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MLB Power Rankings: National League Now and Later

Matt FosterContributor IOctober 7, 2016

MLB Power Rankings: National League Now and Later

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    After a week of dominating pitching performances against National League contenders, the St. Louis Cardinals have shot to the top of most MLB Power Rankings lists.

    So where does that leave the rest of the National League?

    In addition to the Cardinals, the San Francisco Giants and the Cincinnati Reds have also established themselves in the month of May.

    Other teams, most notably the Atlanta Braves and Colorado Rockies, have had their weaknesses exposed after a strong April, causing them to slide down in the rankings.

    The National League, which has provided six of the last 10 World Series champions, looks poised to once again produce ample drama in each division as the season progresses.

     

    *All stats courtesy of MLB.com and accurate through May 14.

St. Louis Cardinals

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    Last 10 games: 8-2

    Biggest Strength: Starting Pitching

    Led by rookie phenom Shelby Miller, the Cardinals’ starting pitchers are the best in league with a 2.38 ERA.

    In fact, the dominant staff sits atop the league in nearly every pitching category: wins (23), runs allowed (75), home runs allowed (13) and strikeouts (220).

    They have also pitched 249.1 innings (second in the league), allowing plenty of rest for a depleted bullpen.

     

    Biggest Weakness: Bullpen

    While Edward Mujica has recently established himself as a legitimate closer, the Cardinals’ bullpen has struggled to the tune of a 5.16 ERA—which ranks them last in the league.

    The bullpen also ranks last in wins (2) and batting average against (.273).

    Their ratio of walks plus WHIP sits at 1.39 (12th in the league).

     

    Projection

    The starting staff’s effectiveness will decline, especially once the league gets a book on Shelby Miller. Lance Lynn, as he did in 2012, will fade in the second half.

    The bullpen will be even further exposed, forcing the team to make upgrades at the trade deadline. Trevor Rosenthal will prove to be a make-or-break pitcher.

    The Cardinals have enough talent to compete for the division title or a wild-card slot, but they won't maintain the No. 1 ranking for much longer.

San Francisco Giants

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    Last 10 games: 5-5

    Biggest Strength: Offense

    Not only has the Giants’ offense been a major surprise, but it has kept the defending world champions atop the National League West while the starting pitching has struggled.

    The Giants rank second in the league with a .267 batting average and 354 hits. Their 252 strikeouts are second fewest in the league.

    Further, they rank fourth in runs batted in (169) and on-base plus slugging (.734).

     

    Biggest Weakness: Starting Pitching

    The starting staff is comprised of four former All-Stars (Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong) and one pitcher who looks bound for his first All-Star appearance (Madison Bumgarner). So the staff’s 4.34 ERA (12th best) is certainly disconcerting.

    The encouraging sign, at least for the Giants, is that Cain has seemingly turned the corner (15.1 IP, 3 earned runs in his past two starts).

    Additionally, Tim Lincecum looks like he is finally figuring out how to pitch with diminished velocity.

    The biggest concern is Vogelsong, who has amassed a 7.78 ERA through seven starts.

     

    Projection

    As the offense begins to slow down, the starting pitching will heat up and carry the team through the summer. The bullpen, which leads the league in ERA (2.72), will remain strong and the Giants will run away with the division.

Cincinnati Reds

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    Last 10 games: 8-2

    Biggest Strength: Offense

    After finally finding a leadoff hitter who can actually get on base, the Reds have arguably the most complete lineup in the game.

    They lead the league in on-base percentage (.334) and walks (158) while ranking second in runs (186) and RBI (176).

    With Joey Votto and Jay Bruce still yet to heat up, the offense should only get better as the season progresses.

     

    Biggest Weakness: Roster Depth

    The loss of Ryan Ludwick, while not completely stunting the team’s offensive production, has certainly hurt the Reds’ ability to utilize the long ball.

    After a 2012 season that saw the Reds hit the third most home runs in the National League, they currently rank eighth in the league with only 37 round-trippers.  

    Should Votto, Bruce, Shin-Soo Choo or Brandon Phillips sustain a major injury, the Reds would be in serious trouble. Billy Hamilton, the team’s top prospect according to MLB.com, currently holds a .291 OBP in Triple-A.

     

    Projection

    Votto will start to hit for more power and Jay Bruce’s batting average will climb. With a powerful bullpen and a strong starting rotation, the Reds will challenge the Cardinals for the division title.

    This will ultimately be decided during the final week of the season, and the loser of that battle will claim a wild-card spot.    

Atlanta Braves

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    Last 10 games: 4-6

    Biggest Strength: Pitching

    Since the days of Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, the Braves have been acclaimed for their stellar pitching staffs.

