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Julie Jacobson/Associated Press
Welcome to the quarter mark of the 2018 Major League Baseball season. There may be no more appropriate way to celebrate than by finally throwing out preseason expectations for MLB‘s playoff picture.
It’s time for a new assessment of things.
Ahead are updated playoff odds for all 30 MLB teams. These are based on how their strengths and weaknesses have (or have not) changed since the start of the season, as well as on how the competition around them measures up.
We’ll go in alphabetical order by city.
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Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
Record: 25-17, 1st in NL West
The Arizona Diamondbacks were rolling right along, but suddenly they’re just 5-9 in May.
Being stricken with MLB’s worst offense hasn’t helped, and losing A.J. Pollock for the next four to eight weeks will likely only make things worse. Factor in how the D-backs’ rotation had already lost Taijuan Walker and is still waiting for Robbie Ray’s return, and they’re a first-place team with a lot of problems.
The situation isn’t hopeless, however.
Arizona’s offense has already welcomed back Steven Souza Jr. and should get Jake Lamb back soon as well. It’s also a safe bet that Paul Goldschmidt won’t slump forever.
What also helps their cause is that other teams in the National League West have bigger problems than they do. More on that to come.
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Chris O’Meara/Associated Press
Record: 25-16, 1st in NL East
The Atlanta Braves making it to the quarter pole with the NL’s best record probably tops the list of things nobody saw coming.
Among the factors that could trip them up is the sheer strength of the NL East and two in-house issues. One is a bullpen with a walk problem. Another is an offense whose expected production (xwOBA) casts doubt on whether it’s truly the NL’s best.
It’s nonetheless hard not to be impressed by the mix of veteran and youthful talent in Atlanta’s lineup. The latter pool will only get deeper if top prospect Austin Riley can ride a torrid performance into the majors.
The Braves also boast one of the majors’ best starting rotations, and it may not even be operating at peak capacity. They have plenty of young arms they can either plug in or trade for veteran upgrades.
Even if the Braves aren’t actually the class of the Senior Circuit, they’re still a contender.
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Patrick Semansky/Associated Press
Record: 13-28, 5th in AL East
The Baltimore Orioles are 15.5 games out of first place, and their minus-56 run differential would advise everyone against wondering whether they deserve to be there.
Much of Baltimore’s displeasure derives from a pitching staff that’s sputtered out of the gate with a 5.08 ERA. There were few bright spots in it to begin with, and now there’s one less due to Dylan Bundy’s recent skid.
On offense, the only one who’s hitting is Manny Machado. This would indeed be the same Manny Machado who’s ticketed for free agency, and thus highly unlikely to hang around until the bitter end.
Also likely to be traded this summer are Zach Britton, Brad Brach and maybe even Adam Jones. Assuming the Orioles cash in as much as they can, the latter half of 2018 figures to be even less pretty than the first half.
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Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
Record: 28-14, 2nd in AL East
The Boston Red Sox started hot at 17-2. Since then, however, they are just 11-12.
The Red Sox’s pitching has raised questions by struggling during this stretch. Their rotation is hit-or-miss outside of Chris Sale and Rick Porcello, and now their bullpen is going to be without Carson Smith for a while.
And contrary to 2017, the Red Sox have plenty of offense to help them get through tough times. Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez are a formidable duo, and there are few easy outs around them in a lineup that’s averaging 5.4 runs per game.
The presence of the New York Yankees will make it difficult for the Red Sox to capture a third straight AL East title. However, it will be a shock if they miss out on the playoffs entirely.
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Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press
Record: 22-17, 4th in NL Central
There are starts that are disappointing, and then there are starts so disappointing that people are already talking about seeking out saviors.
The Chicago Cubs are mired in the latter, and the widespread freakout about it isn’t totally unwarranted. The NL Central is proving to be stronger than anticipated, and the Cubs are being held back by struggles from high-profile stars.
It’s not all bad, though.
