Grading All 30 MLB Teams' Seasons at the Three-Quarter Mark

Kerry MillerCollege Basketball National AnalystAugust 15, 2013

Grading All 30 MLB Teams' Seasons at the Three-Quarter Mark

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    At the end of the night on Wednesday, both the Boston Red Sox and the Colorado Rockies had played their 122nd game, officially ushering in the final 25 percent of the season.

    This, of course, means that it's time to grade every team at the three-quarter mark of the season.

    Less than six weeks ago, the Dodgers were two games below .500 and were given a grade of D. At the time, they received 22-1 odds to win the World Series.

    As it turns out, a lot can change in six weeks' time.

    The Dodgers are now receiving 3.5-1 odds of winning it all, but their recent surge still isn't good enough to receive an A for the season.

    On the next slide, we'll explain the grading process and then work our way from the failing Houston Astros to the cream of the crop.

     

    *Unless otherwise cited, all statistics are courtesy of Fangraphs.com and are accurate through the start of play on Wednesday, August 14.

Criteria for Grading

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    Rather than simply giving an A to all the first-place teams and a failing grade to the bottom-feeders, let's apply some mathematics to combine each team's in-season production with its preseason expectations.

    The first half of the equation for each team is the variance between its preseason over/under line (which can be found here) and its current projected win total. For example, the Braves had a preseason over/under line of 86 wins, but their current winning percentage projects to 98.5 wins. Therefore, the first half of their score is a 12.5.

    The second half is simply one-sixth of the team's current run differential. Prior to applying this factor, the Marlins were in pretty decent shape with a score of -2.8. Adding in their run differential of -101 puts them closer to the bottom where they belong.

    The two halves were added together to come up with a final score.

    Scores ranged from 34.4 to -36.8, and grades were applied accordingly.

Houston Astros

2 of 31

    Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: -7.3

    One-sixth of run differential: -29.5

    Score and grade: -36.8, F

    Previous score and grade: -26.9, F

     

    Despite the failing grade, the Astros were doing OK at the All-Star break. Their projected win total was within half a win of their preseason expectation.

    Thanks to a 5-19 record since the break, though, they're even bigger failures than they were before. It was tempting to give them an F-, but that might have been considered overkill.

    Without talking about the prospects they've been hoarding over the past few seasons, it's very difficult to even feign optimism about this team. Jason Castro and Jose Altuve are good, and Robbie Grossman might be OK, but that's about it for the lineup. Everyone else on the team is batting below .270 since the break.

    Meanwhile, the best piece of the pitching staff has been Erik Bedard, and we all know that will never last. Brett Oberholtzer has been respectable in a few appearances, but he never showed any particular signs in the minors of being able to make it in the majors.

    In the end, the Astros are who we thought they were. Maybe they'll be relevant within the next three years, but Houston's 2013 season will go down as one of the more historically awful seasons of the past century.

Chicago White Sox

3 of 31

    Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: -17.3

    One-sixth of run differential: -13.0

    Score and grade: -30.3, F

    Previous score and grade: -26.5, F

     

    The White Sox were already very bad in the previous round of grades. Since then, they've traded away Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain, Jake Peavy and Alex Rios. Not surprisingly, they haven't gotten any better.

    Although, they did put an end to a 10-game losing streak with a three-game sweep of the Yankees last week.

    Save for Chris Sale, there isn't much left on this roster to be desired.

    This seems like a good time to remind you that the White Sox played the Astros in the World Series eight years ago. Now, they're the two worst teams in the league. Time flies.

San Francisco Giants

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    Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: -14.6

    One-sixth of run differential: -11.8

    Score and grade: -26.4, D-

    Previous score and grade: -18.3, D

     

    Quite simply, both the pitching and hitting are nothing compared to last year.

    In 2012, the Giants averaged one run for every 8.6 plate appearances. This season, that number has dropped to one run for every 10.2 plate appearances. That's not quite a difference of one run per game, but it's a difference of more than 100 runs per season.

