmerman is hitting .274/.375/.389, which is a little below what he should be but is still fine for now—he still only has one home run, though. LaRoche isn’t hitting up to snuff. His slash line stands at .217/.301/.357 through 38 games to go along with five home runs and 15 RBI. If Zimmerman and LaRoche don’t get going, Washington could be in trouble.

Chicago Cubs: Out of It Already

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    The Cubs are having quite a bit of trouble winning games this season, but that was to be expected since they’re in the midst of a rebuild. Entering Thursday, Chicago sat six games below .500 and was nine games behind the Cardinals for the division lead. I wouldn’t expect much better going forward either.

    Anthony Rizzo is the one offensive player on the Cubs that has really turned some heads this season. He’s hitting .277/.349/.523 with nine home runs and 29 RBI through 40 games and has been solid at first base. No other Cub has more than five home runs or more than 20 RBI on the season.

    The bullpen continues to be a problem in Chicago, as Carlos Marmol rarely exits an outing without giving up at least one run. Jeff Samardzija has pitched well, but hasn’t been able to be on the winning side of many games. Travis Wood has been great, though, going 4-2 with a 2.03 ERA through eight starts, and I’m sure the Cubs are stoked about his future.

Cincinnati Reds: Contender

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    Cincinnati is one well-oiled machine and could easily be in first place by the time May concludes. For now, the Reds entered Thursday a pair of games behind St. Louis, but they’re currently riding a five-game win streak and are 8-2 in their last 10 contests. It seems to be pretty clear that they’re starting to catch fire.

    Mat Latos, though, has been on fire all year long. He’s 4-0 with a 2.91 ERA through nine starts this season, and he has also seen great performances by his other friends in the rotation. Homer Bailey (2-3, 3.51 ERA) has been good and so has Tony Cingrani (2-0, 2.89 ERA), who took over for Johnny Cueto when he landed on the disabled list.

    The Reds’ core offensively has been better than expected, too. Shin-Soo Choo might be the second-best acquisition of the offseason behind Justin Upton, and Joey Votto could be an MVP candidate if he starts hitting more home runs. Brandon Phillips is hitting .285/.326/.481 on the year, while Todd Frazier continues to impress on both sides of the ball.

Milwaukee Brewers: Out of It Already

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    There is something seriously wrong with the Brewers, and they need to figure out what that is or they’re going to be in the NL Central’s cellar all year long. Milwaukee has had its fair share of injuries this season, but it’s really been the pitching staff that’s held the team back.

    The Brewers currently have the third-worst staff in baseball in terms of WAR, according to FanGraphs. There’s your problem, Milwaukee. Kyle Lohse is the only starter with an ERA below 4.00, and he’s 1-4 on the year. Wily Peralta and Marco Estrada both have ERAs above 5.00 and Hiram Burgos, who’s made five starts, is at 6.58.

    Outside of Jim Henderson, the Brewers’ closer, the bullpen has been extremely shaky as well. John Axford was once a dominant reliever, but he has a 9.00 ERA in 18 appearances this season. Tom Gorzelanny, who used to be a starter, has appeared in 18 games this season, and although he has a 2.30 ERA, he averages 4.60 walks per nine innings. I’m not so sure that Milwaukee can turn things around.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Pretender

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    If the Pirates are playing just as well as they have been through the first quarter of the season by mid-July, then I’ll deem them contenders. Until then, I think they’re pretenders. The NL Central is about as tough as it’s been in a while, and in order to make the postseason, the Pirates really need to step it up.

    That’s not going to happen as long as Pittsburgh has the 23rd best pitching staff in baseball, according to FanGraphs. A.J. Burnett (3-4, 2.73 ERA) hasn’t gotten much run support when he’s pitched well, and other starters have had similar problems. James McDonald’s 2-2 record is on him, though, since his ERA currently sits at 5.76.

    The Pittsburgh offense has the potential to get the Pirates into the postseason, but some players will have to stay hot while others catch fire. I’ve been very impressed with Starling Marte (.315/.379/.485, 5 HR, 17 RBI), but I've been disappointed in Pedro Alvarez (.188/.237/.336, 6 HR, 18 RBI). If Alvarez can hit like Marte, then Pittsburgh would be in great shape.

St. Louis Cardinals: Contender

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    It’s hard not to like what the Cardinals have been able to do so far this season, and I have a feeling that they’re going to get even better. St. Louis has actually played better on the road than at home this year, a statistic we don’t see too often. Even still, don’t be shocked to see the opposite result by year’s end.

    The Cardinals’ starting rotation is to die for. Adam Wainwright (5-3, 2.51 ERA) got off to a great start and Shelby Miller (5-2, 1.40 ERA) looks like an absolute stud. Let’s not discredit Lance Lynn, Jaime Garcia or Jake Westbrook, either, because they have gone a combined 12-4, and each has an ERA below 3.00—Westbrook is at 1.62.