The Cubs are scoring 5.3 runs per game despite Anthony Rizzo’s season-long slump. That won’t last forever. The same can be said with confidence about Jose Quintana and Yu Darvish, who can only be helped by the team’s typically excellent defense.
It was just last year that the Cubs ultimately shook off a slow start and overcame tough competition to waltz back into the postseason. The difference this year is they have a strong bullpen to help share the load.
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Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
Record 10-28, 5th in AL Central
The only reason the Chicago White Sox have even a smidgen of chance at October is the reality that they play in the AL Central. They’re only 8.5 games out of first place despite having the worst record in MLB.
Even still, there must be some sort of promise of better baseball to come for there to be real hope of a turnaround. And that’s where the White Sox come up as short as their record would suggest.
They rank among the most punchless offensive teams (3.9 runs per game) and pitching teams (5.41 ERA) in MLB. The arrivals of top prospects Eloy Jimenez and Michael Kopech will help, but it would take a lot more to totally rescue the White Sox from oblivion.
As they used to say on Chicago’s North Side: Wait ’til next year.
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John Minchillo/Associated Press
Record: 14-29, 5th in NL Central
To quote Joey Votto: “It hasn’t been a fun time to be a Cincinnati Reds fan.”
To be fair, it’s been a little more fun of late. The Reds are a somewhat-respectable 11-14 since they replaced Bryan Price with Jim Riggleman as manager. Sweeping the Los Angeles Dodgers in a four-game series at Dodger Stadium sure helped the effort.
Positives aside, however, it is hard to be optimistic about the Reds taking their rebound much further.
The addition of Matt Harvey is unlikely to make a real difference for a pitching staff that’s struggling with a 4.92 ERA. It’ll be up to Votto and Cincinnati’s offense to carry the load, and there’s just not enough depth for that kind of operation.
Also, the NL Central is awfully tough. The Reds may as well be trying to climb Everest with greased-up hands and feet.
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Tony Dejak/Associated Press
Record: 20-21, 1st in AL Central
The Cleveland Indians were supposed to run away with the AL Central. Instead, they are living with the shame of being the only first-place team with a sub-.500 record.
The two most obvious targets for blame are an offense that stumbled out of the gate and a bullpen that’s been the worst in baseball with a 5.73 ERA.
On the plus side, Cleveland’s offense has found its stride with an .866 OPS and 6.4 runs per game over its last 20 contests. And as long as both stay healthy, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen should ultimately do more good than harm in cleaning up for a starting rotation that’s quite excellent outside of Josh Tomlin.
In virtually any other division, the Indians would be in real trouble. But in the AL Central, the trouble they’re in is something they should be able to shrug off.
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Jack Dempsey/Associated Press
Record: 23-20, 2nd in NL West
The Colorado Rockies’ pitching is the best reason to have faith in their postseason potential.
The staff may have a 4.36 ERA, but that mark doesn’t look as bad once a Coors Field adjustment is applied by way of ERA+. Colorado’s rotation doesn’t have a true weak spot, and its bullpen is headed by an elite one-two punch in Wade Davis and Adam Ottavino.
Even still, strong pitching can only take the Rockies so far. It’s paramount that they also have the bats to take advantage of their home ballpark and put up a fight on the road.
That’s where the Rockies come up painfully short. Their .704 OPS is on pace to be the worst in franchise history. That gets at the reality that Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon don’t have nearly enough support.
As long as that’s the case, this is a team that will have trouble finding the extra gear necessary to make it to October.
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Orlin Wagner/Associated Press
Record: 19-22, 3rd in AL Central
Following trades of Justin Verlander, Justin Upton and Ian Kinsler, it was easy to dismiss the Detroit Tigers as a lost cause for 2018.
But they haven’t been, largely because their starting rotation has gotten strong contributions from Michael Fulmer, Matt Boyd, Francisco Liriano and Mike Fiers. Their offense has also been better than expected, in part thanks to an overlooked breakout from Jeimer Candelario.