    The pitching has gotten better since they moved Barry Zito to the bullpen, but they're still giving up considerably more runs than in championship years past.

    All in all, their run differential per game is just more than one run worse than last season. Evidently, the difference between having a plus-69 run differential and a projected minus-100 differential is also the difference between 94 wins and 72 of them.

Philadelphia Phillies

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    Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: -9.4

    One-sixth of run differential: -15.5

    Score and grade: -24.9, D-

    Previous score and grade: -14.4, D+

     

    Fortunately for the Phillies, there's no way to factor a stubborn GM or a cranky closer into the equation. Otherwise, they might have finished in last place.

    They won the NL East five straight times from 2007-2011 and had a better winning percentage in each successive season. As such, it was a pretty big disappointment for them to finish the 2012 season with a .500 record. But they expected to bounce back this season.

    In reality, they've gotten even worse and are likely headed for their worst record since finishing the 2000 season at 65-97.

    It's tough to put a finger on how and where it all went wrong for the Phillies, but I think Roy Halladay is a microcosm of their entire season.

    We could tell that he wasn't fully healthy. The strikeouts were there and the demeanor was there, but he just didn't have the same stuff we were used to seeing. It wasn't until they really inspected his shoulder and cut him open that anyone knew how much damage laid beneath the surface. And though he hopes to come back better than ever, we're all skeptical about whether he can ever become elite again at his age.

Los Angeles Angels

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    Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: -16.7

    One-sixth of run differential: -4.2

    Score and grade: -20.9, D

    Previous score and grade: -11.5, D+

     

    Here's all you need to know about the Angels: Their hitters collectively have the seventh-highest WAR in baseball, while their pitchers rank 26th.

    Even with an injured Albert Pujols and a constantly struggling Josh Hamilton, the Angels would probably be above .500 if they had even league average pitching to go along with that run support. Instead, they're 12 games below .500 and have been arguably the most disappointing team this season.

Toronto Blue Jays

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    Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: -13.0

    One-sixth of run differential: -6.8

    Score and grade: -19.8, D

    Previous score and grade: -10.65, C-

     

    At the time of the last update, the Blue Jays were within six games of the second AL Wild Card and had just gotten Jose Reyes back into the fold.

    Spirits and hopes were high.

    But they've played nine games below .500 in the 31 games since then to drop to 13 games out of the playoff picture.

    Much like the Angels, the pitching staff is to blame for most of the Blue Jays' woes. Only the Astros and Angels have a worse team ERA than the Blue Jays. Meanwhile, only Baltimore has hit more home runs than Toronto.

    Imagine how good this team could have been if R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson were actually worth all the money they're making.

Miami Marlins

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    Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: -2.8

    One-sixth of run differential: -16.8

    Score and grade: -19.6, D

    Previous score and grade: -21.6, D-

     

    Jose Fernandez has been incredible, but take him away from Miami and what do the Marlins have left Giancarlo Stanton is the only person on the team who has hit more than one home run since the All-Star break, and he's batting .210 in the process.

    Aside from Fernandez, the lowest xFIP among starters still on the team is Henderson Alvarez at 3.74good for 31st place among the 83 NL starting pitchers who have logged at least 50 innings. The next best is Tom Koehler at 4.10, which puts him in 59th place on that list.

    There are some signs for optimism. Alvarez and Nate Eovaldi have pitched respectably after missing the first half of the season on the disabled list. Christian Yelich and Jake Marisnick are still adjusting to life in the big leagues, but perhaps they're getting it out of their systems now and will be ready to contribute in a big way in 2014.

    Still, the team has the worst record in the National League and is 6.5 games away from Milwaukee and Chicago if it wants to change that.

