Grading the NL teams through May

May, 31, 2011
5/31/11
3:38
PM ET
Philadelphia Phillies (34-20)
It sounds odd and awfully nitpicky to say, but the Phillies could have been better. The big problem has been the offense, which has mustered a mediocre 91 OPS+ thus far. In fact, only three regulars have an OPS+ over 100: the injured Shane Victorino (129), Ryan Howard (128) and Placido Polanco (110). If the offense had been more efficient, the Phillies could have become runaway favorites not just in the NL East but in the National League. The lack of offense is shocking to Phillies fans who have watched them slug their way to victories since the mid-2000s.

The pitching staff has been phenomenal, buoying the team through the offensive slumps. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels have been among the best in baseball. In fact, the trio have been front-running in SIERA, a statistic that accounts for the factors a pitcher most controls (strikeouts, walks, groundballs and fly balls) while discarding those that the pitcher does not control (batting average on balls in play, strand rate, home run rate on fly balls). Hamels leads the majors at 2.62, while Lee and Halladay aren't far behind at 2.65 and 2.66 respectively. That means that not only have the starters been good, but that we should expect continued success going forward. The pitching staff, along with the recently activated Chase Utley, Victorino's upcoming return, and the continued presence of Howard and Polanco, the Phillies could become the powerhouse that many preseason prognosticators expected. Grade: A-.
--Bill Baer, Crashburn Alley

Florida Marlins (30-21)
If someone had told Marlins management that Hanley Ramirez would be hitting .210/.306/.309 at the end of May, they would have started scouting the best players in the 2012 draft. The Marlins, however, have flourished behind great starts from Gaby Sanchez (.314/.397/.490), Logan Morrison (.325/.410/.570) and Mike Stanton (.259/.337/.542). The pitching has been just as good. Josh Johnson (1.64 ERA, 2.53 FIP) predictably leads the staff, and they eagerly await his return to action in the next week or two. The Marlins have also gotten surprisingly excellent starts from Anibal Sanchez (2.60 ERA, 2.74 FIP) and Ricky Nolasco (3.82 ERA, 3.42 FIP). Making things even better, they have a shut-down bullpen that ranks third in the NL in ERA.

There are a few soft spots, however. Ramirez is the most obvious one, but Omar Infante (.247/.287/.304) and Chris Coghlan (.243/.306/.391) aren’t living up to expectations. Chris Volstad (5.40 ERA, 4.01 FIP) hasn’t been as strong as many of his rotation mates, but Javier Vazquez (6.02 ERA, 5.05 FIP) has been dreadful. It’s hard to believe that a guy who was so dominant in 2009 has fallen so far so fast, but his fastball (down three mph from 2009) and control (4.64 BB/9 in comparison to his 2.47 career mark) have completely abandoned him. Grade: A.
--Mark Smith, The Platoon Advantage

Atlanta Braves (30-25)
The Braves' bullpen has been absolutely dominant. Entering today’s action, it leads the league in K/9 (8.80), GB% (53.9), xFIP (3.02), and WAR (3.2) and Fredi Gonzalez has surely taken advantage of it. Sophomore southpaw Jonny Venters sits atop the league with 30 appearances, allowing a hit in just nine of them. Meanwhile, rookie closer Craig Kimbrel has struck out 13.3 batters per nine innings and finished a league-high 23 games. The best part about the Braves' bullpen? The total salary between their eight relievers is more than $6 million. When the Braves traded All-Star Omar Infante and rookie reliever Michael Dunn to Florida this past offseason, they were expecting to receive a masher at second base. Instead, Dan Uggla has given them a .178/.246/.322 hitter with a sub-par glove. According to FanGraphs.com, Uggla's Swing% is at a career high, 47.8 percent, nearly six percent higher than last season. At this point, the Braves need to do everything possible to get Uggla back on the right track. Don’t be surprised if he visits the optometrist soon to talk about LASIK surgery. Grade: B+.
--Kevin Orris, Capitol Avenue Club

New York Mets (25-28)
Sadly, all is not well in Queens. Mike Pelfrey (3-4, 5.00) has regressed to the mean thanks to his mediocre ability to control the baseball and miss bats. So has R.A. Dickey (2-5, 4.50). Josh Thole (.230/.301/.278) is quickly hitting his way out of the catcher job. Jason Bay (.241/.328.328) continues to age badly. And David Wright (.226/.337/.404) has been both hurt and struggling. The Mets are caught in between contention and, well, Astros-level futility. And saddled with huge contracts and cash-flow issues, they have little they could unload.