What the Tigers have is nevertheless far from a good offense, and it sounds like it’s going to be without Miguel Cabrera for a while. The club’s starting pitching will also miss his support. In the meantime, it has to worry about a bullpen that’s been prone to melting down.
So apart from “they play in the AL Central,” it’s hard to voice reasons to believe in the Tigers as contenders.
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Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
Record: 27-17, 1st in AL West
The Houston Astros basically didn’t run into any opposition en route to winning 101 games and their first-ever AL West title in 2017.
This year is presenting them with a challenge. The AL West has at least two other contenders in it, plus a team on the rise in the Oakland Athletics. The Astros also have their own weaknesses, specifically on offense and in the closer role.
And yet, they’re outpacing the competition anyway.
The lion’s share of the credit for that is a Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole-led starting rotation that’s dominating like no other. They’re also getting what they need out of big hitters like Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, and their ninth-inning issues haven’t sunk their bullpen as a whole.
Put simply, this is a team that can be pushed but not so easily knocked down. A trip to the postseason to defend their 2017 World Series championship is in the cards.
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Carlos Osorio/Associated Press
Record: 13-29, 4th in AL Central
The Kansas City Royals have the same smidgen of hope as the White Sox. They may have MLB’s second-worst record, but they are only 7.5 games out of first in the AL Central.
But also like the White Sox, that’s about it.
The Royals are operating with a roster that’s a shell of what it was when they went to the World Series in 2014 and won it in 2015. It shows in their MLB-worst 5.48 ERA and their modest average of four runs per game.
And whereas the White Sox have elite prospects they can call on, the Royals don’t. They’ll need to try to acquire some by holding a fire sale at the trade deadline, which would make their roster a shell of the shell that it already is.
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Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press
Record: 25-17, 2nd in AL West
The Los Angeles Angels have a lineup that’s thick with underperforming players, a starting rotation that lacks a true No. 1 and a bullpen that doesn’t have a clear answer at closer.
Yet it’s no accident that they are winning games anyway.
It helps that Mike Trout is still refusing to be anything less than the best player in baseball. It also helps that Shohei Ohtani has surpassed even the most optimistic expectations on both sides of the ball, as he’s been both an overpowering starter and a dangerous slugger.
And while nobody will mistake the Angels’ starting pitching for that of, say, the Astros’, they’re making a six-man rotation work. Part of that has to do with how the Angels are only asking for five good innings out of each starter.
This doesn’t look like a recipe for a division champion. But a wild-card contender? Absolutely.
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Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press
Record: 16-25, 4th in NL West
According to FanGraphs, the Los Angeles Dodgers still have the best odds of winning the NL West.
According to reality, their run of five straight division titles is likely coming to an end.
The Dodgers were more interested in saving money than in augmenting their roster over the winter, and they’re paying for it. Injuries have exposed depth issues that might have been avoided with a more active offseason.
L.A. must hope for the best for Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu, who were the team’s best starters before the injury bug got them. Corey Seager, meanwhile, won’t be manning shortstop for the rest of the season. A trade for Machado could fix that problem, but that doesn’t square with the team’s luxury-tax goals.
Even amid weak competition, the Dodgers would face a tall task in coming back. Since the competition is strong both in and out of the NL West, their task is that much taller.
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John Minchillo/Associated Press
Record: 15-26, 5th in NL East
The Miami Marlins are playing exactly like a team that recently sold off most of its best players and entered a rebuilding phase.
Their record is the result of combining MLB’s worst offense (3.5 runs per game) with the National League’s worst pitching (5.05 ERA). There are few bright spots to be found on either side of the ball.
What bright spots do exist probably aren’t long for Miami. J.T. Realmuto, for example, will be a hot commodity at the trade deadline. Justin Bour and Starlin Castro will also have markets, and teams are sure to ask about whatever pitchers the Marlins have to offer.