    This year is no different.

    Despite all of the talk about Justin Upton and the Braves’ ability to hit the ball out of the park, the pitching staff—both starters and relievers—has kept the club atop the National League East.

    The bullpen, led by closer Craig Kimbrel, has been especially good. In addition to giving up the fewest hits (93) in the league, the Braves’ bullpen ranks second in ERA (2.84) and third in WHIP (1.18).   

    The Braves starting rotation is hovering near the middle of the pack in most categories. But that should improve once rookie Julio Teheran gains more experience and Brandon Beachy completes his recovery from Tommy John Surgery.

     

    Biggest Weakness: Offense

    Sure, the Braves lead the league with 52 home runs. But does that mean anything? The Giants won the 2012 World Series after finishing last in the league with 103 home runs.

    And besides the long ball onslaught, the Braves offense has not been overly impressive.

    They rank 11th in the league with only 312 hits. And those 52 home runs have only resulted in 167 runs and 162 RBI, which both rank fifth in the league.

    The most startling statistic is the 361 strikeouts, which by far ranks most in the league. The next closest team, the Washington Nationals, have struck out only 319 times.

     

    Projection

    The Braves will continue to strike out.

    Evan Gattis, Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton will all finish the season with sub-.250 batting averages. Justin Upton will not see many good pitches to hit as the season unfolds, leaving Brian McCann and Andrelton Simmons the responsibility of carrying the offense.

    The Nationals will win the division, and the Braves will battle for a wild-card slot.

Washington Nationals

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    Last 10 games: 6-4

    Biggest Strength: Starting Pitching

    While Stephen Strasburg garners all the headlines, Jordan Zimmermann (7-1, 1.69 ERA) has quietly fronted the second-best starting rotation in the league.

    As a staff, the starters are sporting a 3.17 ERA, which ranks second in the league. They have only walked 59 batters (fewest in the league) and their 1.17 WHIP is only second to the Cardinals.

     

    Biggest Weakness: Offense

    Bryce Harper is not doing his team any favors by running into chain-link fences.  

    Outside of Harper, the Nationals’ offense features a slew of streaky, injury-prone players.

    When they are swinging the bats well, the Nationals look unbeatable. But so far in 2013, they rank near the bottom in most offensive categories.

    The Nationals are 13th in the league in both hits (292) and runs (137). Worse, they are currently 14th in OBP (.292) and OPS (.661).

    Unless those numbers improve drastically, the Nats will have a hard time keeping pace with the Braves.

     

    Projection

    While the starting pitching continues to thrive, the offense—led by Harper and Jordan Zimmermann—will pick up the pace and finish near the middle in all major categories.

    As the most complete team in the National League East, the Nationals will win the division by at least five games.   

Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Last 10 games: 7-3

    Biggest Strength: Offense

    Led by first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, the Diamondbacks’ offensive attack has not suffered much without Justin Upton.

    They rank third in hits (344), seventh in OPS (.720) and sixth in runs (164), home runs (41) and batting average (.250).

    When second baseman Aaron Hill and top prospect Adam Eaton return, those numbers will only get better.

     

    Biggest Weakness: Bullpen

    Despite totaling a 3.21 ERA, which ranks sixth in the league, the Diamondbacks bullpen has blown 11 of their 24 save opportunities.

    With J.J. Putz on the disabled list, Heath Bell will get the first chance at closing duties. And when he fails, David Hernandez will be next in line. 

    Regardless of who ends up with the job, the Diamondbacks’ bullpen will continue to be a weak link.

     

    Projection

    The Diamondbacks will either not improve or decline drastically in any category. The offense will continue to produce and the bullpen will keep blowing leads.

    Overall, they will finish second in the National League West, at least eight games behind the Giants.

Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Last 10 games: 6-4

    Biggest Strength: Bullpen

    Jason Grilli, a 36-year-old first-time closer, is leading the charge for a Pirates bullpen that tops the league in saves (16).

    Setup man Mark Melancon, who was banished to Triple-A last year by the Boston Red Sox, currently boasts a 0.45 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 20:1 through 20 innings.

    Overall, the Pirates’ bullpen ranks third in the league with a 2.93 ERA.

     

    Biggest Weakness: Starting Pitching

    Outside of A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez, the Pirates’ starting rotation is unproven. While Jeff Locke has certainly done a nice job, his success will likely fade as he passes through the league a second time.

    With a 4.01 ERA (eighth) and 1.30 WHIP (ninth), the Pirates’ starting staff screams of mediocrity.