However, with some stabilization coming on the ownership front, it would appear the Mets can start making moves. The resurgence of Carlos Beltran (.279/.369/.514) is wonderful to see, and he looks to be tradable again, Francisco Rodriguez (1.73 ERA, 15 saves) has come back strong and has indicated he’ll waive his vesting option if the Mets trade him, and Jose Reyes has been terrific, though I still doubt they’ll move him unless overwhelmed or the new ownership deal falls through. Injuries have plagued this squad, but that’s also allowed them to get a look at youngsters like Dillon Gee (5-0, 3.83), Dan Murphy (.278/.337/.418), Ruben Tejada, and Fernando Martinez. Since there’s nothing really to play for in 2011, a lot of how this season turns out will depend on what they can get for their spare parts and which youngsters continue to play well. Grade: B.
--The Common Man, The Platoon Advantage

Washington Nationals (22-31)
About the only one who seemed to expect big things out of the Nats this year is Jayson Werth, who has called for things to "change around here." Dude, you can start by hitting better than .255/.347/.438. But Werth is not really the problem so much as the disappointing injury to stealth MVP candidate Ryan Zimmerman, the terrible production from Rick Ankiel (.214/.287/.274) and Adam LaRoche (.172/.288/.258 and now on the DL), and a thoroughly uninspiring starting rotation "headed" by Livan Hernandez (3-6, 3.87). On the bright side, Drew Storen (2.03, nine saves) has reclaimed the closer role, Jordan Zimmermann (2-6, 3.88) looks to be making a nice comeback from Tommy John surgery, Wilson Ramos (.252/.336/.403) has played well at just 23, and Danny Espinosa (.202/.302/.420, 9 HBP!) doesn’t seem to think his body is worth preserving. And Mike Morse (.289/.319/.492) and Laynce Nix (.305/.333/.576) give the Nats a tremendous Platoon Advantage (see what I did there?). But ultimately, this season is about what happens down on the farm, where Bryce Harper (.326/.412/.584, 11 homers at Class A Hagerstown) and Derek Norris (.223/.378/.468) are raking and Stephen Strasburg is rehabbing. 2012 and 2013 are looking better all the time. Grade: B-.
--The Common Man, The Platoon Advantage

St. Louis Cardinals (32-23)
If someone told you last winter that a third of the way through the 2011 season Adam Wainwright had started zero games and Albert Pujols was hitting like Luis Pujols, you would not have bet that the Cardinals were in first place. Yet, thanks to Colby Rasmus, Matt Holliday and the resurgent Lance Berkman, they have the best offense in the National League and lead the Brewers by 2.5 games. And with surprise, if perhaps unsustainable contributions from Kyle Lohse and Kyle McClellan, the rotation is getting the job done even without the elite Wainwright. The bullpen has been an Achilles heel, but after stubbornly sticking with closer Ryan Franklin, Tony La Russa has turned over the high-leverage innings to rookies Fernando Salas and Eduardo Sanchez, who have tightened things down a bit. Grade: A.
--Matt Philip, fungoes.net


Milwaukee Brewers (29-25)
The Brewers were missing a ton of firepower through April, as Zack Greinke, Corey Hart, Jon Lucroy, Nyjer Morgan and Takashi Saito all missed significant time. However, they managed to stay above ground before catching fire in late May, as the first four of that fivesome returned in rather glorious fashion to help take eight wins out of nine in a month-ending homestand. The pitching appears to be the real crux of this team for the first time in years. With Greinke in the rotation, the Brewers posted a 3.85 ERA and an even more impressive 3.11 FIP as a group in May.

