The National League Is Wide Open

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.




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28 Responses to “The National League Is Wide Open”

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  1. drchstrpunk says:

    Hmmm maybe the Braves shouldn’t have traded their best pitcher . . .

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    • Justin says:

      Because he’s doing everything he can to prove them wrong, right?

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      • Daern says:

        A fair point. Left in a lower-pressure situation against weaker lineups, however, he may have provided a nice pitching boost to the struggling Braves.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        It’s not like Melky Cabrera’s lighting the ATL on fire, either.

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    • Brain of G says:

      I don’t really think pitching has been their main problem so far. It would be nice to have him with JJ’s recent hamstring problem, which my last a while. Medlen and possibly Venters should be decent fill-ins though.

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    • DavidCEisen says:

      The Braves traded Tommy Hanson? That was stupid.

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      • Jason B says:

        Maybe giving the ball every fifth day to Kawakami (0-6 I believe?) and Lowe (a gas can waiting to be torched at any moment) should be reconsidered, too. At some point Lowe has to be viewed as a sunk cost and you have to consider other in-house or AAA alternatives, or trading him for fifteen cents on the dollar.

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  2. Lintyfresh says:

    [quote] 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. [/quote]

    Just throwing my two cents in…

    I don’t see the Braves with a large talent gap to the Nationals as you stated in the article. If anything, the teams are about equal

    C – McCann > Pudge – This isn’t really a debate. McCann is one of the better offensive catchers in the game while Pudge is on the downside of his career.

    1B – Dunn > Glauss – Dunn dwarfs Glauss’s production on the batting side. Glauss has no power left due to injuries (.169 ISO) and SO FAR, Dunn is actually playing a better defensive first base to Glass -1.3 UZR to -3.3 UZR

    2B – Prado > Kennedy – Prado is a better player than Kennedy. He can flat out hit.

    3B – Zimmerman > Jones – Zimmerman is a Top 5 3B in the game. Jones obviously can’t match his production at the plate or in the field any longer.

    SS – Desmond > Escobar – Desmond has already shown to be one of the top defensive SS’s in the game. Add on to the fact that he’s hitting for power (.184 ISO – Third highest in all of the MLB among SS) and I think this is a win for the Nats.

    LF – Willingham > Cabrera – Willingham is basically a Jason Bay clone. Cabrera hasn’t shown anything to say that he can play at Willingham’s level.

    CF – Morgan > McClouth – Morgan is the superior OF’er and right now is hitting better than McClouth as well.

    RF – Heyward > Bernadina/Harrs – Do I really need to even compare the two?

    SP – Braves > Nationals – Right now, the Braves have the better staff. Can the same be said in August? I can’t answer that… but for right now, the Braves are the superior group.

    RP – Braves > Nationals – While the backend of the Nats pen is solid, the Braves depth overall is what gives them the win here.

    As you can see, I believe they’re about even across the board. Both teams have their strengths and weaknesses.

    I totally agree the Phillies outclass the Nats in talent… but if you say the Braves are nearly or are equally as talented as the Phillies… I then think you have to say the Nats are also as talented.

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    • Brain of G says:

      Glaus has hit 2 long homeruns the past 2 games. His power might be coming around. I really doubt Dunn is better than Glaus defensively at 1B.

      To say unequivocally that Desmond is better than Yunel this early in the season when Yunel has been in a slump and Desmond is outperforming his projections is a bit of a stretch. No doubt Desmond is a good player though. I really like what I’ve seen from him.

      If Bobby will keep playing Hinske in LF, it may become less of a black hole offensively.

      I agree with you that the Nats have a pretty talented team and are closing the gap. There is just no way their pitching staff can continue to perform this well. I’d say that is the main difference between the Braves and Nats, but with JJ out for who knows how long I’m not sure anymore.

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    • Yikes says:

      Did you just write an entire page using the method to compare players and teams? That’s my favorite metric when comparing players and teams…Great Stuff right everyone!!!

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  3. Gina says:

    I think “The National League is a Hot Mess”, is more accurate. The big market teams can’t get out of their own way, and the small market teams can’t seem to take advantage. I’m just hoping the Mets aren’t one of the NL teams that will accidentally still be in it near the trade deadline and do something stupid for a team that’s not worth a risk.

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    • Bill says:

      It’s also May 14th, so there hasn’t exactly been time for many teams to get big seperation…

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      • Gina says:

        I understand that, but just looking at most of the NL rosters, there’s a lot of mediocrity. if Philly gets Rollins back I’d expect them to get some distance, and I expect the Cards to get some distant, but outside of that there’s not much separating the rest.

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      • Wally says:

        And that will basically leave the NL west and the NL wild card. Which isn’t much different from the AL with races apperently shaping up in the central and west.

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      • Gina says:

        I don’t think the Al East will have that much distant as I’d expect the Phillies to have, or the Al Central. Plus part of it is a lot of the teams who are middling in the AL are mid market teams or rebuilding, a lot of the middling teams in the NL have top ten revenues/payrolls and actually think they’re trying to compete.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        There won’t be that much distance between first and second, but the Yanks and Rays look like they’re going to run away from everybody else.

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    • mr met says:

      never put it past the mets to do something stupid

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    • Steve says:

      Kris Benson should be available…

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  4. thurm12 says:

    The Braves have played 22 road games (at 8-14) and only 12 home games (at 8-4).

    The Yankees have faced a similarly quirky schedule and also excelled at home.

    I know that home-road W/L don’t mean nearly as much in baseball as in basketball or football, but this is an interesting stat that often goes overlooked in the small sample sizes of the early season.

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    • Steve says:

      Yup. Meanwhile, the Red Sox have played the opposite H/R split.

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    • Wally says:

      Given the small advantage home field is in baseball, that’s really only worth 1 game swing at this point. Maybe 2 games if you’re talking about the relative position of 2 teams at opposite ends of the spectrum, such as the Red Sox and Yankees.

      So maybe going forward we should think of the Yankees and Red Sox with 21-13 and 18-16 records. That cuts the lead almost in half, but the Yankees are still the better team by quite a bit. So I doubt this H/R split will change the projections by all that much.

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      • Wally says:

        Ok, I screwed that up, the Yankees have played 22 road and 12 home games while the Red Sox have played 23 home and 12 road. So it actually exaggerates the difference in their records.

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      • Steve says:

        Is home field a “small advantage” for the current incarnation of the Red Sox?

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  5. John says:

    The Cards may be miles away in terms of talent, but seeing them flail away at Bud Norris again makes me wonder if they really have the drive. Holliday in particular always looks like he thinking about what to buy next with his big fat wad of contract money.

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  6. Baggins says:

    Those clever people at Pecota think the Yankees are a 2-1 shot to win the AL East and the Angels 25-1 to win the AL West? Any chance they might open a sports book?

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  7. Randy says:

    What is happening with the Brewers. They are approaching being overtaken by the Astros.

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