- Houston Astros (38-16)
The Houston Astros have by far the best record in the MLB and they are on set to have a better record than the Chicago Cubs’ did last season. Last year, the Astros had a down year, but this year they seem to have everything. The Stros have the best offense in baseball as they rank top 2 in the entire MLB in runs, hits, home runs, average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Houston do not show any signs of declining because they possess stars such as Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, Alex Bregman, Carlos Beltran, and Brian McCann. Along with the offense, the bullpen has been as good as expected. They are deep and talented, which has helped the starting staff. The combination of Ken Giles, James Hoyt, and Will Harris has been able to shut down opponents with thier high 90s fastballs and plus secondary options. While the offense and bullpen has been no surprise, the pitching is what makes this team a surprise and the overwhelming favorite to win the title. The team owns the second best ERA in the entire MLB. The rotation is led by ace Dallas Keuchel, who owns 1.81 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 8 wins, and the early leader for his second Cy Young in three years. Behind Keuchel, they have quality starters such as Lance McCullers Jr. and Charlie Morton. The pitching staff will likely not continue at this current pace, but the offense and relief pitching will keep them as title contenders.
2. Arizona Diamondbacks (33-22)
Before this season, nobody believed that the Diamondbacks would be this good at this point in the season. Arizona has achieved contributions from all of their players, but most importantly from their two stars, Paul Goldschmidt and Zach Greinke. Goldschmidt has placed himself in the MVP discussion once again with his 12 home runs, 39 RBIs, 12 stolen bases, and .303/.429/.564 slash. Along with Goldschmidt, the rest of the offense has been dangerous especially Chris Owings, David Peralta, Brandon Drury, and Jake Lamb. In terms of pitching, Greinke has been a Cy Young contender once again with 6 wins, 3.24 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and 84 punchouts. However, Arizona is in their current position because they have been given similar performances from Robbie Ray and Taijun Walker all season long. Although it is high unlikely that they will continue at this current pace and win the NL West, they should be able to compete for one of the Wild Card positions due to the lack of talent in the NL.
3. Milwaukee Brewers (29-25)
Although the Brewers do not have the same record as other surprises such as the Yankees or Rockies, they are in first place in the NL Central over the World Series favorite Chicago Cubs and perennial powerhouse St. Louis Cardinals. The Brewers have been able to succeed because their young pitching has solid and they have received surprise contributions on the offensive side. On offense, they have received great production from first year Brewers Eric Thames, who has come from Asia and produced 14 home runs, and Travis Shaw, acquired from Boston and leads the team with a .292 average. In terms of pitching, Jimmy Anderson and Jimmy Nelson have both pitched to an under 4.00 ERA while striking out more than 8 batters per 9 innings. Although the Brewers have been surprising early on, they should not deviate from their plan and become buyers at the deadline. They are widely considered to have the best farm system in the league with outfielders, Lewis Brinson and Corey Ray as well as pitchers Josh Hader and Luis Ortiz, and they should look to add to their already strong system by trading either veteran stars Matt Garza or Ryan Braun. However, they have been having great success and they should be encourage by their young players’ progress.
- Chicago Cubs (25-27)
Without a doubt the biggest disappointment this season has been the play of the Chicago Cubs. The World Series favorite and defending champion are not even above .500 even though they possess the most talent in baseball. On offense the biggest culprits are Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, and Anthony Rizzo. Schwarber has done nothing but hit over his short career, but this season he cannot even do that. He is currently batting .165, without hitting for much power and providing nothing on defense. Along with Schwarber, another young player, Addison Russell, has started slowly after tallying 100 RBIs last season. In 2017, he is batting a poultry .216 with 3 home runs and 19 RBIs. Lastly, the Cubs have come to expect more from Anthony Rizzo than he has produced this year. Although he is leading the team in home runs and RBIs, he bats .227, which is inexcusable for a player of his ilk and should be a perennial MVP candidate. Along with their lackluster offense, the pitching has been equally disappointing. None of the their four main starters, Jake Arrieta, John Lackey, Jon Lester, and Kyle Hendricks, have an ERA under 3.75. Three of those starters should be in contention for the Cy Young. However, the Cubs are lucky to be in the weak NL Central and should be able to win the division even with their early struggles.
2. Kansas City Royals (22-30)
How far the mighty have fallen. In 2014, the Royals were able to make the World Series and even won the title in 2015. However, this season, they sit as the worst team in the AL. The downfall of the Royals has been due to the loss of their star pitchers. Today, the team has very few consistent starters as Ian Kennedy is frequently injured or ineffective, Danny Duffy is hurt, Jason Hammel is a below average starter, and Nate Karns is not an MLB starter. Vargas has been pitching well for the club, but that will likely only help the team by improving his trade value. On offense, they still have many of their stars, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Salvador Perez, Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon, and Eric Hosmer, but they have not been able to produce. In addition many of the players, Moustakas, Escobar, Cain, and Hosmer, are set to become free agents, which means that they will likely to be traded at the deadline. If they can deal these starters plus Vargas and relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera, they can alter their fortunates quickly with smart deals that rebuild their farm system.
3. San Francisco Giants (22-33)
Before the season, the Giants were a dark house candidate to return to the World Series because of their championship pedigree and talented roster. However, the season has been an utter disaster, which started with the injury to Madison Bumgarner. Without Bumgarner, the rest of the pitching staff has faltered as none of their current starters, which include highly paid stars, Johnny Cueto, Matt Cain, Jeff Samardzija, and Matt Moore, possess an ERA below 4.37. Due the stats behind their baseball card, they can all turn around and become quality starters once again, but the odds are growing slighter by the day. In terms of their offense, the Giants have not had much consistency besides star backstop Buster Posey, who is batting .348. The other core players, Belt, Panik, Crawford, and Pence, are all batting under .260 and do not provide much else in terms of power or run producing ability. The future does not seem bright for the team, especially with the success of the other NL West teams, but they still should not break up the roster. Even if they do not make the playoffs this season, they should be confident that they can return to prominence the following season.