In the meantime, the NL East has already left the Marlins behind.
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John Minchillo/Associated Press
Record: 25-18, 2nd in NL Central
The Milwaukee Brewers aren’t winning through overpowering offense or shutdown starting pitching. The former is managing only 3.9 runs per game, and the latter has a 4.11 ERA.
What the Brewers do have is a lockdown defense and an unhittable bullpen. They rank third in MLB in defensive efficiency. And their bullpen—led by Josh Hader, the God of K%—has a 2.66 ERA that’s tied for second with the Cubs.
Still, the Brewers are probably lucky to have won as many games as they have. That doesn’t bode well in an NL Central division that has three other contenders in it, including a slumbering giant in Chicago.
However, Milwaukee is positioned to finish strong. Eric Thames, Chase Anderson and Jimmy Nelson will eventually return from injury to help the team’s lineup and rotation, respectively. The Brewers will also likely be one of the more active teams on the summer trade market.
Ultimately, they should stay in the hunt.
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David Banks/Getty Images
Record: 18-20, 2nd in AL Central
The Minnesota Twins returned to the postseason in 2017 largely because their offense was just good enough to account for their pitching.
The script has been flipped this season, mainly thanks to better-than-usual starting pitching. It should get even better once Ervin Santana returns. Eventually, their lineup will also be whole once Miguel Sano gets healthy.
Even still, it’s hard to see a ton of upside when looking in Minnesota’s direction.
Any future improvements to the Twins’ lineup may only upgrade from bad to mediocre, as it’s thus far scored the second-fewest runs in the American League. They also have a bullpen that’s struggled with a 4.78 ERA.
In light of all this, the best thing the Twins have going for them is their placement in the AL Central. They’re only a half-game out of first now, and their deficit may not grow that much even if they struggle to escape the .500 realm.
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Jeff Roberson/Associated Press
Record: 20-18, 4th in NL East
The New York Mets jetted out to a 12-2 start through 14 games. In their past 24 games, they are just 8-16.
To make matters worse, the injury bug has returned for more Yoenis Cespedes and Jacob deGrom. In keeping with a theme that plagued the Mets throughout 2017, they have a lot of company on the disabled list.
If the Mets ever get to a point where they’re fully healthy again, they’re going to be capable of putting another hot stretch together. But the only thing more foolish than banking on that is banking on the rest of the NL East to hang back and keep them in the race. The three teams above them have shown little interest in slowing down.
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Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images
Record: 28-12, 1st in AL East
The New York Yankees entered the week having won 19 out of 22 games and generally looking like the world-beater that anyone could have expected them to be in 2018.
It’s been the Yankees’ pitching that’s led the charge with a 2.94 ERA. Their bullpen has the highest strikeout rate (12.7 K/9) of any bullpen ever, and Luis Severino and CC Sabathia are leading a great starting rotation.
And now for the scary part: The Yankees still haven’t really gotten going on offense.
Although they lead MLB in OPS (.785) and runs (234), Aaron Judge is the only New York hitter who’s been consistent since Day 1. Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez should settle into grooves eventually, and they’ll have Didi Gregorius, Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar there for support.
The Red Sox are too good for the Yankees to leave in the dust. But between the two of them, it’s the Yankees who should maintain the inside track for the AL East title.
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Steven Senne/Associated Press
Record: 21-21, 4th in AL West
The Oakland A’s are playing about as well as anyone could have expected, if not a little better.
Meanwhile, Oakland’s pitching staff is settling down as the season moves along. Sean Manaea’s awakening as an ace is part of that. It also helps that the A’s have trimmed some fat from their rotation and benefited from stellar relief work on the part of Lou Trivino and Blake Treinen.
This nonetheless amounts to more of a high floor than a high ceiling, particularly in the stacked AL West. The division has also proven that it can keep the A’s down, as they only have a winning record against the Texas Rangers thus far.