The offense will need to pick up, as it has been merely average thus far, posting a 103 wRC+ as a unit. Yuniesky Betancourt and Carlos Gomez may continue to drag things down, but at least a platoon in center field could help a bit. However, it's just hard to imagine a group with Rickie Weeks, Hart, Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder as its top four staying down for this long. With so many talented players on the roster, the Brewers appear poised to make a run at the NL Central title. If the offense and pitching can click at the same time, National League beware. Grade: B+.
--Jack Moore, Disciples of Uecker

Cincinnati Reds (28-27)
The Reds have seen the highest of highs and the lowest of lows through two roller-coaster months. On the positive side of the ledger, the Reds have a serious candidate for MVP ... but it isn't who you think. Jay Bruce leads the NL in homers and RBIs while putting up rate stats of .294/.358/.578. Meanwhile, the reigning MVP Joey Votto is doing just fine in his own right, leading the league in walks while hitting .330/.463/.515. On the other hand, Cincinnati has been unable to gain any traction primarily due to the injuries and inconsistencies of the starting rotation. Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey have spent time on the disabled list, while Edinson Volquez and Mike Leake were relegated to the minors because of ineffectiveness. Even with improved health, however, the Reds will need to address the sink hole in left field, where Jonny Gomes has hit .194 with an OPS around 700. Grade: B-.
Chad Dotson, Redleg Nation

Pittsburgh Pirates (24-27)
The strength of the Pirates has come mainly come from their position players. Andrew McCutcheon (.257/.357/.466, .367 wOBA) has been the Pirates best player so far, and he’s blossoming into a young superstar. Neil Walker and Garrett Jones have added surprisingly good seasons and Jose Tabata, Ryan Doumit, Ronny Cedeno, and Chris Snyder have been league average, which isn’t that easy to find. On the pitching side, Joel Hanrahan (1.52 ERA, 2.49 FIP), Jose Veras (2.53 ERA, 3.76 FIP), and Daniel McCutcheon (0.40 ERA, 2.46 FIP) lead a solid bullpen, and Paul Maholm (3.18 ERA, 3.39 FIP), Kevin Correia (3.44 ERA, 3.99 FIP), and Roy Halladay look-alike Charlie Morton (2.61 ERA, 3.67 FIP) have led a decent rotation.

But when you’re under .500, there have to be weaknesses. The most disappointing is easily Pedro Alvarez (.208/.283/.304), who has been disastrous against all pitching as he’s struck out in over a third of his plate appearances. Pittsburgh expected him to be a centerpiece in the middle of their lineup, and he’s more like a guy who could use more time in Triple-A. Unfortunately, Lyle Overbay (.237/.307/.382) hasn’t been much better, and it doesn’t help to get zero offense from two positions traditionally known for producing big numbers. Grade: B.
--Mark Smith, The Platoon Advantage

Chicago Cubs (23-29)
The Cubs are projected to be around a .500 team before the season, but they've been worse than that, despite the superb play of second-year shortstop Starlin Castro, the .440 OBP of Kosuke Fukudome, Alfonso Soriano's power and the 1-2 bullpen punch of Carlos Marmol and Sean Marshall, But the rotation has been terrible and injuries have forced the Cubs to dig into replacement fodder like Casey Coleman, James Russell and Doug Davis, all of whom have been awful. Ryan Dempster's 6.00 ERA isn't helping matters. Aramis Ramirez and Geovany Soto have combined for just five home runs, leaving too many baserunners stranded for an offense that actually has the third-best OBP in the NL. Grade: D+.
--David Schoenfield

Houston Astros (20-34)
It's hard to find positives for the team with the second-worst record in baseball, but there are one or two. One is team batting average. Surprisingly enough, the Astros are ninth in the majors and fourth in the NL in batting average. Naturally, Hunter Pence is leading the way, but Brett Wallace has also been a big contributor. He leads the team in on-base percentage and is second only to Pence in average, slugging and doubles. The Astros only had three small things go wrong in the first two months of the season: pitching, defense and scoring runs. Those things aside, they were great. They are 27th in baseball in ERA, ahead of only the Cubs, Royals and Twins. The bullpen was supposed to be a strength but has blown leads left and right. Those blown leads are often assisted by a disastrous defense that is last in the league with 45 errors and a .977 fielding percentage, leading to a league-worst 34 unearned runs. Grade: F.
--Austin Swafford, Austin's Astros 290 Blog

