|Photo by USA Today|
The National League Central division is ruling baseball like never before, with the two best teams in the majors and a third (Cincinnati) not far behind. How many divisions throughout history boast have boasted a third-place team that would be atop many other divisions? The guess here is few.
Here's how Nationals Insider Mark Zuckerman, Nats writer Chase Hughes, and I see the rest of the league shaking out:
1. St. Louis Cardinals (48-30; LW: 1) - Roney: Prince Albert has been gone for a while now, so it's no surprise that they don't miss him...but I'm still a little surprised. Allen Craig, Jon Jay, and especially Swiss army knife Matt Carpenter are an offensive force themselves.
2. Pittsburgh Pirates (48-30; LW: 7) - Roney: Former No. 2 overall pick Pedro Alvarez is finally cultivating an average (currently .242) that's at least vaguely acceptable when paired with his light tower power (19 HRs so far, 30 last year).
3. Boston Red Sox (47-33; LW: 3) - Zuckerman: Jacoby Ellsbury is 32-for-35 in stolen base attempts. And he hasn't even faced the Nats pitching staff!
4. Texas Rangers (45-33; LW: 9) - Hughes: Their pitching has been questionable over the last month, but they're still winning. Having Yu Darvish pitch every fifth day doesn't hurt.
5. Cincinnati Reds (45-34; LW: 2) - Roney: Every starter on the team has a sub-4.00 ERA, and none better than Mike Leake, who has rebounded from seasons past to be the Reds' most effective starter (7-3, 2.61).
6. Oakland Athletics (46-34; LW: 5) - Hughes: As a team, Oakland has drawn the most walks in the majors. For comparison's sake, the Nats have four players with 20 or more walks while the A's have ten.
7. Atlanta Braves (45-34; LW: 4) - Zuckerman: 12-1 to start the season, 33-33 since. They're begging the Nats to overtake them.
8. Detroit Tigers (42-34; LW: 8) - Roney: The amount of strikeouts this starting pitching staff is piling up is mind-boggling, and should blow away the previous season record (set by the Wood-Prior-Zambrano Cubs).
9. Baltimore Orioles (43-36; LW: 6) - Zuckerman: If they can add an ace to the rotation, these guys are as good as anybody in baseball.
10. New York Yankees (42-35; LW: 11) - Zuckerman: In the thick of AL East despite .240 team batting average. Is that sustainable?
11. Arizona Diamondbacks (41-36; LW: 10) - Hughes: Paul Goldschmidt has to be the most unheralded superstar in the majors. Unbelievable he was an 8th round pick.
12. Tampa Bay Rays (41-38; LW: 13) - Zuckerman: They win three, they lose three, they just can't get on a roll. Sound familiar?
13. Cleveland Indians (40-37; LW: 14) - Roney: How pleased are they with Jason Kipnis? 17 bags and 11 homers so far, he's a hot streak away from being a 30-30 player. Maybe next season.
14. Toronto Blue Jays (39-38; LW: 16) - Zuckerman: Finally got it going during 11-game winning streak, so now they're in the race.
15. Washington Nationals (39-38; LW: 18) - Zuckerman: By next week, lineup should be: Span, Rendon, Harper, Zimmerman, LaRoche, Desmond, Werth, Ramos. That group really should score enough runs.
16. Colorado Rockies (39-40; LW: 14) - Hughes: It's a shame Troy Tulowitzki keeps getting injured as he's the premier shortstop in the game. Maybe it's time for a position switch.
17. San Diego Padres (39-40; LW: 17) - Hughes: Pitching continues to be their issue and Jason Marquis' recent struggles aren't helping.
18. San Francisco Giants (38-40; LW: 12) - Hughes: San Francisco's pitching troubles have carried on and there is no end in sight. It would make sense if they traded for a starter before the deadline.
19. Kansas City Royals (36-39; LW: 19) - Roney: Alex Gordon broke out of a slump with a 3-5 performance last night that included a home run. That's good news, because if he's not hitting them, no one is.
20. Philadelphia Phillies (38-41; LW: 20) - Zuckerman: Poor Cole Hamels (2-11, 4.58). And poor Phillies (they still owe him $112.5 million over the next 5 years).
21. Minnesota Twins (34-40; LW: 21) - Roney: Is Justin Morneau trade bait at the deadline? Only if someone can take the rest of his $14-plus million contract for the season. It's too bad the Yankees don't need a first baseman...oh, wait...
22. Los Angeles Dodgers (35-42; LW: 24) - Hughes: They may still be way under .500, but man Yasiel Puig is fun to watch. He hasn't done enough to deserve an All-Star bid, but few will complain if he's in it.
23. Los Angeles Angels (35-43; LW: 22) - Hughes: As long as ace Jered Weaver continues to pitch this poorly, the Angels are going nowhere.
24. Seattle Mariners (34-45; LW: 23) - Hughes: Despite having two of the best starters in the A.L. this year, pitching as a whole is still an issue. It may be time for local kid Danny Hultzen to get a shot.
25. Chicago Cubs (32-44; LW: 25) - Roney: Garza is healthy again, giving the Cubbies a decent starting trio to build around.
26. Milwaukee Brewers (32-44; LW: 27) - Roney: Jean Segura has been the revelation of the season in Milwaukee, and is a great reason (or cautionary tale) for those looking to trade (and trade for) starters at mid-season.
27. Chicago White Sox (32-43; LW: 26) - Roney: The White Sox are another that may look to sell off veteran pieces at the deadline -- Dunn and Konerko could become bats for hire.
28. New York Mets (31-43; LW: 28) - Zuckerman: Harvey and Wheeler: Electric. Everybody else: Not so much.
29. Houston Astros (30-49; LW: 29) - Hughes: With Jason Castro and Matt Dominguez coming around, a nice young core is starting to emerge in Houston. Once Carlos Correa and Mark Appel are ready, the 'Stros may not be half-bad.
30. Miami Marlins (27-50; LW: 30) - Zuckerman: Nolasco for sale! Nolasco for sale! Step right up and get a Nolasco for bargain prices!