MLB All-Star Break Grades: National League

The National League’s first half gave us three unique divisions. The East has three teams within shouting distance of the division lead, the West is looking like a runaway, and the Central is anyone’s division. For these grades, I will try to put overall performance compared to expectations going into the season at the utmost importance, followed by stats and how the team has looked (the eye test).

NL East

Image result for bryce harper return to dcPhoto Credit: Las Vegas Review Journal/AP

Atlanta Braves – A [54-37, Leads NL East]

Who needs Bryce Harper when you have Ronald Acuna, Jr. and Freddie Freeman? Some pundits said the NL East was the Phillies’ division for the taking after Harper’s signing but Atlanta has shown they are the more complete team to this point. Atlanta ranks fourth in runs scored with 491 and Freeman is hitting .309 while Acuna is hitting .292 with 21 home runs. We can’t forget about Ozzie Albies’ .290 average or Josh Donaldson’s 18 home runs, either.

Miami Marlins – F [33-55, 19.5 GB in NL East]

The Marlins were expected to be bad and have been on point with expectations. I would be lying if I told you I could name three players on their roster off the top of my head. Also, ranking dead last in attendance is not ideal.

New York Mets – C- [40-50, 13.5 GB in NL East]

Jeff McNeil and Pete Alonso are awesome. McNeil leads the league with a .349 average and Alonso is T-2nd with 30 home runs and is also the Home Run Derby champion (despite hitting fewer home runs than Vlad Guerrero Jr???). Jacob DeGrom is also putting up great numbers despite little run support. The problem is seemingly everyone else on the roster is struggling. The Mets rank 18th in runs scored (420) and 21st in team ERA (4.86).

Philadelphia Phillies – C [47-43, 6.5 GB in NL East]

Year one of the Bryce Harper era has brought the Phillies middle-of-the-road hitting, along with middle-of-the-road pitching, and a middle-of-the-road record. Bryce Harper is hitting .253 with 16 home runs on the season. Aaron Nola has been solid with an 8-2 record and a 3.74 ERA, and other prize acquisition J.T. Realmuto has hit for a .273 average. Despite some underperformance from Harper and the pitching, Philly is well within the playoff race and the Phillie Phanatic is still one of the best mascots in the game.

Washington Nationals – B [47-42, 6.0 GB in NL East]

The Nationals head into the All-Star break one of the hottest teams in baseball. In their first 50 games, Washington was 19-31, but they responded with a 28-11 run to close the first half. The Nationals rank in the middle of the pack in both scoring and average, along with team ERA. Max Scherzer has continued to be Max Scherzer, with a 2.30 ERA, third-lowest among all starting pitchers along with the most strikeouts in the league with 181. This team was expected to struggle, so whether they can keep up their winning pace going after the All-Star break will be a storyline to watch.

NL Central

Image result for cardinals vs brewers 2019Photo Credit: USA Today

Chicago Cubs – B- [47-43, Leads NL Central]

The Cubs have incredible talent on their roster and the up and down roller coaster ride has been a bit of a surprise to this point. The major positive has been the starting pitching, as Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, and Cole Hamels all rank in the top 30 in ERA among starting pitchers. Kris Bryant is having another monster year with a .297 average and 17 home runs. The Cubs’ main concern may actually be defense, which has 65 team errors, T-4th most in the MLB. Also, they have lost all three series to the Reds this season.

Cincinnati Reds – C [41-46, 4.5 GB in NL Central]

The Reds are a few games under .500 but they are actually quite interesting to watch. This is a personal observation after seeing a few games at Great American Ballpark this year. Luis Castillo may be one of the best young pitchers we have seen over the past several years. His 2.29 ERA ranks as one of the best in the majors. Nick Senzel is looking like another strong prospect for Cincinnati and Yasiel Puig is putting up decent numbers while staying true to his personality. With a few more series wins within the division in the second half, Cincinnati could make some noise.

Milwaukee Brewers – B- [47-44, 0.5 GB in NL Central]

The Brewers are the Christian Yelich show, as he has slugged a league-leading 31 home runs and hit for a .329 average, 5th-highest in the league. Overall, team offense ranks 16th in runs (432) and 19th in average (.245). The pitching staff ranks 18th in ERA (4.61). Zach Davies’ 3.07 ERA is 10th-lowest in the MLB among starters and Josh Hader has kept his reputation as one of the game’s elite closers. Many would say this first half is a step back after making game seven of last year’s NLCS. I would expect the Brewers to make a run at the division title in the second half.

Pittsburgh Pirates – C+ [44-45, 2.5 GB in NL Central]

The Pirates are not a team you would expect to be in playoff contention at the All-Star break but they started off strong and have hung around in the NL Central. Josh Bell is the main storyline of 2019 as he is the league’s RBI leader with 84 and T-5th in home runs with 27. Otherwise, no-hitters or pitchers truly make headlines for their individual accomplishments, yet they are 2.5 games out of first. Whether Pittsburgh are buyers or sellers at the trade deadline could be determined within the next two weeks.

St. Louis Cardinals – C [44-44, 2.0 GB in NL Central]

The Cardinals, like the Pirates, have had some good and some bad, and they are right in the middle of the NL Central race. The good was the 20-10 start to the season. The bad was following that startup with an 11-22 stretch. Most notable was the loss of Jordan Hicks for the season due to Tommy John surgery.

NL West

Image result for cody bellinger vs redsPhoto Credit: CBS Los Angeles

Arizona Diamondbacks – C+ [46-45, 13.5 GB in NL West]

Arizona is another team that doesn’t light up the stat sheet but are hanging around in the Wild Card race. Zack Greinke is having another great year with a 2.73 ERA, which ranks sixth in the league among starters. Watch out for the duo of Ketel Marte and Eduardo Escobar, who are hitting .311 and .296 average-wise on the season and have hit 20 and 18 home runs, respectively.

Colorado Rockies – C [44-45, 14.5 GB in NL West]

Charlie Blackmon is one of the best hitters in the game, with a .330 average and 20 home runs. Nolan Arenado is also established as one of the best hitters with a .312 average and another 20 home runs. Only Colorado has two players with a top-10 average in the MLB. As a team, the Rockies rank fifth in average (.266) and fifth in runs (490). Pitching remains the problem for Colorado, as the team is tied for the 2nd-highest ERA with 5.16 and the highest opponent batting average at .271.

Los Angeles Dodgers – A+ [60-32, Leads NL West]

The Dodgers are back for more after yet another postseason disappointment in 2018. Cody Bellinger is arguably the best hitter in the game right now with a .336 average and 30 home runs. Alex Verdugo has made the most of his time in Los Angeles, hitting .303, and Max Muncy has added power to the lineup with his 22 home runs. On the pitching side, there is Hyun-Jin Ryu, then there is everyone else. Ryu leads the league among starters with a 1.73 ERA, and has walked just 10 hitters all season. Clayton Kershaw has added his usual dominance, with a 3.09 ERA and only walking 16 hitters. Whether the Dodgers can turn all of this talent into a World Series title remains to be seen.

San Diego Padres – C [45-45, 14.0 GB in NL West]

The Manny Machado signing has given the Padres a bit of a record boost, but they are still going to need more whether through production from the rest of their roster or through trades at the deadline. The Padres have scored just 402 runs, and are hitting just .242 as a team, the 7th-lowest average in the majors.

San Francisco Giants – D [41-48, 17.5 GB in NL West]

The Giants are going through a much-needed rebuild and this is Bruce Bochy’s final season. Any success will be good for their young prospects so winning six of seven heading into the All-Star break is a good start.

 

 

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