The St. Louis Cardinals could go on a run very soon. Would that surprise anyone? It shouldn’t, since this is the ultimate “find a way” franchise, riding a five-year playoff run and three-year reign atop the NL Central. The odds are they won’t win their division this year, but their massive run-differential is an indicator that the National League’s highest-scoring offense is going to be a major threat all year. A look now by division:
American League East
Things are getting interesting in the East. Boston’s offense is lethal, but can the pitching hold up? Xander Bogaerts is the real deal, and I have a hunch something special is in store for David Ortiz in his farewell season. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays are going to have to overcome their shaky bullpen all year; conversely, the starting pitching will make or break the slugging Orioles. Baltimore heads to Fenway then hosts Toronto in a big week, as the O’s have now lost three straight after five straight wins. The Yankees sort of got back into things, but have lost two straight after winning five in a row.
American League Central
John Smoltz made a good point in Fox’s Saturday broadcast of the Tigers-Yankees game: the rest of the division should be kicking themselves for not taking advantage of the Royals’ recent eight-game losing streak. KC is very much alive and has a chance to get back to the top potentially as they host the Indians in a big four-game series this week. Obviously neither team should be counted out, nor should the Tigers. But the White Sox are headed in the wrong direction right now, especially after new acquisition James Shields was bombed in his South Siders debut.
American League West
The Mariners have a sexy run-differential like the Cardinals, but it’s the Rangers who have a five-game lead after a series win at Safeco Field this weekend. Texas is a very strong team that needs another arm in the bullpen. Seattle is its only competition, as the Astros have simply taken a step back after last year’s surprising playoff run.
National League East
The Nats are gaining a head of steam ahead of their big series with the Cubs, while the Mets are banged-up and ego-bruised after dropping a series in Milwaukee. The Marlins missed a chance to move up on the Mets by getting whitewashed in Arizona, but their upcoming schedule is quite soft. The Phillies showed everyone that they are nowhere near the top of the heap during a 1-11 stretch playing only the Cubs and Nats.
National League Central
The Cubs, at 43-18, will almost certainly win the NL Central. But the Cardinals are a very dangerous Wild Card team with the league’s highest-scoring offense and a pitching staff that has underachieved thus far. Adam Wainwright is pitching much better, not to mention hitting his way to a Silver Slugger award. We very well might see the Cards and Cubs square off in the NLDS again. The Pirates are in trouble, with some key injuries and a very underwhelming season from franchise-face Andrew McCutchen. Losers of five straight, Pittsburgh needs a pick-me-up in a hurry.
National League West
The Giants took two of three from the Dodgers, which is becoming the norm in the Bay Area. San Francisco is reportedly in talks with the Brewers for Ryan Braun, which would be a game-changer as they deal with injuries to Hunter Pence and Angel Pagan. Clayton Kershaw is having his best season yet, which is truly saying something, but the lack of depth will ultimately keep the Dodgers from making any kind of run. Fortunately for them, it doesn’t appear likely they’ll finish worse than second in the division.