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Laurence Kesterson/Associated Press
Record: 23-16, 2nd in NL East
The Philadelphia Phillies were already a pleasant surprise, and now their offense is clicking.
It’s gone from a modest .700 OPS in March and April up to .810 so far in May. Carlos Santana has begun to live up to his free-agent contract, and Odubel Herrera flat-out looks like a superstar.
This offensive outburst has been well timed, as the team’s pitching has been trending backward after a hot start. This is calling the Phillies’ needs for rotation depth and a reliable closer to attention.
On the bright side, Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta are an excellent one-two rotation punch. And when the Phillies are ready to start bringing in outside help on the summer trade market, they’ll have a heck of a trump card: lots and lots of payroll space.
In all, this is a team that will bow out of neither the NL East race nor the NL wild-card race.
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Joe Sargent/Getty Images
Record: 24-17, 1st in NL Central
Just when the Pittsburgh Pirates seemed to be fading with a 1-7 stretch in late April, they have come right back with a 12-6 run.
Their offense continues to lead the way. The Braves are the only NL team that has their .767 OPS beat, and their 5.1 runs per game is third behind the Braves and Cubs. Pretty good for a lineup that lost Andrew McCutchen, one of the best hitters in franchise history, over the winter.
The Pirates must keep the runs coming, however. It’s the best way they can account for a starting rotation in which only Trevor Williams has been dependable—and his performance reeks of luck, to boot.
This is doable. Pittsburgh’s offense isn’t the best at anything, but it is good at all the big things: patience, contact and power. Even if holding on to the NL Central lead proves to be beyond them, they are not going to bow out of the wild-card race.
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Kyusung Gong/Associated Press
Record: 17-27, 5th in NL West
At least the San Diego Padres are interesting.
Their splurge on Eric Hosmer is working out just fine, and he’s surrounded by some quality young talent. Christian Villanueva is a budding slugger. Franchy Cordero is a rising five-tool star. The Padres also have an assortment of young arms, led by Joey Lucchesi and Adam Cimber.
Yet this is a case wherein “interesting” is not the same as “good.” Only the Marlins are scoring fewer runs per game than the Padres, and bad defense is just one reason why they are not making up for that by excelling at run prevention.
The time is coming when they will be ready to contend in the NL West, but it’s not this year.
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Ben Margot/Associated Press
Record: 22-21, 3rd in NL West
The San Francisco Giants arguably should have used last offseason to pivot toward a youth movement. Instead, they doubled down on a veteran-laden roster by bringing in Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria.
This was only going to work if McCutchen and Longoria turned back the clock to their glory days and the team as a whole had good luck with injuries. Go figure, neither has happened.
This hasn’t spelled total disaster for the Giants because Cutch and Longo have at least made their offense better than it was in 2017, when it produced only 3.9 runs per game. But it’s still not a good offense, and that’s what the Giants need to overcome a pitching staff that’s riddled with problems.
The Giants may start getting some good pitching once Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto are together again. But by the time that happens, they could be far behind in both the NL West and NL wild-card races.
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Elaine Thompson/Associated Press
Record: 24-17, 3rd in AL West
This would have read a lot differently if it had been written when the Seattle Mariners still had Robinson Cano in the middle of their lineup.
So much for that. Cano was already due to sit for a while with a broken hand, but Tuesday he took an 80-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance. The Mariners will be without him until the middle of August.
It will be tough for Seattle to replace Cano’s .825 OPS, and the dire implications of that can’t be overstated.
Because each of their non-James Paxton starters has an ERA over 5.00 and their bullpen is nothing special outside of Edwin Diaz and James Pazos, the Mariners need their offense to be what carries them. It’s going to be difficult to make that happen without Cano, and that will hurt their standing in the AL playoff race.
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Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Record: 22-17, 3rd in NL Central
The St. Louis Cardinals’ first priority is getting more out of an offense that’s produced just 4.2 runs per game. Specifically, it’s Marcell Ozuna, Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler who need to snap out of it.
