First-half surprises shake up standings

June 7th, 2018

You thought you had it all figured out, didn't you? Not pointing fingers, pal. We've all been fooled. Besides, this is a good thing. Not just for fans in Seattle and Atlanta, either. These surprising standings are a larger statement about baseball's parity. Hope springs eternal, or something like that.

For all the noise about the number of teams on pace to win or lose 95 games, baseball's postseason races have never been more wide open than right now.

Sure, there's a talent gap among the handful of teams at the top and those at the bottom. That has always been true. And as we've learned from the Cubs and Astros in recent seasons, and the Braves and Phillies this season, teams that throw young players into the mix can turn things around quickly.

We were reminded of that last season, when the D-backs, Rockies and Twins shocked a lot of people by grabbing postseason berths, and the Brewers won 86 games and missed by an eyelash.

Projections say normalcy eventually will prevail. On the other hand, as one general managerw said while running down the projections, "I only buy into those things when it's what I want It to be."

Here are five things that have made this season wildly unpredictable and hugely fun:

1. The Mariners are leading the Astros in the American League West.

At the Mariners' lowest point this season, something remarkable happened. They shook off 's suspension and Dee Gordon's injury and 's disappointing start and played three weeks of great baseball. Seattle won an astonishing number of close games -- 10 by one run, including four walk-offs. The Mariners have gotten airtight pitching, and King Felix is coming off his best start of the season. When teams win a bunch of close games, baseball sees it as unsustainable, while the team doing it believes it's a reflection of tenacity and grit and stuff like that. Whether Seattle can sustain this magic is a debate for another day. Doubt the Mariners if you dare, but no team is having more fun.

2. The Nationals are being pushed by the Braves and Phillies in the National League East.

If you're thinking it's way too early for statement games, you should have seen the energy in the Braves' dugout as they took three out of four from the Nationals last weekend in Atlanta. The Nats deserve all kinds of credit for fighting through a ridiculously long injury list, but Atlanta is looking more and more like the real deal with veterans Freddie Freeman and having their best seasons and kids and off to great starts. Meanwhile, the Phils are fighting through a tough stretch, but every team experiences that at some point.

3. The Brewers are leading the Cubs in the NL Central.

As surprises go, this isn't a huge one. No GM had a better offseason than Milwaukee's David Stearns in adding outfielders and . But it's two years of under-the radar acquistions -- starting pitchers Jhoulys Chacin and , first baseman and reliever Josh Hader -- that could give the Brewers staying power.

4. The Dodgers find themselves in tough company in the NL West.

The Dodgers are playing their best baseball of the season, with , Matt Kemp, and leading the way. That's president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman's blueprint for accumulating depth and overcoming injuries and slumps. But the Rockies and D-backs are going to be in the mix all summer long, and the return of is a huge boost for the Giants. If Arizona infielder isn't the most underrated major contributor on a contender this season, he's on the very short list.

5. The Indians can't shake the Tigers and Twins in the AL Central.

We already knew the Twins were capable of contending. We also know the Indians are shopping for bullpen help. Now, about those Tigers. They still have some work to do, but the emergence of youngsters like third baseman and reliever have offered fans a glimpse of a bright and shiny future. In addition to using the No. 1 pick of the Draft on Auburn righty Casey Mize, Detroit has four right-handed pitchers on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list, and all of them could be in the big leagues next season. With Nicholas Castellanos having his best season and continuing to build on a Hall of Fame resume, the Tigers have been an entertaining, scrappy team in 2018.