What We've Learned About Each 2015 MLB Contender Thus Far

Karl Buscheck@@KarlBuscheckContributor IIIMay 12, 2015

What We've Learned About Each 2015 MLB Contender Thus Far

0 of 6

    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    The start of the 2015 MLB season definitely hasn't gone to script. Just look at the Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins.

    While the American League East heavyweights can't seem to get on track, the Twins, who were left for dead before Opening Day even arrived, have been rolling right along. The Red Sox and the Twins represent the two types of contenders who crack a spot on this list.

    The first kind are the clubs like Boston, which were widely predicted to compete but who have so far wobbled. The second kind are clubs like the Twins, who have shattered expectations and elbowed their way into the playoff conversation.

    Taking a look around the league, there are at least three squads in each division that fit the contender bill. There are also a couple of divisions where all five teams figure to factor into the postseason chase.

AL East

1 of 6

    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    New York Yankees: 21-12, first place

    Even in Masahiro Tanaka's absence, the New York Yankees are setting the pace in the East.

    While the Japanese right-hander works his way back from forearm and wrist issues, Michael Pineda has stepped up as the de facto ace. The righty ripped off 16 punchouts in his start against the Orioles on May 10. Per ESPN Stats & Info, that's the most K's that a Yankees starter has ever recorded in a single game without giving up a walk.

    Bullpen aces Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances have also been lights-out in the Bronx. In a combined 32 outings, neither pitcher has allowed a single earned run.

    Tampa Bay Rays: 17-16, second place

    The Tampa Bay Rays' rotation has been keeping the club in the game every night. With right-hander Chris Archer leading the way, Tampa Bay's starters have posted the third-best ERA in the major leagues. The most impressive part is that the Rays have accomplished that with a slew of prominent names on the shelf. Alex Cobb, Matt Moore and Drew Smyly are currently on the disabled list.

    Toronto Blue Jays: 16-17, third place

    Thanks to the likes of Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin and Devon Travis, the Toronto Blue Jays lead baseball in runs. Unfortunately, not even that dynamic attack can make up for the team's mess of a rotation.

    Toronto's starters have racked up a 5.21 ERA, and have walked the second-most batters in baseball. With numbers like that, it's time for general manager Alex Anthopoulos to start shopping around on the trade market.

    Boston Red Sox: 15-17, fourth place (tied)

    The rotation has been a train wreck for the Boston Red Sox. With the group sporting the worst ERA (5.63) in the AL, the Red Sox are languishing in a tie for fourth place in the East.

    The shaky start resulted in veterans David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia calling a closed-door meeting after the 7-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on May 9, per Jen McCaffrey of MassLive.com.

    "What you've got to do is put these five weeks behind you and come back and play the game like it's the first game tomorrow," explained Ortiz, via McCaffrey. "Make sure different things happen."

    Ortiz is spot on. The Red Sox absolutely have to put the first five weeks of the season in the rear-view mirror. The way that the rotation has performed, Boston also absolutely must add a pitcher or two via trade to bolster the sputtering staff.

    Baltimore Orioles: 14-16, fourth place (tied)

    The Baltimore Orioles are in fourth place in the congested AL East, and so far, it's been the offense that has been carrying the weight. Headlined by the likes of Adam Jones and Jimmy Paredes, the team ranks first in the AL in OPS. 

    As for the rotation, both Chris Tillman and Bud Norris have endured poor starts to the season. With Kevin Gausman sidelined with a case of shoulder tendinitis, the O's don't have any obvious insurance option if an extra starter is needed.

AL Central

2 of 6

    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    Kansas City Royals: 20-12, first place

    There are two observations that stand out from the Kansas City Royals' 2015 season so far.

    The first is that the bullpen is frighteningly good. The group leads baseball with a 1.56 ERA and the opposition is hitting just .167 against the team's relievers.

    The second is that the Royals have a ridiculous knack for getting timely hits. As a team, Kansas City is hitting .312 with two outs and runners in scoring position, which is the highest clip in the majors. That's flat-out clutch, but the Royals aren't the only team in the division who have demonstrated that skill.

    Detroit Tigers: 19-13, second place

    The Detroit Tigers sure can rake. The reigning division champs have four regulars hitting north of .300 and own the second-highest team average in the AL.

    While the offensive production has been impressive, the most crucial development of the season has been the ninth-inning dominance of Joakim Soria. Having a reliable arm to call on in the final frame is a new luxury for a Tigers team that had a gas can of a bullpen in 2014.

