Take a look at the American League standings right now, and things will make a lot of sense. The Red Sox, Indians and Astros are leading their respective divisions once again. The Yankees are right there in the hunt. Then come the Angels and Mariners. The Orioles, White Sox and Royals are very bad. Aside from one or two mild surprises (the Rays being above .500, the Twins being far under), things are just as we all expected them to be in April.
Then you turn over to the National League and… holy hell. The standings might not be completely upside down (as we can always count on the Reds to suck), but they’re close to it. As a matter of fact, same goes for the league’s leaderboards, where all kinds of unlikely suspects lead the league in key categories, where big-name stars are nowhere to be found.
We know it’s relatively early in the season and there remains plenty of time for things to normalize, but at the same time, this is a noteworthy level of chaos for the end of May. With that in mind, here are a list of ways the National League is entirely bizarre.
- Prior to Wednesday night, the supposedly rebuilding Braves found themselves in first place in the NL East. Currently, they stand only half a game back of the Nationals.
- The Phillies stand a game and a half back of first place, within easy striking distance of the powerhouse Nats.
- The Brewers are four and a half games ahead of the Cubs in the NL Central.
- Not only that, Milwaukee has the best record in the NL.
- The Cardinals stand only a half game back of the Cubs.
- The Pirates stand only one and a half games back of the Cubs.
- The Rockies lead the NL West.
- The Diamondbacks, who were considered world-beaters only a few weeks ago, are only a game over .500
- The Dodgers are in third place, under .500.
- Los Angeles is closer to the last-place Padres than the first-place Rockies.
- If the season ended today, the playoff matchups would be Atlanta vs. Philadelphia in the wild-card game with the winner facing Milwaukee. Colorado and Washington would match up in the other division series.
- If the season ended today, the Cubs and Dodgers would both miss the playoffs. So would the Diamondbacks and Cardinals.
- But that picture could look entirely different a few days from now, given that nine teams currently have between 27 and 32 wins (as opposed to four in the American League).
- When it comes to individual statistics, things get even weirder. Matt Kemp currently leads the NL in batting average.
- Scooter Gennett ranks second.
- Speaking of Gennett, the unheralded journeyman ranks in the league’s top 10 in slugging percentage, OPS, total bases, RBI, OPS+, wOBA, wRC+ and WAR.
- Bryce Harper leading the NL with 18 home runs is no surprise, but second place features a tie (with 14) between rookie Christian Villanueva and 5-foot-8-inch 21-year-old Ozzie Albies.
- Javier Baez and Eugenio Suarez top the circuit with 43 RBI… even though Suarez plays for a last-place team and has spent time on the disabled list.
- As of this writing (on Wednesday), Brandon Belt has been the best position player in the NL, per FanGraphs.
- Asdrubal Cabrera, Nick Markakis, Gennett and Travis Shaw rank in the top 15.
- Cesar Hernandez isn’t far behind.
- All of that could change in an instant, however, because 21 players are bunched between 1.6 and 2.2 WAR. If you fill out an all-star ballot today, it might look entirely different a few days from now.
- In fact, putting together an all-star team now, based on FanGraphs WAR: Francisco Cervelli is catching, with Belt at first base, Cabrera at second, Kris Bryant at third, Paul DeJong at short, Markakis in right, the injured A.J. Pollock in center and Brandon Nimmo in left. It’s safe to say no one in America would have pegged more than two of those picks correctly preseason.
- Going by Baseball-Reference WAR (through Wednesday’s game), things would look a little different but equally crazy. Position by position, we have J.T. Realmuto, Belt, Gennett, Trea Turner, Shaw, Markakis, Lorenzo Cain and Corey Dickerson.
- Joey Votto ranks 25th in WAR among position players, per Baseball-Reference.
- Bryce Harper ranks 35th.
- Paul Goldschmidt ranks 60th on Baseball-Reference but 74th on FanGraphs, just behind Elias Diaz and just ahead of Tyler Saladino.
- Per Baseball-Reference, Max Scherzer has the same WAR as a position-player as Anthony Rendon and Marcell Ozuna.
- Ian Desmond and Dexter Fowler, both of whom were all-stars as recently as 2016, rank as the worst players in the league.
- On the pitching side, things are more normal (shoutout to Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom) but not entirely so. Mike Foltynewicz ranks seventh in the league with a 2.55 ERA, followed closely by Miles Mikolas with a 2.58.
- Michael Wacha and Sean Newcomb rank ninth and 10th, respectively.
- If you prefer FIP, Nick Pivetta stands fifth, with Newcomb and Mikolas also in the top 10.
- Caleb Smith is tied for ninth in the league with 69 strikeouts.
- Per Baseball-Reference, Kyle Freeland has been a top-10 pitcher in the NL.
- So has Jeremy Jefress a middle reliever.
- Pivetta, too.
- If the season ended today, Brian Snitker might be Manager of the Year.
- If the season ended today, Dave Roberts might be fired.
- And now back to teams. According to FiveThirtyEight, no NL franchise has better than a 79 percent chance of making the playoffs (compared to four in the AL).
- But nine teams have at least a 25 percent chance of making the playoffs (compared six in the AL).
- Again per FiveThirtyEight, no NL team has better than a 9 percent chance of winning the World Series (again compared to four in the AL).
- But those same nine teams have at least a 1 percent chance of winning the World Series (again compared to six in the AL).
All of that is an extremely long way of saying, the NL is extremely weird this year.
Now the question is, how long will it last? Will the Rockies and Brewers remain ahead of the Dodgers and Cubs? Will Scooter Gennett continue to out-slug Joey Votto? Will Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb rank among the league’s best pitchers? We can’t say for sure. But we can say that if the final two-thirds of the season are anywhere near as bizarre in the National League as the first third was, this will be one hell of a year.