If you're looking for a reminder why there has never been a better time to be a baseball fan, it's right there in the standings: The Twins, Brewers and Rockies are in first place.The D-backs are a mere two games behind Colorado in the National League West, and the Reds
If you're looking for a reminder why there has never been a better time to be a baseball fan, it's right there in the standings: The Twins, Brewers and Rockies are in first place.
The D-backs are a mere two games behind Colorado in the National League West, and the Reds are just a game under .500 (29-30) and only two games out in the NL Central.
Is it a new day? Sure it is. It has been for awhile. Baseball's new landscape is a tribute to the whole competitive-balance thing: 22 of 30 teams have been played at least one postseason series the past five seasons.
In just the past three seasons, 15 teams have played at least one postseason series. And it goes deeper than that: The NL has had four champions in as many years, and the American League has had seven in the past nine seasons.
Will it last? Who knows? The Dodgers, Cubs and Indians are each a hot streak away from climbing into first place. In the AL Central, five teams are separated by six games. In the AL East, five teams are 6 1/2 games apart.
(Hint: What we're rooting for is a chaotic non-waiver Trade Deadline and an even more chaotic September. Chaos is not good for managers and general managers. It's perfect for the rest of us.)
Here now is why we believe our five surprise contenders are good enough to go the distance:
The Rockies have almost always made scoring runs look easy. What's different about this team is pitching, pitching, pitching. General manager Jeff Bridich's hiring of Bud Black to manage, and then Bridich's signing of closer Greg Holland has dramatically reshaped Colorado. Oh, and there's starting pitching. The Rockies always knew they were going to have to groom young starters and acclimate them to working at Coors Field. Black has handed the ball to a starting pitcher age 25 or under in 38 of 61 games. Antonio Senzatela, Kyle Freeland, German Marquez, Jeff Hoffman and Jon Gray give Colorado an impressive foundation.
Like the Rockies, the D-backs have a star-studded offense that scores runs in bunches. Also like Colorado, Arizona has an assortment of impressive pitchers lining up behind veteran right-hander Zack Greinke. Robbie Ray and Zack Godley both have ERAs below 3.00. Meanwhile, former top prospect Archie Bradley has emerged as a high-end reliever. Rookie manager Torey Lovullo, long projected to be a first-rate skipper, is just that.
Did any executive have a better offseason than Milwaukee general manager David Stearns, who added impact bats at first base (Eric Thames) and third base (Travis Shaw). Milwaukee is seventh in the Majors in home runs, third in steals and (gulp) second in strikeouts. Most impressive is how good Milwaukee's starting pitching has been, with Jimmy Nelson, Chase Anderson and Junior Guerra all piecing together solid seasons. The Brewers still have the occasional bullpen meltdown. If Stearns can acquire a back-end reliever, Milwaukee could be in business. Finally, a shoutout to Craig Counsell, a Milwaukee kid who has done a tremendous job managing his hometown team.
Maybe the most remarkable renaissance of the season. The Twins are in the bottom 10 in both runs scored and ERA, but their defense is among the best in the big leagues. Twins are also 8-4 in one-run games and have already come from behind to win 15 times. All of this is a tribute to manager Paul Molitor's ability to mix and match. It's a tribute, too, to a team that has pieced together a winning record despite a run differential of -28.
Only the Nationals, Rockies and D-backs have scored more runs in the NL than Cincinnati, as shortstop Zack Cozart and third baseman Eugenio Suarez have joined first baseman Joey Votto in a lineup that's better than almost anyone forecast. Manager Bryan Price has done an outstanding job mixing and matching his bullpen pieces. So is there enough starting pitching? Cincinnati's rotation has the NL's highest ERA at 5.81. Veteran Scott Feldman has been the most reliable starter, and right-hander Brandon Finnegan's return from the disabled list would help.
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.