    "I am finally healthy and enjoying what I am doing," explained Soria, via Chris McCosky of the Detroit News. "When you love what you do, you go out there and have fun."

    The closer has been having a lot of fun. The right-handed veteran is 11-for-11 in save opportunities and is sporting a 1.20 ERA.

    Minnesota Twins: 18-14, third place

    Sitting four games over .500, the Minnesota Twins have shocked everyone.

    Whether the Twins will manage to hang around in the highly competitive AL Central remains to be seen. The potential downfall of the club could be its starting pitching, which remains average at bestNo. 22 in ERA.

    One of the most impressive aspects of Minnesota's early-season run is the team's penchant for delivering big hits in big moments. The team has a .903 OPS with runners in scoring position and two outs. That's the best mark in baseball.

    Chicago White Sox: 12-17, fourth place

    After an extremely busy winter of revamping the roster, expectations were way up on the South Side.

    To this point, the 12-17 White Sox have been nowhere close to matching the hype. The trouble starts with the squad's shoddy rotation. Jeff Samardzija has the lowest ERA of the bunch at 4.80.

    At the plate, the White Sox's discipline has been nowhere to be found. Chicago ranks second-to-last in the AL in walks.

    Cleveland Indians: 11-19, fifth place

    The Tribe is playing a dangerous game.

    With an 11-19 record, the Cleveland Indians are eight games off the pace, sitting in last place in the division. The underwhelming start is reminiscent of how the club began the 2014 season. It's been the starting staff that has been the biggest disappointment for Cleveland. Corey Kluber, who owns a 5.04 ERA, will have to turn his season around fast before the Indians get buried.

AL West

3 of 6

    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Houston Astros:  20-12, first place

    The Houston Astros, who own a five-game advantage in the AL West, are one of the biggest surprises of 2015. The club is also an example of how a lockdown bullpen makes all the difference. Last year, Houston's relief corps checked in with the worst ERA in baseball. This year, the pen has the second-lowest mark in the AL.

    Los Angeles Angels: 15-17, second place

    The Los Angeles Angels have to step it up at the plate.

    Pick any offensive category and the defending division winners are right at the bottom of the leaderboard. The Halos rank No. 29 in average (.228), No. 28 in OBP (.289), No. 29 in slugging percentage (.347) and No. 29 in OPS (.637).

    Seattle Mariners: 14-17, third place

    Pitching has been a problem for the Seattle Mariners early on in the campaign. The vaunted bullpen, which was one of the most effective in the bigs a season ago, has endured all sorts of struggles. With nine losses, the relief crew is tied for the most defeats in baseball.

    The M's are also learning about the danger of relying on young starters, as neither James Paxton (5.08 ERA) nor Taijuan Walker (8.13 ERA) have provided the club with quality outings. Walker has been making everyone he faces look like an All-Star, as the opposition has posted a .328 average against him.

NL East

4 of 6

    Elsa/Getty Images

    New York Mets: 20-12, first place

    The New York Mets have been downright dealing in 2015.

    Thanks to a rotation that has posted an MLB-best 3.09 ERA, the Mets are at the top of the standings in the NL East. Young stars like Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom generate most of the buzz, but the wily vet Bartolo Colon can't be ignored. The 41-year-old is one of two big leaguers with six wins in 2015.

    “It’s not about the velocity,” Colon told Zach Schonbrun of the New York Times through an interpreter. “It’s about execution.”

    Execution, indeed. As Schonbrun notes, Colon hasn't dished out a free pass in his past six starts and has put up a 40-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

    It's going to be awfully challenging to hold off the Washington Nationals in the East, but this loaded rotation cements the Mets' status as a legitimate playoff contender in the NL.

    Washington Nationals: 18-15, second place

    Winners of eight of their past 10 games, the Nats are officially back on track.

    Bryce Harper has been an absolute monster for Washington early in 2015. The right fielder has already clubbed 11 home runs and has put up a 1.074 OPS. Per ESPN Stats & Info, the the 22-year-old recently became the youngest player in baseball history to tally five bombs in two games.

    To go along with that power, Harper has also demonstrated tremendous discipline at the plate, drawing 28 walks. That's tied for the most in baseball.

    Harper's breakout is particularly important for the Nats, considering the team's dicey injury situation. Jayson Werth, who underwent shoulder surgery over the offseason is swinging at a clip of .186. Meanwhile, Anthony Rendon, who is currently hobbled by an oblique strain, has yet to step on a big league diamond.

    Miami Marlins: 15-18, fourth place

    The Miami Marlins have rebounded nicely after a nightmare 3-11 start to the season. Owners of a 15-18 record, the Fish have clawed their way back into the wild-card discussion.