    Top prospects Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon will eventually change that, but not in 2013.

     

    Projection

    2013 will be eerily similar to 2012 for the Pirates. They will say afloat into July, creating another confusing scenario about whether to be buyers or sellers at the deadline.

    Despite the best efforts of Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte, the Pirates will ultimately fall short of the .500 mark again.

Colorado Rockies

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    Last 10 games: 4-6

    Biggest Strength: Offense

    As if Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez are not enough to deal with for opposing pitchers, Dexter Fowler, Wilin Rosario and prospect Nolan Arenado round out a powerful offense that has allowed the Rockies to make their presence felt in the National League West.

    The Rockies lead the league in hits (362), runs (187), RBI (181) and OPS (.778). They rank second—trailing only the Braves—with 51 home runs.

     

    Biggest Weakness: Starting Pitching

    Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge De La Rosa are the only serviceable starters in the Rockies’ rotation, which ranks 11th in the league with a 4.22 ERA. Their BAA of .269 is third worst, ranking behind only the Milwaukee Brewers and Miami Marlins.

    Expect those numbers to get even worse as Jon Garland, Juan Nicasio and Jeff Francis continue to get pummeled.

     

    Projection

    The offense will thrive until Tulowitzki or Gonzalez suffers an inevitable injury. The starting pitching will cause the bullpen (which currently has an impressive 2.96 ERA) to wear down, leaving the Rockies as the third-place finisher in the National League West.

Chicago Cubs

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    Last 10 games: 5-5

    Biggest Strength: Starting Pitching

    In perhaps the most surprising revelation of the 2013 season, the Cubs’ starting staff—minus Matt Garza—ranks near the top of almost every category.

    They rank first in BAA (.226), fourth in WHIP (1.19) and third in strikeouts (203), home runs allowed (22) and ERA (3.40).

    And given the fact that they are pitching half of their games in windy Wrigley Field, those numbers are quite impressive.

     

    Biggest Weakness: Bullpen

    With a 4.15 ERA, the Cubs’ bullpen ranks 12th in the league.

    Worse, they have blown nine saves in only 19 chances.

    Carlos Marmol is still as unpredictable as ever, and Kyuji Fujikawa—the Japanese import that the Cubs hoped would solve their closer issue—has spent most of the season on the disabled list.

     

    Projection

    The starting pitching will not be able to keep such a strong pace, and the bullpen will continue to struggle.

    The second half of the season will see the Cubs trade away most over their veteran players. And, as none of their minor leaguers are anywhere close to contributing, the team will sit alone at the bottom of the division.

Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Last 10 games: 6-4

    Biggest Strength: Offense

    Although the Dodgers’ lineup has yet to put things together, it still offers their best hope of climbing back into relevance in the National League West.

    Even with their struggles, the Dodgers’ offense ranks fifth in the league with a .260 batting average. They have only struck out 245 times, fewest in the league.

    Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez are too good to be kept quiet all season, and Andre Ethier isn’t as bad as he’s showed himself to be thus far in 2013.

    Still, the Dodgers have hit only 26 long balls while scoring just 131 runs, both of which rank 14th in the league.

     

    Biggest Weakness: Bullpen

    Struggling closer Brandon League serves as the figurehead of this sorrowful bullpen, which has compiled a 4.47 ERA while blowing five of their 15 save opportunities.

    Kenley Jansen and Paco Rodriguez have been the lone bright spots, but they alone won’t be enough to keep the Dodgers afloat in a competitive division.

     

    Projection

    Zack Greinke’s return will provide a spark to the lifeless Dodgers, and Kemp will eventually start showing the power that has made him a legitimate superstar. As the bullpen continues to struggle, the team will not be able to put it all together, ultimately costing manager Don Mattingly his job.

Philadelphia Phillies

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    Last 10 games: 5-5

    Biggest Strength: Starting Pitching

    Even with the struggles of Roy Halladay and his ailing shoulder, the Phillies’ rotation has kept them hovering near respectability.

    Led by Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Kyle Kendrick, the starting staff has posted a semi-decent 4.11 ERA, which ranks ninth in the league.

    Rookie Jonathan Pettibone has held his own, but his success is not likely to last.

     

    Biggest Weakness: Offense

    Even with Chase Utley finally at full strength, the Phillies’ lineup is anything but intimidating.

    Ryan Howard, with a slash line of .252/.291/.446, is looking like one of the most overpaid players in the game.

    Jimmy Rollins and Michael Young are old, and none of the Phillies’ young position players have shown the ability to be above-average regulars in the major league.

