16. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates simply can't score runs. Through 15 games, these swashbucklers are dead last in baseball in R/G (2.00 runs per game) and on-base percentage (.249). The starting rotation has actually been good as they rank 5th in the NL in rotation fWAR (Wins Above Replacement), but who knows if that can continue as the only team behind them in K/9 is the Rockies. Even if it can continue, where will the runs come from? Erik Bedard has a 2.63 ERA and he's 0-4! The addition of A.J. Burnett to the rotation should boost their strikeout number, but it's not going to matter until they put a legitimate offense on the field around outfielder Andrew McCutchen, who is hitting .351.
15. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs also have a hard time scoring. Through 17 games, the Cubs have hit five home runs, which is of course the lowest in baseball. For perspective on how far the gap is between the Cubs and a contender, the New York Yankees just hit five home runs while I was typing that last sentence. The pitching has been better than many thought as the Cubs rank 4th in the NL in rotation WAR, but the defense has betrayed them so far as the Cubs rotation ERA (4.53) is nearly a full run higher than it's FIP (3.59).
14. Cincinnati Reds
I refused to pick the Reds before the season because I made a rule a long time ago to never again pick a Dusty Baker led team to make the postseason, but that's not why I have them down here. The reason you see them down here has very little to do with Dusty Baker. I have them down here because the Reds, as a team, have been playing some awful baseball. The Reds are hitting .223 with a .294 OBP, which is better than only the Pirates and Phillies. The starters rank 13th in the NL in rotation WAR and have a higher K/9 than only the Rockies and Pirates. Now, I'm not saying they can't right the ship and still win the division, but I didn't think it was going to happen before the season and I'm even more of a skeptic after this start. Where would they be on this list without Aroldis Chapman? That's a scary thought.
13. San Diego Padres
Believe it or not, but I have a bigger bone to pick with the Padres pitching staff than I do their offense at this point in the season. The Padres rotation ranks next to last in the NL in rotation WAR despite solid work by Cory Luebke and Anthony Bass. Chase Headley is off to an incredibly hot start that has seen him crush four home runs. The offense would see a nice boost if Cameron Maybin could get on base like he did when the big dollar signs were in his eyes and not his wallet.
12. Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers offense is scuffling (.301 OBP) and their starting pitching is off to a bad start (4.93 ERA). Still, the rotation's FIP and xFIP (3.81, 3.49) are significantly lower and so it wouldn't be crazy to expect improvement as the season goes on from pitchers like Zach Greinke. The newly acquired Aramis Ramirez is off to a rough start, but he generally heats up as the weather does. Before the year I thought the Brewers had a division run in them and I still believe they do.
11. Colorado Rockies
To me, the Rockies are the most interesting team in the NL so far and it's not just because I get to cover them. I believe Colorado has the most interesting team because they can't pitch, but they can really hit. If you want to see some runs, watch the Rockies. The club's rotation is dead last in the NL in rotation WAR and the offense is third in the NL in R/G. The starting pitching is so bad that the combined rotation FIP is 5.02, the next highest team mark in the NL is merely 4.12. This rotation isn't just bad, it's an abomination. Nobody in the rotation has a FIP lower than 4.00. It's interesting to watch a team like this play, but it'd certainly be a lot easier if they had some decent pitching. It's the only thing keeping them from being playoff contenders.
10. Miami Marlins
The Marlins have been a just below average team in terms of R/G and their rotation ranks 6th in the NL in rotation WAR. Both the lineup and the rotation have been solid despite not getting star production from stars like Josh Johnson and Jose Reyes. If those guys can pick it up, the Marlins figure to make things interesting deep into the summer.
9. Houston Astros
Believe it or not, but the Astros are top ten in their league right now. How did they do it? Well, they got off to a great hitting start that many people didn't see coming. The Astros are 4th in the NL in R/G and 12th in rotation WAR. Young hitters like J.D. Martinez (.900 OPS) and Jose Altuve (.333 BA) have come into their own to start the year on fire. It has led to just a 6-11 start, but pythagorus knows how well they've been playing (9-8).