    Without question, the early-season MVP for the Marlins has been second baseman Dee Gordon. The 27-year-old has done a remarkable job setting the tone for the club, checking in with a .425 average and reeling off 12 steals.

    Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and MLB.com.

    If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.

NL Central

5 of 6

    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    St. Louis Cardinals22-9, first place

    Even with Adam Wainwright out of the picture, the 22-9 St. Louis Cardinals have the best record in baseball and are the strongest all-around team.

    The rotation is still third in MLB in ERA with its ace on the shelf. Meanwhile, the pen has been even better, posting a 1.61 ERA, which is the lowest mark in the NL.

    At the plate, St. Louis has been getting big-time contributions from players up and down the lineup. One Cardinal who is worth singling out is Kolten Wong. With four home runs and a .336 average, the 24-year-old second baseman has the look of a future star.

    Chicago Cubs: 16-15, second place

    Sitting one game over .500, the Chicago Cubs already trail the St. Louis Cardinals by six games in the Central, but the team is right in the mix for a wild-card spot.

    While the first year of the Joe Maddon era has gone about as well as could be expected, there have been some discouraging developments for the young squad, as well.

    First, the Cubs have been piling up the miscues in the field. With 27 errors, Chicago is tied for second in the department in the National League. The team has also made a habit of swinging and missing. With 312 K's, no team in baseball has struck out more than Chicago.

    Pittsburgh Pirates16-16, third place

    The rotation, which ranks second in ERA, has been dealing for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but there are definitely concerns surrounding this team.

    The bullpen has dropped the ball when it matters most, amassing eight losses, which is the most in the NL. The health of superstar Andrew McCutchen is certainly a topic worth bringing up. Per Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the center fielder refuses to use his balky left knee as an excuse for his subpar start. Still, it sure is weird to see McCutchen hitting .219 with a .650 OPS.

    Cincinnati Reds: 15-17, fourth place

    Anchored by Johnny Cueto, the starting rotation has been the key for the Cincinnati Reds in 2015.

    Those starters own the fourth-best ERA in baseball, which has allowed the Reds to stay afloat in the wild-card chase. Unfortunately for Cincinnati, two of the four teams that have posted better ERAs—the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals—also play in the same division.

NL West

6 of 6

    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Los Angeles Dodgers: 21-10, first place

    Injuries to Hyun-jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy have put a major dent in the rotation, but there's still a lot to like about the start of the season for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    Thanks to the emergence of relievers like Yimi Garcia, Pedro Baez and Paco Rodriguez, the Dodgers suddenly have one of the most electric bullpens in the big leagues. The relief corps has posted a 2.00 ERA, which is the third-best mark in MLB.

    At the dish, the offense has been stupid good. The Dodgers lead the game with 49 bombs and have put up an .828 OPS, which means that the club has essentially been one giant All-Star.

    San Diego Padres: 17-16, second place

    After scoring the fewest runs in baseball a season ago, the San Diego Padres are having no problems getting on the board in 2015. Offseason addition Justin Upton has played a central role in the revamped offense, as the left fielder has tallied eight bombs and posted a .919 OPS.

    Unfortunately for the Pads, the pitching staff hasn't been able to keep the opposition off the board. With a 4.07 ERA, San Diego ranks No. 16 in baseball in that department.

    San Francisco Giants: 16-16, third place

    Never count the San Francisco Giants out.

    Skipper Bruce Bochy's squad looked terrible early on, as the Giants tumbled through an eight-game skid. Since then, San Francisco has righted the ship. Having won seven of the team's past 10 games, the Giants have climbed back to the .500 mark.

    And help is on the way. Right fielder Hunter Pence, who broke his arm in spring training, has embarked upon a rehab assignment. For now, there's no clear timetable for when the 32-year-old will return to AT&T Park. Since Pence missed all of the Cactus League schedule, Bochy said his stay on the farm will be "lengthy," per Matt Kawahara of the Sacramento Bee.

    Arizona Diamondbacks: 14-17, fourth place

    Losers of 98 games a season ago, the Arizona Diamondbacks weren't supposed to have a part to play in the contender conversation.

    The results on the diamond tell a different story, though. At 14-17, the D-backs are still within shouting distance of the .500 mark and in the wild-card mix. The biggest change from 2014 is that the club's starters are actually stringing together quality outings. The rotation has compiled the seventh-best ERA in the majors.

slash iconYour sports. Delivered.

Enjoy our content? Join our newsletter to get the latest in sports news delivered straight to your inbox!