    Offensively, the Cardinals have gotten a ton of production from their trio of stars in the middle of the lineupYadier Molina, Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday. Each has played a vital role in St. Louis’ early season success, as has the production the Cardinals have gotten from Matt Carpenter (.295/.380/.445, 3 HR, 12 RBI). He’s stepped up while David Freese (.209/.287/.242, 0 HR, 4 RBI) has struggled.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Contender

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    If the Diamondbacks can continue pitching like they have to start the season, they could end up winning the NL West over the likes of the Giants. Arizona has the eighth-best pitching staff in baseball in terms of WAR, according to FanGraphs.

    Arizona has been so good on the mound primarily because Patrick Corbin has been lights out. The young starter is 6-0 through his first eight starts of the season and has posted a 1.52 ERA. I doubt he’ll pitch this well all season, but he could easily win 16 games and keep his ERA in the 2.75-3.50 range by year’s end.

    The Diamondbacks, though, have gotten a bit of a mixed bag from their offense this year. Martin Prado and Miguel Montero have been horrible offensively, while guys like Gerardo Parra and Paul Goldschmidt look like All-Stars. Goldschmidt has been the team’s MVP thus far, and he can certainly carry them to a postseason berth.

Colorado Rockies: Pretender

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    Colorado may have gotten off to a great start to the season, but I doubt that the team’s success continues going forward. The Rockies entered Thursday two games back of the Giants in the division and a pair of games over .500, but Colorado has been struggling lately, losing seven of their last 10.

    Jhoulys Chacin (3-3, 4.07 ERA) and Jorge de la Rosa (4-3, 2.98 ERA) have both been good thus far, but as I mentioned in a recent article, it’s unlikely that they keep it up. Those two have kept the Rockies in the race, considering that none of the other starting pitchers have been particularly sharp either. I will say, though, that the bullpen is rock-solid with Rex Brothers (17.1 IP, 0.52 ERA) and Rafael Betancourt (9 SV, 1.76 ERA).

    Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki are once again the offensive leaders, but will they be able to stay healthy all season long? That I have a hard time believing, considering how often they’ve been banged up in their careers. If they can continue to scorch the ball and stay off the disabled list, maybe, just maybe the Rockies will be contenders.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Outside Looking In

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    I may be one of few, but I’m not counting the Dodgers out of the playoff hunt just yet. They have way too much talent to be playing as poorly as they did through the first quarter of the season. They’ve battled a ton of injuries, and now that basically everyone is healthy, the Dodgers will likely start winning games in bunches.

    If you’ve missed watching Clayton Kershaw pitch this season, you’ve missed out big time. He may be 4-2 on the year, which is still pretty good, but his ERA is at 1.40, and he is arguably the best left-handed pitcher in baseball. Zack Greinke just bounced back from a broken collarbone, and Hyun-Jin Ryu (4-2, 3.40 ERA) could win Rookie of the Year.

    But the only way Los Angeles is playing in October is if Matt Kemp starts to hit like the Matt Kemp we’ve seen in the past. Through 39 games, he’s hitting .282/.329/.356 with just one home run and 15 RBI. The Dodgers have a lot of other talented hitters, but the offense runs through him. Without him hitting well, the Dodgers are doomed.

San Diego Padres: Outside Looking In

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    If the Padres don’t figure out their pitching staff within the next couple of weeks, they’ll be well out of contention in the division. They currently have the worst staff in baseball in terms of WAR, according to FanGraphs. That, obviously, is keeping San Diego from doing much of anything right now.

    Edinson Volquez hasn’t been sharp at all, and he’s supposed to be San Diego’s No. 1 guy. He’s 3-4 on the year with a 5.55 ERA in 48.2 innings of work. Clayton Richard has made six starts and has an 8.54 ERA. Andrew Cashner, who’s really a reliever, has been forced to start five games.

    Luckily for the Padres, Jason Marquis and Eric Stults have been decent—and I’m using decent in the loosest way possible. Marquis is 5-2 through eight starts with a 3.49 ERA. Stults, on the other hand, is 3-3 with a 4.57 ERA, but is the staff’s WAR leader. Things on the mound have to improve or the Padres are done.

San Francisco Giants: Contender

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    It appears to be business as usual for the reigning World Series champion Giants. They held a half-game lead over the Diamondbacks in the division entering Thursday and have been firing on all cylinders this year. They haven’t played that well on the road (8-10), but a 15-7 home record has evened things out.

    While the Giants are usually led by their pitching and also tend to have a good offense, things have flip-flopped this year. San Francisco has the top offense in baseball, according to FanGraphs, while the pitching staff is ranked No. 19.

    Hunter Pence, Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Marco Scutaro and Brandon Crawford have all been on fire to start the year, while many of the other regulars in Bruce Bochy’s lineup haven’t been half-bad either. On the mound, Matt Cain (3-2, 5.43 ERA) and Ryan Vogelsong (1-4, 8.06 ERA) need to be better for a title repeat.

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