Milwaukee Brewers

9 of 31

    Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: -8.7

    One-sixth of run differential: -8.0

    Score and grade: -16.7, D+

    Previous score and grade: -26.2, F

     

    Before you get too excited about the Milwaukee Brewers' improvement since the last update, their first 24 games after the All-Star break were all against teams below .500and they went 13-11 with a plus-13 run differential during that stretch.

    Their upcoming string of 19 games against the Pirates, Cardinals, Reds and Angels should restore some order to the universe.

    Though, there's at least a chance that the Brewers have gotten better now that they've adjusted to life without the Ryan Braun distraction. We shall see. They still have one of the five worst records in baseball, and the pitching staff is still nothing specialthough Kyle Lohse and Jim Henderson have been pretty solid since the break.

    Between Braun (presumably) coming back and the potential addition of a few highly touted pitching prospects, the Brewers figure to be one of the most improved teams in 2014.

    Unfortunately, that doesn't do them much good in 2013.

Washington Nationals

10 of 31

    Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: -10.3

    One-sixth of run differential: -3.5

    Score and grade: -13.8, D+

    Previous score and grade: -9.05, C-

     

    2012 was arguably the best season of Adam LaRoche's career. He belted 33 home runs and drove in 100 runs while sporting an OPS of .853.

    2013, on the other hand, will go down as his worst full season in the big leagues. His OPS has dropped more than 100 points to .745, and his batting average is an extremely pedestrian .238.

    With 75 percent of the season complete, he has 53 percent as many RBI and 52 percent as many home runs as last season. In one season, he went from being the driving force of Washington Nationals' offense to something of a liability.

    I wouldn't say he's entirely to blame for their transformation from a 98-win team to a team projected for 80 wins, but he seems to be the biggest factor.

San Diego Padres

11 of 31

    Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: -1.0

    One-sixth of run differential: -12.6

    Score and grade: -13.6, C-

    Previous score and grade: -9.6, C-

     

    Now that we've got those nine teams out of the way, we can shift the tone of voice from disappointment to relative indifference. No more pointing fingers and instead simple acceptance of that which we more or less assumed these teams would do.

    The Padres are still at least a handful of pieces away from truly competing for anything other than last place in the NL West, but that's no different from what we were expecting four months ago.

    The lineup was starting to come together before they lost Everth Cabrera to his Biogenesis suspension, but the pitching staff is still somewhat in shambles. Eric Stults is the ace of the staff right now, despite being 33 years old and never posting a WAR better than 1.1 in his career.

    I'm certainly intrigued about their future, though. Tyson Ross has looked great over the past month, and they got perhaps the steal of the trade deadline by grabbing Ian Kennedy from the Diamondbacks. Within two years those two could be joined in the rotation by Max Fried, Casey Kelly, Matthew Wisler and Joe Wieland.

    Who knows how well those prospects will pan out, but just about anything is better than Edinson Volquez and Jason Marquis.

Seattle Mariners

12 of 31

    Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: -1.0

    One-sixth of run differential: -11.7

    Score and grade: -12.7, C-

    Previous score and grade: -18.7, D

     

    There are 119 batters with a WAR of 1.7 or better. Kyle Seager has a WAR of 3.5. Thus concludes the list of Mariners with a WAR of 1.7 or better.

    I know they've dealt with injuries throughout the season and that Brad Miller, Nick Franklin and Mike Zunino didn't get called up until midseason. But still, only one player?

    The pitching staff hasn't been much more successful. Felix Hernandez is among the league leaders in WAR at 5.2, and Hisashi Iwakuma has had a respectable season worth 2.7 wins above replacement. However, they're the only Mariners pitchers with a WAR of 1.3 or better.

    Despite no longer being the whipping boys of the AL West, they're projected to finish the 2013 season with almost the exact same record as they finished with in 2012. If only I could figure out a way to handicap the grades for the AL West for getting to play 19 games each against the Astros. The Mariners really should have improved from last year.