8. New York Mets
These Mets can be deceiving. The offensive numbers are lower than one might expect with their 8-8 record, but that could be accounted for with two of their top left-handed sluggers struggling in Ike Davis (34 OPS+) and Lucas Duda (106 OPS+). David Wright, Jason Bay, Daniel Murphy, and Kirk Nieuwenhuis have all been raking. The rotation ranks 14th in the NL in rotation WAR, but the Mets have a pretty decent bullpen to go with it. We all enjoy laughing at the Mets for... well, for being the Mets, but for an organization down on it's luck, they sure have given the faithful something to go to the ballpark and see this year.
7. Arizona Diamondbacks
Injuries have been the big story of the D-Backs, who have put outfielder Chris Young and right-handed pitcher Daniel Hudson on the disabled list in the last week. Kirk Gibson says he doesn't expect Young back in the next few weeks, so Gerardo Parra will play centerfield. Justin Upton, who battled a thumb injury for the last ten days or so, picked up his first home run and RBI of the season Monday night. Getting him back is important and so is a speedy recovery for Young and Hudson, but Arizona seems oddly business-like at this point in the season. To me, that means they believe their team can be something really great when they deploy young pitchers Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs later this summer.
6. San Francisco Giants
Despite Tim Lincecum's well publicized struggles of late, the Giants check in up here because of a nice start offensively. Even with the crazy awesome start by Matt Kemp, the Giants are ahead of the Dodgers in R/G so far. They have Buster Posey (.965 OPS), Pablo Sandoval (.934), and Nate Schierholtz (1.148) to thank for the hot start. Of course, a .392 OBP from Melky Cabrera doesn't hurt either, but I don't anticipate them keeping this up. I'm not a believer in the Giants offense and I bet they struggle to score runs as the summer goes on just as they did without Posey last season.
5. Philadelphia Phillies
Can you believe I ranked the team that's 15th in R/G in the NL this high on this list? Well, I did and I did it because it's the Phillies, a team with great pitching that I didn't pick to win the NL East this year. So, why did I rank them this high? Well, because it's the NL and they still have tremendous starting pitching. As long as they have Halladay, Lee, and Hamels it will be difficult to pick against them, but I'll still do it and look forward to Hamels signing with another team this off-season. Roy Halladay's velocity, down about two mph from last year, will be something to watch.
4. Washington Nationals
The Nationals are number one in NL rotation WAR and it isn't even particularly close. The Nats have a 3.4 rotation WAR, which dwarfs the Phillies' 2.3 mark. If these numbers alone don't fully illustrate how good they've been, just watch these guys throw. Stephen Strasburg is must viewing every time he takes the hill, but Jordan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez aren't second acts that lag far behind. Offensively, Jayson Weth (.412 OBP) and Adam LaRoche (.382) are off to much better starts than anyone would've predicted.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have pitched (they rank 7th in the NL in rotation WAR), but I like to think that Matt Kemp just BeastMode'd them all the way up here. Kemp is playing so well right now that what he's doing should be illegal. He carries a triple slash of .460/.514/.952 right now thanks to nobody getting him out and nine home runs! That's a 1.466 OPS, which is utterly ridiculous. I feel stupid for picking anyone else to win the MVP this year. Kemp is playing so well they might just give him the AL MVP this year because no one else can even compare.
2. Atlanta Braves
Here's the team I picked to win the NL East. The Braves started 0-4, but are 10-2 in their last 12 thanks to good pitching and good hitting. The Braves lead the NL in runs as young hitters Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward are both slugging over .500. Through three starts, Brandon Beachy leads the NL with a microscopic 0.47 ERA. Hopefully, they've washed the taste of last year's defeat out of their mouths, unlike some team from Boston.
1. St. Louis Cardinals
No Albert Pujols? No problem. The Cardinals lead the NL in OBP, SLG, and HR without The Machine, who is busy counting money and not hitting home runs in Los Angeles. Even with Chris Carpenter on the disabled list and Adam Wainwright struggling, the Cardinals rotation is third in the NL in rotation WAR. Imagine what could happen if those guys return to their normal level of production.