Arizona Diamondbacks (30-24)
With essentially no expectations entering 2011, the first two months couldn’t have gone much better for the Diamondbacks. A big difference is that Arizona is converting saves that it often blew in 2010. The team has also adopted a resiliency from manager Kirk Gibson, something that has helped Arizona find ways to win. However, there must be concern moving forward. The D-backs don’t excel in any one particular area. The bullpen has been used a lot and may come down to reality. The starting staff is unproven, especially rookie Josh Collmenter. On offense, Arizona lacks a player to carry them, unless Justin Upton figures it out. The vast majority of wins during their recent hot streak have come against lowly Houston and Minnesota, as well as slumping Colorado. Regardless of the concerns moving forward, the first two months for the snakes have reinvigorated a fan base that was close to giving up on the franchise. Grade: A.
--Andrew Gruman, Snakes on Jefferson

San Francisco Giants (29-24)
The Giants' major strength has been their pitching. It's shocking stuff, but the team is once again relying on a terrific starting rotation -- Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner -- backed by a steady bullpen. Giants' pitchers lead the National League in strikeouts per nine (8.15) and they rank second in fielding independent pitching (FIP) at 3.10. Only the Phillies, a rotation seemingly filled with All-Stars, boast a stronger staff in the NL.

On the weaknesses side of the ledger, the Giants boast a two-pronged attack of misery: the offense and overall team health. The offense started the year slow and it's continued to plod along, rarely stringing together competent games. The Giants are second-to-last in the NL in runs scored (184), third-to-last in slugging (.361), and third-to-last in on-base percentage (.305). This isn't a team that can outscore opponents to make up for mistakes. No starting position player has an OPS above .800. Health-wise the Giants have been banged up since day one. Everyone knows about Buster Posey's tragic injury that will keep him out for the remainder of the year, but Andres Torres, Pablo Sandoval, Cody Ross and Mark DeRosa have also lost significant playing time. No amount of pitching will be able to carry an offense this bad. Grade: C.
--Chris Quick, Bay City Ball

Colorado Rockies (25-28)
The Rockies' hot start in April raised expectations for the season, but then they lost 20 games in May. In reality they're probably not as bad as they played in May and not as good as they played in April. Still, a sub-.500 record at Coors is unacceptable. Grade: D.
--Logan Burdine, Blake Street Bulletin

Los Angeles Dodgers (25-30)
The starting pitching has been every bit the strength the Dodgers intended it to be, with a 3.62 ERA and 35 quality starts (second in the National League to Philadelphia) in 55 games. But the bullpen, thanks to health issues that followed ineffectiveness, has been a roller coaster, allowing a .751 OPS (15th in the NL), and the offense that looked precarious entering the season drove straight off a cliff. At seven of nine positions, the team OPS is well below .700, with the entire infield combining for 10 home runs all year -- and that's with three in the past four games. For the past two days, everything has clicked for the Dodgers -- the hitting has come alive, while Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley have maintained their excellence. The Dodgers just need to show that's not an aberration in a weak NL West. Grade: C-.
--Jon Weisman, Dodger Thoughts

San Diego Padres (23-31)
Nobody expected the Padres to duplicate their 90-win season of a year ago, but 2011 has been an unmitigated disaster. The starting pitching and defense, strengths of last year's club, have faltered. Aside from a brief stretch in mid-May, the offense has been nonexistent. Some drop-off was to be expected given the departure of Adrian Gonzalez, but nobody has come close to filling the void. Claiming Chris Denorfia as your chief offensive weapon won't impress anyone. On the positive side, the bullpen has been fantastic, Cameron Maybin looks like a legitimate big-league center fielder who should be a key contributor to the next competitive Padres team, and several top prospects are asserting themselves down on the farm. Also, they don't owe Carlos Lee $37 million over the next two years, so there's that. Grade: F.
--Geoff Young, Ducksnorts

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