     

    Projection

    Much like 2012, the Phillies’ starting pitching will keep them near .500 come July. Still, the Phillies will end up trading a few of their veteran players in order to strengthen a weak farm system.

    Thanks to sharing a division with the Mets and Marlins, the Phillies will finish third in the National League East.

Milwaukee Brewers

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    Last 10 games: 2-8

    Biggest Strength: Offense

    The Brewers currently sport an offense headed by the National League leader in both batting average and OPS.

    Even more surprising: It’s not Ryan Braun.

    Carlos Gomez (.368 BA, 1.040 OPS) has kept the Brewers’ hopes alive in the National League Central while the pitching staff has struggled.

    Young shortstop Jean Segura, with a .359 BA and .994 OPS, has certainly done more than his share as well.

    With Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez and a healthy Corey Hart added to the equation, the Brewers likely will remain near the top of the offensive leader boards throughout the season.

     

    Biggest Weakness: Starting Pitching

    With a league-worst ERA of 5.06, the Brewers’ starting staff has been abysmal.

    Yovani Gallardo, the team’s usual ace, has posted a rough 4.70 ERA while dealing with off-field issues

    Kyle Lohse was a nice addition, as his 3.49 ERA leads the staff. But with only 33 strikeouts in 49 IP, he hardly profiles as a No. 1 starter.

     

    Projection

    The Brewers’ offense will continue to mash, and Gallardo will eventually revert back to his usual self. But, as the saying goes, it will be too little, too late.

    The Brewers will become sellers at the trade deadline, finding takers for both Ramirez and Hart. They will finish fourth in the division, ahead of only the Cubs.

San Diego Padres

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    Last 10 games: 6-4

    Biggest Strength: Bullpen

    If a good bullpen could mask a punchless offense and a terrible starting staff, the Padres would be right up there with the Giants at the top of the National League West.

    Fronted by closer Huston Street and rubber-armed setup man Luke Gregerson, the Padres’ bullpen ranks fifth in the league with a 2.98 ERA.

    They have held opposing hitters to a .229 batting average, third best in the league.

     

    Biggest Weakness: Starting Pitching

    As weak as the Padres’ offense is, their starting pitching is even worse.

    With a collective ERA of 4.88, which ranks 14th in the league, the Padres’ starting staff has left much to be desired.

    Andrew Cashner (2-2, 2.84 ERA) has been the best of the bunch, although he’s only made five starts.

     

    Projection

    Nothing much will change for the hapless Padres. If anything, they will be minus their only All-Star, Chase Headley. He has already expressed his displeasure with the new Padres owner.

    The Padres will finish last in the National League West.  

New York Mets

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    Last 10 games: 2-8

    Biggest Strength: Starting Pitching

    Matt Harvey.

    He’s the only reason to even watch a Mets game right now.

    The future All-Star boasts a 4-0 record with a sparkling 1.44 ERA. He has struck out 62 batters while walking only 14 in 56.1 innings, leaving him with an incredible 0.73 WHIP.

    When top prospects Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard show up, the Mets will have reason for hope.

     

    Biggest Weakness: Offense

    Like their starting pitching staff, the Mets’ offense is headed by a single star: David Wright.

    With Ike Davis and David Murphy struggling mightily, the Mets have resorted to signing Rick Ankiel.

    Enough said.

     

    Projection

    The Mets will soon call up Zack Wheeler, giving fans something to be excited about. Despite Matt Harvey and David Wright’s best efforts, the Mets simply will not be good enough to sustain any sort of prolonged winning streak.

    They will finish ahead of only the Marlins in the National League East.

Miami Marlins

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    Last 10 games: 3-7

    Biggest Strength: Pitching

    The Marlins' offense—especially without Giancarlo Stanton—is a laughingstock.

    Their pitching staff, however, ranks 10th overall with a respectable 4.19 ERA.

    Rookie sensation Jose Fernandez, only 20 years old, offers Marlins fans a glimmer of hope for the future.

    The bullpen has also held its own, posting a BAA of .239, which ranks fifth in the league. They have also converted five of their eight save opportunities.

     

    Biggest Weakness: Offense

    The Marlins' offense ranks near—if not at—the bottom in every offensive category.

    With Giancarlo Stanton on the disabled list, Marcell Ozuna is the only player even worth watching in the Marlins' lineup.

     

    Projection

    Even when Stanton comes back, the Marlins will have little to play for.

    Fernandez will continue to shine, but he will likely be on an innings limit. Worse, as Marlins’ fans are well aware of, Stanton could be wearing another uniform come August.

    The Marlins’ only competition will be with the Houston Astros, who will battle them for the worst record in baseball.

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