National League quarter-season grades
A quarter of the way through the Major League season, the sample size is large enough to pass some judgments on the league’s 30 teams and their players.
Some teams stormed out of the gate with great starts, setting themselves up for a summer of intrigue and fun.
Others, well, they’ve now reached the point of the season where tough decisions need to be made.
But every team entered this season with expectations. Compared to those standards, here are the National League’s quarter-season team grades:
Philadelphia Phillies: A+
This is as good as it could possibly be for the Phillies. Savor these moments, because it’s hard to see them lasting. The Phillies are 14-3 in one-run games and 4-0 in extra innings this year. The team has the sixth worst run differential in baseball, but they’re neck-and-neck with the Nationals — the World Series-contending Nationals! — and Mets — the defending National League champions! — in the NL East. What a time to be alive.
Washington Nationals: A-
The Nationals are playing rock-solid baseball. Bryce Harper has been stellar and still has room to play better, Daniel Murphy can’t stop hitting, Max Scherzer and Steven Strasburg have been fantastic, and the Nationals look like a team that should play late into the fall.
New York Mets: B
The Mets are in the thick of things — their pitching is the best in the National League, even with Matt Harvey’s struggles, but the bats have not been great to start the season, as the team is batting .235. If those hitters warm up as the weather improves, and the Mets can settle on their rotation, they’ll overtake the Phillies — THE PHILLIES!!!! — in the division with ease and be in a fight with the Nationals down the stretch.
Miami Marlins: C
The Marlins do this every year: They have top-end talent playing as well as anyone in the game, but far too much of the roster is below replacement-level. The result is a record around .500. That won’t play in this stacked NL East — not when the Phillies (!!!!) are playing this well. Miami needs to pick it up if they’re to get in the playoff hunt.
Atlanta Braves: F
We knew they were going to be bad. No one could have seen a bad this bad coming down the pipeline. The Braves have a team slugging percentage of .323 and for the majority of May, they had fewer homers than some players. They have a 4.59 team ERA and until this week, no pitcher on the team had more than one win. The most indicative moment of the 2016 season: the Braves fired manager Fredi Gonzalez, who found out he was out via a flight confirmation email. Nothing good is happening in Atlanta right now.
Chicago Cubs: A+
This Cubs team might be the best team in baseball history — seriously. The rotation — behind the unbeatable Jake Arrieta — might be the best in baseball, and the lineup is a murderer’s row. This team even plays defense and runs the bases at an exceptional level. It’s hardly out of the question that the Cubs could win 110-plus games this season. At 29-11 through 40 games, they might even be underachieving (their expected W-L is 32-8…)
Pittsburgh Pirates: B-
The Pirates have been pretty good. Not Cubs good, but pretty good nonetheless. The team, behind the best outfield in baseball, is hitting like crazy, and that shouldn’t change over the summer. Pitching has been mercurial, at best, though. An addition to the rotation would be well received, but with the team playing for a one-game playoff berth, it’s hard to see the Bucs upping the ante this summer.
Milwaukee Brewers: C+
The Brewers should not be hovering around .500, but they are. There’s no reason why they are — the team’s pitching is among the worst in Major League Baseball and they’re average-at-best at the plate. Things will get bad soon, but so far, you have to tip your hat to this roster for having more wins than the Houston Astros.
St. Louis Cardinals: C+
The run of dominance is over — the Cubs have overtaken the Cardinals as the kings of the NL Central — but that doesn’t mean this team isn’t a good bet to make the playoffs. The Cardinals have continued their tradition introducing two or three excellent players to the league every year in 2016 — shortstop Aledmys Diaz has come from out of nowhere to become a viable MVP candidate (.373/.403/.634). Being that he’s a Cardinal, it’s foolhardy to say it’s a fluke. Pitching has been average overall, but with the talent on the roster, don’t expect the Cards to be around .500 much longer.
Cincinnati Reds: D
This is one terrible baseball team, but that’s what was expected. The bullpen might be the worst in Major League history, the rotation is young and getting shelled nightly, and while Joey Votto is awesome, there’s not much happening at the plate for this team. The team has a worse run differential than the Braves, but they have four more wins than Atlanta. This might be as good as it gets for the Reds — it’s going to be a long summer in southern Ohio.
Colorado Rockies: B+
Not bad, Rox, not bad. Colorado is, to no one’s surprise, hitting like crazy again this year (.453 slugging percentage) led by Trevor Story and Nolan Arenado, but the Rockies’ pitching has been better than expected, posting a sub-4 FIP so far this year. It’s hard to see the Rox competing for a playoff spot, but they’ve been pretty good so far this year.
San Francisco Giants: B
It was a slow start for the Giants, who still have concerns in the rotation, but the 1-2-3 of Madison Bumgarner, Jeff Samardzija, and Johnny Cueto have been worth every penny as of late and the San Francisco hitters have been rock-solid all year. The most stable team in baseball looks poised to continue its strong play this summer and then play late into the fall.
San Diego Padres: C
They’re not good. This is what was expected. Maybe they’ll trade underachieving starter James Shields to another underachieving team.
There’s really nothing more to say about this astoundingly uninteresting team.
Los Angeles Dodgers: C-
Good teams can get off to slow starts, but the manner in which the Dodgers have started has highlighted all the problems that were part of the team’s worst-case scenario in Spring Training. The offense has been adequate (not great) and the pitching, other than Clayton Kershaw, has been a nightly crapshoot — especially the bullpen, which needs reinforcements ASAP. The Dodgers should improve over the summer, but the slow start leaves little margin for error.
Arizona Diamondbacks: D
The Diamondbacks made two big moves for starters Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller and were supposed to be in the hunt for a playoff spot after a better-than-expected 2015. Well, despite the additions they’re unquestionably average. Paul Goldschmidt and Greinke’s numbers will progress to the mean, but Miller’s downright terrible start is worrisome and Jake Lamb and Jean Segura’s strong first quarters won’t have the makings of anything that will last into the summer. This is not a playoff team.