Chicago Cubs

13 of 31

    Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: -1.2

    One-sixth of run differential: -7.0

    Score and grade: -8.2, C

    Previous score and grade: -3.7, C

     

    Wait a second. The Cubs are 14 games below .500, but they're receiving the same grade as the New York Yankees (on the next slide)?

    That's right, disgruntled reader, though it's largely because the Cubs would actually exceed preseason expectations if they win 73 games, whereas the Yankees would need to reach 87 wins to say the same.

    Though their actual records are quite different, the Cubs' expected win-loss is 54-65, which is only 3.5 games behind New York's 57-61. They have been better than their record indicates, and much like Miami and Houston, they have been stockpiling for the future. This team is going to be frighteningly good within the next two or three years.

New York Yankees

14 of 31

    Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: -2.7

    One-sixth of run differential: -2.7

    Score and grade: -5.4, C

    Previous score and grade: 3.1, C+

     

    Despite all of the injuries, the ups, the downs and the media circuses, the 2013 Yankees are pretty much a perfectly average ballclub. They have one of the smallest run differentials in the league and are heading toward something in the vicinity of an 81-81 season.

    All things considered, it's really tough to say whether the Yankees' season has been a success or a disappointment. Based on all of the injuries, it's kind of amazing that they're above .500. But based on their hot start, it's kind of surprising that they're only three games over .500.

    Giving them a C feels right, though. Regardless of whatever expectations you have for the most discussed team in America, they've been neither terrific nor terrible.

New York Mets

15 of 31

    Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 0.8

    One-sixth of run differential: -4.7

    Score and grade: -3.9, C

    Previous score and grade: -11.9, D+

     

    In Wednesday's article on end-of-season award predictions, I had three different Mets in contention for three different awards. Matt Harvey (Cy Young contender), David Wright (MVP contender) and Marlon Byrd (Comeback Player of the Year contender) have each had excellent seasons.

    If only those three guys had some support from elsewhere on the team, the Mets would probably be in second place in the NL East right now. Daniel Murphy and Juan Lagares have shown promise in extended spurts, but they have also struggled for prolonged stretches of time.

    The Mets are starting to put together the pieces and could have the best rotation in all of baseball next season between Harvey, Dillon Gee, Jeremy Hefner, Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero and Jenrry Mejia.

Minnesota Twins

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    Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 8.9

    One-sixth of run differential: -9.8

    Score and grade: -0.9, C+

    Previous score and grade: -1.4, C

     

    We're now shifting into the next echelon of grades, moving from a quintet of relative indifference to a trio of muted marvel.

    The Twins have been much better than expected. As long as they win 12 of their remaining 45 games, they'll make some money for the people who bet the over on their preseason line of 64.5 wins.

    But please don't let "exceeding expectations" be confused with "good," because they still have the least valuable starting rotation in the American League, and their hitters aren't all that much more valuable than those in Houston or Chicago.

    They're headed in the right direction, but they've got a long way to go.

    If the transition from 2012 Twins to World Series contenders is equidistant to a drive from New York to Los Angeles, they're somewhere in eastern Ohio.

Colorado Rockies

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    Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 3.5

    One-sixth of run differential: -2.0

    Score and grade: 1.5, C+

    Previous score and grade: 6.8, B-

     

    Once upon a time, it looked like the Rockies might win the NL West. On June 16, they were 37-33 and only a half game behind the Diamondbacks for first place.

    Since then, they have the second-worst record in the National League and have played 21 games worse than the Dodgers in a span of less than two months.

    Still, they've done better than most expected. The Rockies were projected for 71.5 wins and last place in the division. Currently projecting for 75-87 isn't much of anything to write home about, and is pretty disappointing compared to where they were in mid-June, but they're still slightly ahead of schedule.

    Between Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, the Rockies have the bats to be greatand are actually near the top of the NL leader board in runs scoredbut poor pitching is keeping them from becoming an upper echelon team.

Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 2.3

    One-sixth of run differential: 1.2

    Score and grade: 3.5, B-

    Previous score and grade: 7.4, B

     

    They're 5.5 games behind the Reds for the second NL Wild Card and 7.5 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West, but we would be remiss if we didn't recognize the Diamondbacks for a job well done to this point in the season.

    As has been the case with the Twins and Rockies before them, it's the starting pitching that's holding them at good when they could be great.

    Patrick Corbin is the only starting pitcher on the team with an xFIP better than 3.80, and even his 3.48 xFIP would seem to indicate that his 2.36 ERA isn't going to last much longer. Paul Goldschmidt can hit all the home runs he wants, but Arizona either needs to improve its rotation or find him a bash brother or three if the Diamondbacks are going to win the NL West next year.

Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 4.0

    One-sixth of run differential: 7.1

    Score and grade: 11.1, B-

    Previous score and grade: -19.5, D

     

    Before you get all bent out of shape, keep in mind that the Dodgers were the preseason favorites to win the World Series.

    Also, please note that their score is actually closer to the Orioles (18.5, A-) than it is to the Diamondbacks (3.5, B-), but we're grading on something of a curve here. Five teams separate Los Angeles from Baltimore, but there's no one that placed a score between L.A. and Arizona.

    Moving on.

    The Dodgers have been nothing short of on fire over the past two months, but they were pretty bad before going on that runbad enough that they received a D from these grades six weeks ago. Putting together one of the best 50-game stretches in baseball history has merely brought them back to a projected win total four games better than originally expected.

    If the difference between their first two months and next two months wasn't so pronounced, a slightly above-average grade would seem appropriate. After all, they're still 3.5 games behind the Braves in the race for home-field advantage.

Kansas City Royals

20 of 31

    Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 6.9

    One-sixth of run differential: 5.2

    Score and grade: 12.1, B

    Previous score and grade: 2.05, C+

     

    If your favorite team is hopelessly out of the playoff racewhich is currently the case for 50 percent of fanbasesbut you still want something to root for this season, might I suggest dedicating what's left of your 2013 support to the Kansas City Royals?

    Everyone loves a good underdog story, and the Royals haven't made the playoffs since 1985. We've written them off at least three times already this season, but they just won't go quietly into the night. And now they're a mere four games back in the race for the second AL Wild Card.

    Who knows if the acquisition of Emilio Bonifacio, as reported by the Associated Press (via ESPN), will be enough to help push this team over the top. I know I'll be watching to find out.

     

Cleveland Indians

21 of 31

    Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 8.8

    One-sixth of run differential: 4.7

    Score and grade: 13.5, B

    Previous score and grade: 8.85, B

     

    Entering play on Wednesday, Jason Kipnis was one of four players with at least 15 home runs, at least 20 stolen bases and an on-base percentage of .360 or better.

    The other three players, you ask? Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen and Carlos Gonzalez.

    Between the national obsession with Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis and the lack of national attention that Cleveland usually gets, Kipnis is putting together the quietest MVP campaign in the history of the Internet.

    Led by their All-Star second baseman, the Indians continue to hang on for dear life to a playoff chance that didn't even seem remotely possible four months ago.

Tampa Bay Rays

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    Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 5.4

    One-sixth of run differential: 8.2

    Score and grade: 13.6, B

    Previous score and grade: 11.3, B+

     

    The Royals and Indians are fringe playoff contenders, but the top 10 teams in this formula are among the 11 teams with at least a 33 percent chance of making the playoffs. Sure, the Dodgers came in a few spots lower than they probably deserve, but that's still pretty solid.

    The Rays have really been slipping as of late. They've lost their last six games and have now dropped eight of 10 to both hand the Red Sox a big lead in the AL East and open the door for Baltimore or Kansas City to steal the second Wild Card.

