We are at the quarter mark of the 2018 MLB season, and no teams have really separated from the rest of the pack in the AL or NL. But can it last, particularly for teams that weren’t expected to contend this year? Here my “contenders” and “pretenders” for the teams that are thought to be overachieving through 40 or so games.
Blue Jays (21-20) – Pretender
Toronto easily has the best bullpen in the American League with a 2.78 ERA, and the group is basically the only thing keeping the team afloat in the AL East race. The Blue Jays have seven relievers with an ERA of 3.20 or better, six relievers with an ERA below 2.94, and three relievers with a sub-1.46 ERA, which is pretty amazing. However, they can’t expect that to keep winning them games against the high-powered lineups of New York, Boston, Houston, etc. Also, the Jays are struggling in May with a 5-8 record (3-7 over their last ten games), which lines up closer to expectations.
Detroit Tigers (18-22) – Pretender
The Tigers are four games below .500, but in the weak AL Central, that’s enough to put them within two games of the first-place Indians. However, I’m not sure holding onto hope for a World Series run would be wise, as the roster just doesn’t seem strong enough in my opinion, even with Miguel Cabrera currently hitting .323 with 23 RBI before he landed on the DL with a hamstring strain. Plus, Cabrera is now having some back issues that’s keeping him out longer than expected, which is a big concern after disc issues impacted him in 2017. And perhaps most importantly, the Indians should pull away from the .500 mark soon enough.
Oakland Athletics (20-21) – Contender
The Twins don’t appear on this list because they made the playoffs last year and are even in the loss column with Cleveland in the AL Central (i.e. they’re pretty close to expectations), but if someone is this season’s version of Minnesota, I think it’s Oakland. GM Billy Beane needs to find a way to improve the starting rotation, but Sean Manaea and Trevor Cahill have been tremendous at the top, while the bullpen has picked up the backend starters. Jonathan Lucroy hitting his stride at the plate will go a long way to contending, too.
Atlanta Braves (25-15) – Contender
If you didn’t know, Atlanta has the most wins in the National League, and I don’t think it’s a fluke. Will they finish with the best record in the NL? Probably not; but the Braves have a young, dangerous lineup with Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr. both making a significant impact to take the pressure off Freddie Freeman and the other veterans like Nick Markakis and Ender Inciarte. Atlanta will be in it in September if the pitching holds up.
Philadelphia Phillies (23-16) – Contender
The Phillies will also be in it in September, as Gabe Kapler’s club is basically a few blown saves away from having the best record in the NL themselves. They need to be better against the rest of the division, but with Jake Arrieta and Aaron Nola atop the rotation, Philadelphia has two legitimate aces and a loaded collection of skill-position talent led by NL MVP candidate Odubel Herrera, who has reached base safely in 41-straight games dating back to last season.
New York Mets (19-18) – Pretender
I never bought in to the Mets’ hot start, and now, even the most optimistic New York fan probably doesn’t believe they’ll contend in 2018. While the rest of the NL East is trending upwards, the Mets are 4-12 since a 15-6 start and 2-9 over their past 11 games. At least maybe that means we will see Tim Tebow—who is hitting .333 over the past ten games at AA—at some point in the majors this summer.
Pittsburgh Pirates (23-17) – Contender
Pittsburgh was expected to be one of the worst teams in baseball after trading their best hitter (Andrew McCutchen) and best pitcher (Gerrit Cole) in the offseason, but young guys like Colin Moran and Josh Bell are blending in nicely with veterans Corey Dickerson, Francisco Cervelli, and others to keep pace in the NL Central. It will be difficult to come out on top of a four-team divisional race, and the entire National League is pretty loaded, but the Pirates can definitely contend for a wild card spot if they keep winning at home, where they are 12-6 so far this season.