As we enter play on Friday, the entire National League is only separated by nine games – the difference between NL leading San Diego at 22-12 and NL trailing Houston at 13-21. The entire NL Wild card race is occurring within a 6.5 game spread, as Washington currently leads the race at 20-15. The American League, on the other hand, has already started to separate, as Tampa Bay leads Baltimore by 13.5 games and only four other potential Wild Card teams are within eight games of leading New York.
We’ve also seen some surprises emerging in the National League. Washington, as mentioned above, is leading the Wild Card race despite a pitching staff without a single pitcher projected as above average. Cincinnati is four games over .500 despite most projection systems pegging them at .500 or below. San Diego and San Francisco are both surprising in an NL West which was handed to either Los Angeles or Colorado by most projection systems and analysts.
Naturally, that means that some teams projected to do big things in this year’s National League are struggling out of the gates. CHONE projected Atlanta to win the NL East on the strength of an above average lineup at every position and a starting rotation with four pitchers projected as average or better, and that’s assuming Jason Heyward as a below average player. The Braves now sit at 16-18, 3.5 games out of the Wild Card and 4.5 games out of the NL East race. Colorado, a team with perhaps the most talented position players in the National League, has an identical record and is 6 games back in the NL West.
Of course, some players have emerged since the beginning of the season and others have been lost to injuries or ineffectiveness. What we project for teams going forward obviously won’t be identical to what we projected at the beginning of the season. However, with only roughly 35 games in the books for each team, our projections for the rest of the season have to remain close to those for the regular season. Teams like San Diego, San Francisco, and Cincinnati that have outperformed expectations so far will likely revert towards – but not completely – their original projections for the season. Similarly, Colorado, Los Angeles, and Atlanta will likely begin performing better.
The current gaps between these teams, however, mean that we can expect some extremely close division and wild card races as the season continues. Right now, the playoff spot that appears to be locked up is that of the St. Louis Cardinals, who are just miles in front of the rest of the NL Central in terms of talent. The Philadelphia Phillies look to be in good shape as well, as they have built a large gap between themselves and the similarly talented Atlanta Braves, and the talent gap between Philadelphia and the Washington Nationals is too large for Washington to handle.
PECOTA’s playoff odds have four of five teams in the NL West with at least a 14% chance at the division title and none with a greater than 40% chance. Even tighter is the projected Wild Card race, as no team has a more than 12% odds at winning. Four teams are between 10% and 12% and another six are between 6% and 10%. The odds released at the beginning of May at Beyond the Boxscore showed similar results.
For fans of intrigue and drama, the Senior Circuit will be the league to watch this season. Given how the first 35 games have played out, almost the whole league has something to play for right now, and we are almost guaranteed that one race will be decided in the last few weeks of the season.