    Recent momentum notwithstanding, the Rays have put together a pretty strong season in their first year of life after James Shields. Starting pitching continues to grow on trees in Tampa Bay, and if Tuesday night's multi-homer performance is a sign that Ben Zobrist is finally coming around, the team could snap out of this skid in no time.

Texas Rangers

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    Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 6.2

    One-sixth of run differential: 8.0

    Score and grade: 14.2, B+

    Previous score and grade: 11.35, B+

     

    Since losing Nelson Cruz to his Biogenesis suspension, the Rangers are 7-1 and averaging nearly six runs per game, because baseball just doesn't make any sense sometimes.

    (That said, I did predict that the Rangers would start pulling away from Baltimore and Cleveland during this stretch of the season, so it's not a total surprise.)

    As incredible as Yu Darvish has been this year, Derek Holland actually has a higher WAR and is easily the least-discussed AL Cy Young candidate. Coupled with their trade-deadline acquisition of Matt Garza, the Rangers might best be suited for going toe-to-toe with the Tigers' pitching rotation in the playoffs.

    As long as Adrian Beltre and company can keep scrounging together enough runs to support those pitchers, they could still be headed for the best record in the American League when all is said and done.

Cincinnati Reds

24 of 31

    Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 2.7

    One-sixth of run differential: 12.7

    Score and grade: 15.4, B+

    Previous score and grade: 17.05, A-

     

    The Reds were projected for 88.5 wins in the preseason.

    If you had told me then that they would enter play on August 14 with just nine games started by Johnny Cueto, with only three official at-bats on the season from Ryan Ludwick and in third place in the NL Central, I would have been forced to assume that the were about three games under .500.

    Instead, they're somehow on pace for 91 wins and could very well still win their division.

    They probably deserve better than a B+ for dealing with those injuries as well as they have, but if I tried to start assigning magnitudes to injuries and including those numbers in the formulas for these teams, this thing never would've gotten finished.

Baltimore Orioles

25 of 31

    Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 12.0

    One-sixth of run differential: 6.5

    Score and grade: 18.5, A-

    Previous score and grade: 16.6, A-

     

    The Orioles were one of the most active teams leading up to the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31, but was it enough?

    Both Bud Norris and Francisco Rodriguez have been pretty solid in orange and black, but the team has only played .500 baseball over the past two weeks against teams that most likely won't be going to the playoffs. That can't possibly bode well for their upcoming stretch of 15 games against Tampa Bay, Oakland, Boston, New York and Cleveland.

    Whether they make the playoffs or not, the Orioles appear to have proven prognosticators dead wrong for a second consecutive season. They're currently on pace for 88.5 wins, despite a preseason over/under line of 76.5 wins.

    Or perhaps I'm mistaken and the 76.5 was the over/under for how many home runs Chris Davis will finish the year with.

Oakland A's

26 of 31

    Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 9.0

    One-sixth of run differential: 11.0

    Score and grade: 20.0, A-

    Previous score and grade: 22.4, A

     

    The A's are tied with the Blue Jays for the worst BABIP in the AL, but they lead the league in walk rateas any self-respecting Billy Beane team should.

    Brett Anderson is finally on his way back to the majors, according to Paul Gutierrez of CSNBayArea.com, and maybe he'll actually stay healthy for a month or two by assuming a role in the bullpen.

    Josh Reddick hit five home runs in a span of two games over the weekend and might finally be turning things around. Perhaps Yoenis Cespedes and Chris Young won't be far behind him.

    Long story short, the A's are already one of the best teams in the game, and we haven't yet seen them at their healthiest or luckiest.

Pittsburgh Pirates

27 of 31

    Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 17.1

    One-sixth of run differential: 7.8

    Score and grade: 24.9, A

    Previous score and grade: 29.4, A+

     

    The Pirates could go 12-32 from this point forward and still finish with a record above .500 for the first time in more than 20 years.

    Let's not challenge them with that factoid, though, because they've made a habit of collapsing in the second half in recent seasons.