There are more unlikely things to hope for than that. And in terms of expected production, xwOBA claims the Cardinals offense has been on par with that of the Cubs. In other words: Have patience.
On the other side of the ball, Carlos Martinez’s strained lat shouldn’t keep him away from one of MLB’s top rotations for long. Meanwhile, top prospect Alex Reyes is looking as good as new in his rehab from Tommy John surgery.
St. Louis’ bullpen doesn’t invite as much optimism, as it’s leaning too heavily on Bud Norris and Jordan Hicks. Even still, this is a contender that shouldn’t have to worry about falling out of the NL Central or wild-card races.
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Charlie Riedel/Associated Press
Record: 18-22, 4th in AL East
The Tampa Bay Rays seemed ticketed for the bottom of the barrel when they started 4-13. They have since done a 180 with a 14-9 record.
Driving this improvement is a surprisingly strong offense. There are no great hitters in Tampa Bay’s lineup, but the amount of good hitters within it allows the unit to be better than the sum of its parts.
The catch is the Rays don’t hit for a ton of power, as their 36 home runs rank last in the Junior Circuit. That will make it tough to hang in an AL East that’s all about power at the top.
Oh, it also won’t help that the Rays lack a cohesive pitching staff. Said staff will probably lose Chris Archer and Alex Colome at the trade deadline, and they’re unlikely to be the only ones leaving.
These things considered, the best part of Tampa Bay’s season is probably happening right now.
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Abbie Parr/Getty Images
Record: 16-27, 5th in AL West
The Texas Rangers have their bright spots.
It’s great to see 44-year-old Bartolo Colon still beating major league hitters. Cole Hamels is also having a strong season on the mound. At the plate, Nomar Mazara is finally breaking out, and Joey Gallo is keeping the moonshots coming.
But that’s it.
Instead of rebuilding, the Rangers decided to go for a last hurrah in 2018. But they did it on the cheap, and their punishment is a roster with a minus-62 run differential and all sorts of injuries.
They are already buried in the AL West. Once they sell what they can at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, they will practically be rubbing up against the Earth’s core.
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Chris O’Meara/Associated Press
Record: 21-21, 3rd in AL East
The best thing the Toronto Blue Jays could do is call up Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
The 19-year-old began the year as one of baseball’s best prospects, and he’s further elevated his stock by destroying Double-A pitching with a .400/.447/.654 batting line.
A Blue Jays lineup with Guerrero alongside Josh Donaldson, Justin Smoak and others could be dangerous. As it is, they’re already scoring 4.9 runs per game.
However, this wouldn’t solve Toronto’s problem with run prevention. Marcus Stroman’s shoulder injury was a blow to a rotation that’s had it bad enough with a 5.69 ERA, and what was a great bullpen is now less so after Roberto Osuna was placed on administrative leave after being arrested and charged with assault. And everyone has to pitch to a bad defense.
All this spells trouble for the Blue Jays’ chances in the AL East race. They’ll have to make do in a crowded wild-card hunt.
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Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press
Record: 24-18, 3rd in NL East
Not being at full strength isn’t stopping the Washington Nationals from becoming the team they are supposed to be.
A 13-2 stretch is putting a slow start in rear view, and it has everything to do with a pitching staff that’s churned out a 2.22 ERA during that time.
The shoe fits. Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg headline the best starting rotation in the National League. And not to be overlooked is how Ryan Madson has re-established himself as a shutdown setup man in front of Sean Doolittle.
All the Nationals need is a more consistent offense. They know Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner will do their part, and there will come a time when they’re reunited with Daniel Murphy (knee) and Adam Eaton (ankle).
The rise of the Braves and Phillies will make it tough for the Nats to earn a third straight NL East title. But that’s what they’re trending toward, and a wild-card spot will be an attainable fallback.
All records and stats are accurate through play on Tuesday, May 15.