The Major League is officially into its third month of the season, so it’s time to take a look at the leaders of each division, and talk about exactly what has gotten them there. The National League has been fairly spread out up to this point, with the second-place Mets coming in at five games out of first place in the NL East, to the Dodgers sitting 6 games back, at second in the NL West. The Cardinals are coming in at second place behind the league-leading Cubs, but are 9.5 games out of that first place position in the NL Central. Therefore, it is certainly the story of the leaders in the National League, as three powerful teams have emerged in the first half of the 2016 season.
NL East: Washington Nationals
The Washington Nationals are on fire in June, and are #MakingBaseballFunAgain while going 8-2 in their last 10 games. Behind offensive performances from second baseman Daniel Murphy, who leads the National League in OPS, and pitching from Max Scherzer, who moved to 8-4 Monday night, the Nationals have moved to 16 games above .500.
The Nationals best demonstrated their full potential in this week’s series against the Cubs, who hold the best record in baseball, which is just three games in front of the Nationals in the League. The same team who was swept in Chicago just a month ago and left many to question if any team could touch the Cubs, flipped the script this week when they took two of three from their National League rival. The series was capped off on Wednesday night with a 12th inning walkoff over the Cubs on Dusty Baker’s 67th birthday, delivered by outfielder Jayson Werth, who gave an enthusiastic interview after the game in true #MakeBaseballFunAgain fashion.
The Nationals will be tested in the coming weeks as they travel to the west coast for a long, three-city road trip, where they will face the Padres, the Dodgers, and the Brewers over a span of 10 days.
NL Central: Chicago Cubs
The Chicago Cubs are simply the best team in baseball with a 44-20 record, and a current 99% chance of making the playoffs, according to ESPN. Thanks to their historic start to the season—their best since 1907—the Cubs were sitting atop the league early with a 27-9 record through their first 36 games in May.
Manager Joe Maddon has put together an impressive infield composed of Ben Zobrist, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Anthony Rizzo, who are all leading the NL All-Star voting. Rizzo has improved his batting average greatly in June, and is making pitchers nervous with a .347 batting average in the first half of the month. That’s not to mention the veteran pitching that includes Jon Lester and John Lackey, who pitched seven shutout innings against the Phillies last Wednesday. Jason Hammel also highlights the Cubs pitching, especially after throwing seven innings while surrendering only five hits in the Cubs’ loss to the Nationals on Wednesday.
Following last season’s run to the National League Championship Series, and this season’s historic start, the Cubs are hoping that maybe, just maybe, this is their year.
NL West: San Francisco Giants
The Giants have been quietly going about leading their division, and are even with their NL counterpart Nationals in wins with a 41-26 record so far. Much of this is due to their strong pitching staff, which is highlighted by Johnny Cueto and Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner is currently boasting a 1.91 ERA and on Tuesday, extended his streak of games with two runs or fewer allowed to 11. It has also been rumored that Bumgarner is eager for the chance to compete in the MLB’s Home Run Derby when the All Star break rolls around, although the MLB has not yet confirmed that Bumgarner will participate.
The Giants took the series over their division rival, the Dodgers, last week in a nail-biter of a series that saw each of the three games decided by just one run. The Giants capped off the series with a 2-1 win over the Dodgers behind an impressive outing by veteran pitcher Jake Peavy, who pitched for six scoreless innings. The Giants went on to sweep their series against the Milwaukee Brewers, securing a six-game lead in the NL West.
Coming off a five-game winning streak, the Giants have an off day before traveling across the country to take on the Rays in Tampa Bay for a weekend series.