    Andrew McCutchen is currently the favorite to win the MVP, but I would nominate Mark Melancon for the award if I didn't think it would result in a copious amount of drug testing in my near future.

    Melancon and Jason Grilli were the best one-two punch at the back end of any bullpen for the first 100 days of the season. When Grilli went on the disabled list in late-July, Melancon switched from setup man to closer like it was a transition literally anyone could make.

    He has the lowest FIP and lowest ERA among relievers with at least 50 innings of work. His WAR may say he's only worth 1.8 more wins than a replacement reliever, but I can promise you the Pirates would be nowhere near 70 wins if they had Carlos Marmol working the late innings in Melancon's place.

Detroit Tigers

28 of 31

    Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 4.8

    One-sixth of run differential: 25.0

    Score and grade: 29.8, A

    Previous score and grade: 19.0, A-

     

    The Tigers have the best pitching staff and the third-best line up in all of baseball.

    They have been among the World Series favorites from day one and have a larger positive run differential than any other team.

    Max Scherzer is one of the favorites to win the AL Cy Young, and Miguel Cabrera is the runaway favorite to win the AL MVP. If they both pull it off, the Tigers would join the 2006 Twins (Justin Morneau and Johan Santana), the 2005 Cardinals (Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter) and the 2002 A's (Miguel Tejada and Barry Zito) as the only teams in the past 20 years to win both the MVP and Cy Young in the same seasonexcluding 2011 in which Justin Verlander won both.

    The only way their season could be more impressive would be if we hadn't been expecting them to win at least 90 games from the outset. 

St. Louis Cardinals

29 of 31

    Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 7.8

    One-sixth of run differential: 23.5

    Score and grade: 31.3, A

    Previous score and grade: 36.7, A+

     

    From July 26 through August 8, the Cardinals played 15 consecutive games against the four teams that will very likely join them in representing the National League in the playoffs. They went 4-11 in those games and polished the stretch off with back-to-back home losses against the Cubs.

    They're still nowhere near falling out of contention for the playoffs and receive an A in these grades, but that's at least a little bit concerning, no? I realize that their MVP, Yadier Molina, was on the DL for more than half of those games, but they lost six straight against the Braves and the Pirates at full health.

    The Cards have another stretch of games from August 22 through September 8 in which they play the Reds seven times, the Pirates six times and the Braves four times. If they're going to reassert themselves as World Series contenders, that's when they'll do it. Likewise, if they're going to open the door for Arizona or Washington to sneak into the playoffs, it'll be then.

Atlanta Braves

30 of 31

    Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 12.5

    One-sixth of run differential: 21.3

    Score and grade: 33.8, A+

    Previous score and grade: 23.15, A

     

    Given that both the Dodgers and Nationals were projected for 90 wins, I think it's safe to say that not many people were expecting the Braves to have the best record in all of baseball with three quarters of the season in the books.

    That said, their domination of the second half of the season wasn't completely unforeseeable.

    The lesson, as always, is that good things naturally happen when you build a Waffle House inside your stadium.

Boston Red Sox

31 of 31

    Projected win total vs. preseason expectation: 16.9

    One-sixth of run differential: 17.5

    Score and grade: 34.4, A+

    Previous score and grade: 37.2, A+

     

    The Red Sox had the highest grade on July 8 and maintain a slim margin over the Braves for the top spot on August 14.

    The scary thing is that they've dealt with injuries to their pitching staff all season and are still trying to figure out what to do about their third base situation. Jose Iglesias was the only person they tried who wasn't actually a detriment to the team, but he was a necessary casualty in the trade to get Jake Peavy.

    Clay Buchholz is seemingly close to a return, according to Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald. If he can make it back before anyone else gets injured, it might be the most complete Red Sox rotation since 2004.

    If that happens and Will Middlebrooks actually starts hitting the ball again, I'd have to consider the Red Sox the favorite to win the World Series.