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5 reasons for this year's unpredictable standings

MLB.com @RichardJustice

You look at today's standings and remind yourself that there's roughly 80 percent of the season to be played and that things eventually may shake out the way you figured they would.

Maybe the Braves and D-backs will cool off. Maybe the Nationals and Dodgers will get hot.

You look at today's standings and remind yourself that there's roughly 80 percent of the season to be played and that things eventually may shake out the way you figured they would.

Maybe the Braves and D-backs will cool off. Maybe the Nationals and Dodgers will get hot.

And they may not.

Maybe 20 teams -- or, if we're lucky, more -- will be in the mix until well into the second half.

This may just be baseball's new normal.

In a season when we thought we had the division races figured out, we clearly missed some things.

Check out the National League Central. The Brewers are really good. So are the Cardinals. The Pirates are one of baseball's feel-good stories. Are these three teams better than the Cubs? Maybe not. Stay tuned.

Video: PIT@MIL: Marte cranks game-tying 2-run homer to right

At least five divisions -- all except the American League Central -- could have four teams capable of making a postseason run, or at least remaining in contention until deep in the second half.

Didn't see that coming, did you?

Maybe things are happening right in front of our eyes that are so basic that they've been easy to miss.

When we analyze baseball's recent evolution, we focus on strikeouts and home runs, on defensive shifts and pitch usage.

We dig so deeply into the data that we miss things that ought to be way more obvious and equally impactful.

What's the story of the 2018 season?

1. Another influx of young players has evened the playing field.

The Braves have been reborn right in front of our eyes thanks, in part, to second baseman Ozzie Albies and left fielder Ronald Acuna Jr., who are 21 and 20. If you're looking for baseball's next youngest player, that would be Braves 20-year-old right-hander Mike Soroka, who went six innings to beat the Mets in his Major League debut last week.

Video: ATL@NYM: Acuna Jr. hits 451-ft. HR into second deck

Baseball once had a strict developmental philosophy about young players, but that changed when 19-year-old Bryce Harper walked onto the field in 2012 and never once looked overmatched.

Now, teams are willing to push their youngest and most talented players, to challenge them and trust their physical tools, to allow them to catch up. Almost every contender has important contributions in their early 20s:

• Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers (21) and left fielder Andrew Benintendi (23)

• Cardinals right-handers Jordan Hicks (21) and Jack Flaherty (22)

• Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres (21) and third baseman Miguel Andujar (23)

• Dodgers first baseman Cody Bellinger (22)

• Astros shortstop Carlos Correa (23)

• Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani (23)

These players have evened the playing field and impacted division races in ways they might not have, say, a decade ago.

2. Injuries have also evened the playing field.

Because the margin of error is so thin, division races are impacted by injuries. The Dodgers and Nationals have been hit hard, which has upended the races in the NL West and NL East. The Indians' bullpen has been unable to overcome Andrew Miller's injury. All of which makes Arizona's fast start even more impressive. To run off the NL's best record despite losing so many key contributors speaks volumes about the culture manager Torey Lovullo has created and the depth general manager Mike Hazen has accumulated. Likewise, the Giants have overcome a string of tough injuries.

Video: LAD@ARI: Boxberger K's Pederson to record the save

3. Some teams -- D-backs, Mariners, Brewers -- are simply better than we thought they'd be.

Roster building is as much an art as a science, right? Arizona added to an already solid core by strengthening itself in the outfield (Steven Souza Jr.), bullpen (Brad Boxberger and Yoshihisa Hirano) and catcher (Alex Avila). None were bombshell moves. All mattered (although Souza is just off the disabled list and only made his debut this week).

Brewers general manager David Stearns resisted calls to add big-ticket free agents to the rotation and instead went for players he sees as impact additions: outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. His addition of under-the-radar free-agent left-hander Wade Miley could provide important organizational depth.

4. If your favorite team isn't immersed into analytics, it's in trouble.

This isn't just about using data to assist with defense, lineups, pitch usage, etc. It's now an arms race for the smartest teams to stay in front of the competition and to utilize the information better than others. This game inside the game is critical. It impacts every area of the game, from free-agent signings to game preparation. But it's hugely responsible for this era of parity.

5. The baseball gods love chaos.

This season should have reminded us that we are not in charge, that things happen that defy explanation. 21 of 30 teams began the weekend within five games of first place -- 16 of them within two games of first place. Plenty of teams see an opportunity, which could lead to a frantic few weeks leading up to the non-waiver Trade Deadline on July 31. Fasten your seatbelts.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.