It’s Victoria Day in Canada, which means we’ve almost hit Memorial Day in America. Seven weeks have gone by in this MLB season, and it’s entirely possible that we’ve actually begun to learn some things about teams’ true identities in 2016. So with that in mind, let’s look at the six divisions:
American League East
Don’t tell me you thought the Yankees were dead? Of course the Bronx Bombers are alive and well after a 5-2 western road trip, and now return home just one game under .500 for the first time since early April. Yes, the Ynnks have their share of flaws, but if they have a lead after six innings, it’s absolutely game over thanks to their three-headed bullpen monster. They sit 5 1/2 games back of both Baltimore and Boston with plenty of head-to-head matchups left. The Orioles are on a nine-game roadtrip, and are 2-1 thanks to completely stealing a win in Anaheim on Saturday. The Red Sox have the league’s most potent offense and what looks to be a corrected David Price, which is bad news for the rest of the division. The Rays got hot, but losing Kevin Kiermaier indefinitely really hurts. The Blue Jays ended a five-game losing streak against the league’s worst team, Minnesota, but will be really tested with nine straight games against the Yankees and Red Sox on tap.
American League Central
The White Sox got a win that they desperately needed yesterday, avoiding a sweep at home against Kansas City. The Sox and Royals will meet for four later this week, and Chris Sale will be on the hill for one of those games. But the White Sox need to score runs more consistently to be considered a contender for the division crown. The Indians rolled off five straight wins but ultimately lost their series in Boston after taking the opener, and are the kind of team that needs their star players to contribute in a big way in order to win games. The depth just doesn’t appear to be there. The Tigers are simply going to be too haunted by their miserable bullpen to be taken seriously. And the Twins just simply aren’t worth writing about.
American League West
My favorite stat in this division is the Mariners’ road record: 18-7. Eventually, this team will figure out how to win at Safeco Field and has a chance to run away with a very tepid division. The Rangers won’t be an easy out, especially once Yu Darvish returns, but it’s amazing how the script has flipped with these two teams’ respective bullpens. Seattle went from the worst to one of the game’s better ones, and the Rangers suddenly have a closer dilemma after continued struggles by Shawn Tolleson. The A teams are all getting F’s right now: the Athletics, Angels, and Astros. Really, unless things go exceptionally well for the Angels, we can count all three out right now. This is a two-team division race, and the Mariners are primed to end the league’s longest playoff drought (2001 was their last appearance).
National League East
So Bryce Harper still isn’t getting pitched to much. That’s okay, Daniel Murphy is looking like the league’s best free-agent acquisition right now. The Nats are going to score runs and get starting pitching, but suddenly the bullpen is ranked third in baseball with a 2.57 ERA. That is the most encouraging sign for a franchise still searching for its first-ever playoff series win in DC. The Mets have to be highly discouraged by Matt Harvey’s struggles, even as the team surprisingly leads the National League with 60 home runs. The Phillies continue to be a nice story at 25-19, but their minus-31 run differential can’t completely be ignored. The Marlins might hang around for a while, too. The Braves, if nothing else, have three wins for interim skipper Brian Snitker after completely throwing in the towel under Fredi Gonzalez.
National League Central
Are the Cubs overrated, or is this little hiccup just an inevitable part of a long baseball season? The Cubs aren’t going to play .800 baseball all year, but their recent lack of offense is cause for concern. The bullpen is already somewhat of a question mark, as the team has been carried by dominant starting pitching early on. The offense has slowed down, and has gotten zero contribution from Jason Heyward. While it doesn’t seem plausible that any team could catch them in the division standings, it isn’t out of the question. The Pirates are much improved thanks to several key, under-the-radar signings like David Freese, Matt Joyce, and John Jaso. The Cardinals are 23-21, but you can’t ignore how good they can look when they win — hence their plus-50 run differential. The only thing I will mention about the Brewers and Reds, who will compete for fourth place, is that I’m slightly surprised how competent the Brewers have looked at times. I’m not the least bit shocked at the Reds’ ineptitude, but now I firmly believe Milwaukee will not end up in the NL Central cellar this season.
National League West
Before I say anything, can we all just take a moment to remember that 2016 is an even number? Now that we’ve established that, let’s get to the matter at hand — the Giants are really, really good. Maybe even World Series good. While the back-end of the rotation has sagged, the trio of Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, and Jeff Samardzija has been as good as any in baseball. San Francisco got off to an inauspicious start, but has won nine of 10 to create some separation in a pretty modest division otherwise. The Dodgers are going to literally ride Kenley Jansen until his arm falls off as their only dependable reliever. You know things are bad when their next best option is journeyman Joe Blanton. The same goes for the rotation with Clayton Kershaw. The Rockies have played well on the road, but this team will be considered a surprise if it can just get to .500. The Padres are a jumbled mess despite the shocking resurgence of the artist formerly known as B.J. Upton. And then there are the Diamondbacks, a team with a relentless offense but serious holes in their pitching staff. Still, Arizona came through with a big series win in St. Louis against a Cardinals team that skunked it over seven meetings in 2015. The D-Backs could compete for a wild card spot if Zack Greinke can be Zack Greinke and a Shelby Miller can be at least half of Shelby Miller.