from Ben Verlander
FOX Sports MLB Analyst
It’s been a long time since I remember a division race quite like what we’re seeing in the NL East this season.
What was once a double-digit lead for the New York Mets has all but been erased over the last few months, and on Friday we saw a lead in the NL East innings for the first time. But the Atlanta Braves’ hold on him proved short-lived, as the Mets regained the NL East lead the next day.
With this new week upon us, all eyes are on the NL East as we head into the homestand with the Mets and Braves putting on a show. The Mets have been one of the best teams in baseball all season while the Braves have been on the best team in baseball since June 1st.
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10. San Diego Padres
The Padres constantly make me scratch my head. Since being handed a gold star by everyone for their seemingly outstanding trade deadline, the Padres have gone 17-18. Even without Fernando Tatis Jr., this team is very talented. Now is the time to start playing like this.
9. Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have been hot lately, winning nine of their last 12 games. As you would expect, the offense leads the way. The Jays lead Major League Baseball this season in batting average against opposing starters at .271, and their wRC+ (weighted runs created) of 116 shows they were 16% better than the average team — second in the league behind the Dodgers .
8. Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays’ home field advantage has been the key to their success, as they have posted the third-best home hitting percentage since August 1, at .789, behind only the Dodgers (.824) and Cardinals (.818). At the time, they were 15 games out of first place in the AL East. They have now cut the division lead to 4.5 games.
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7. Seattle Mariners
Since the trade deadline, no team has a better road winning percentage than the Mariners (.750). A big reason for that is their pitching. One overlooked aspect of the Mariners, however, is their defense. They are tied for the best fielding percentage in baseball at .989 and have the fewest errors, with 55. They are also in the top 10 in DRS (defensive runs saved) and OAA (strikeouts above average).
6. New York Yankees
After seeing their huge AL East lead almost by a long shot, the Yankees have turned it around and have been playing better lately. They beat the Rays over the weekend in a huge battle between the top two teams in the division. The Yankees have been dominant at the end of games this season, posting the second-best run differential in 7-9 innings at +66, behind only the Dodgers (+74).
5. St. Louis Cardinals
After the trade deadline, no team has a better winning percentage than the Cardinals (.730). The key to their hot streak is striking early; they are tied with the Phillies for most first innings pitched (28) in MLB. St. Louis appears to have the NL Central in check, so now all eyes are on Albert Puhols as he approaches his 700th home run. On Sunday, he reached his 697th, passing Alex Rodriguez for sole possession of fourth all-time.
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4. Atlanta Braves
Since May 31, the Braves have the best record in the majors at 64-26. They are the only team during that time to record a winning percentage above .700 (.711). At the end of May, the Braves trailed the Mets by 10.5 games. The Mets’ lead is now down to 0.5 games.
3. New York Mets
The Mets are one of two teams in MLB that haven’t lost more than three consecutive games this season. The division rival Braves are the only other team that can say the same. The Mets have scratched and scratched to stay atop the NL East, but it hasn’t been easy with the Braves, who have been playing better than anyone the last few months. The Mets have been great all year and have a very favorable schedule that should help them hold off against Atlanta.
2. Houston Astros
On Sunday, the Astros became the first American League team to reach 90 wins, and they are on track to claim the No. 1 seed in the AL. A big part of their success is their ability to win on the road. The Astros are one of two teams with a road winning percentage better than .600, the Dodgers being the other.
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1. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers, with a win over the Padres on Sunday, became the first team to clinch a playoff berth this season. The Dodgers dominate all aspects of the game, scoring the most runs per game (5.40) and giving up the least (3.22). That’s a pretty good indication of a good baseball team, and the Dodgers were the best in Major League Baseball this year.
Here’s to another great week!
Ben Verlander is an MLB analyst for FOX Sports and host of “Flippin’ Bats” podcast. Verlander was an All-American at Old Dominion University before joining his brother, Justin, in Detroit as a 14th-round pick of the Tigers in 2013. He spent five years in the Tigers organization. Follow him at Twitter @Ben Verlander.
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