MLB Storylines: The Good And The Bad From Each NL Team So Far

We’re rapidly approaching the halfway mark of the 2020 season. Last week, we looked at one good and one bad storyline from each team in the American League. This week, we’ll do the same with the National League.

NL East

1. Atlanta Braves (14-11):

atlanta braves

Good

Nick Markakis. The veteran outfielder opted out of opting out. After initially choosing to not play in 2020, Nick Markakis rejoined the team after the start of the season and hit a walk-off home run in his first start back. So far Markakis is hitting .323 with a .912 OPS.

Bad

Mike Soroka. Last year’s Cy Young and Rookie of the Year candidate tore his Achilles tendon attempting to make a play in just his third start of the season. Soroka will miss the remainder of the season and add even more uncertainty to a Braves rotation that once-upon-a-time looked strong on paper. Without Soroka and Foltynewicz, the Braves are counting on Touki Toussaint and Kyle Wright to step up in their absence.

2. Miami Marlins (9-8):

miami marlins

Good

The games they have played. The Marlins, who have ten straight sub-.500 seasons, are currently clinging to their above-.500 record at 9-8. While their offense is below league average in terms of runs-per-game, their pitching staff is currently posting the sixth lowest ERA in the majors.

Bad

The games they have not played. If you’ve been following the MLB, then you likely know what is coming for this one. The Marlins kicked off the COVID-19 drama with a team outbreak just three games into the season. It wasn’t just the team outbreak, but rather the reports that members of the team went out in Atlanta and chose to play a game against Philadelphia knowing that their was a potential outbreak on the team. This was not appreciated amongst the rest of the MLB community.

3. Philadelphia Phillies (9-9):

philadelphia phillies

Good

Front-end starting pitching. The Phillies starting pitchers, led by Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, and Zach Eflin, have the eighth-best ERA in the majors. Over 13 starts, those four pitchers are a combined 6-3 with a 2.90 ERA and 78 strikeouts to just 14 walks.

Bad

Rhys Hoskins. When the Phillies surrounded Rhys Hoskins with Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, and Andrew McCutchen, it seemed he was in line for a handful of RBI titles. While the offense as a whole didn’t quite live up to their expectations, Hoskins himself had solid production. So far this year, the 27-year-old first baseman has not produced. Stay patient with Hoskins, though, as his underlying metrics indicate his fortune will soon turn in his favor.

4. New York Mets (11-14):

new york mets

Good

David Peterson. With major concerns in the rotation for New York, the 24-year-old David Peterson has been a bright spot so far in his four starts. He’s 3-1 with a 2.91 ERA. If the Mets top-10 prospect keeps up his effectiveness, he’ll be a candidate for NL Rookie of the Year. Peterson was just placed on the 10-day IL with shoulder fatigue, but the Mets are hoping he misses only one trip through the rotation.

Bad

Stephen Matz. Through his five starts, no pitcher has given up as many runs this season as Stephen Matz has (23). Matz, who has had 30 solid starts in each of the past two seasons, has not been good in 2020. The sinkerballer usually induces a solid percentage of ground balls, however, he’s failing to do so in 2020. His would-be-ground-balls are instead line-drives, and they have taken their toll.

5. Washington Nationals (9-12):

washington nationals

Good

Juan Soto, he’s back. After testing positive for COVID-19 just a few hours before opening day game, Juan Soto was finally cleared to rejoin his team. Since returning, he’s somehow looked even better than he did during Washington’s World Series run last season. In his 40 plate appearances thus far, Soto is absolutely smashing. He has six home runs, three doubles, 13 runs, 14 runs-batted-in with a .425 average and 1.450 OPS.

Bad

Reigning World Series MVP, Stephen Strasburg. After missing the beginning of the season, Strasburg couldn’t make it out of the first inning in his second start before being pulled and ultimately placed on the IL for a second time this season. He’s dealing with a nerve issue in his hand. This is not the ideal start to a seven-year, $244 million deal agreed to between Strasburg and the Nationals this past offseason.

NL Central

1. Chicago Cubs (15-7):

chicago cubs

Good

Yu Darvish, whom the Cubs gave a six-year, $126 million contract to in 2018. Those that opposed such a big contract for a Tommy-John-surgery-recoveree felt vindicated when Darvish was shut down just eight starts into that contract. What looked like a really bad contract is now seemingly paying off. Darvish made 31 solid starts in 2019, and now looks as sharp as ever in 2020. So far he is 3-1 with a 1.88 ERA over 4 starts. The underlying metrics are even more promising. His velocity is up, his strikeout-to-walk ratio is remarkable and he’s rarely giving up any hard-hit balls. In general, starting pitching has been incredible for Chicago. Kyle Henricks, Yu Darvish, Jon Lester, and Alec Mills are a combined 10-4 with a 2.74 ERA.

Bad

Craig Kimbrel. Once the best closer in baseball, Craig Kimbrel has quickly pushed his way down the totem poll in the Chicago bullpen. Beginning the season as the de facto closer, Kimbrel yielded seven earned runs with six walks and six strikeouts over just 4.2 innings of work. Thus far, the three-year, $42 million deal the Cubs gave Kimbrel in 2019 is looking worse and worse.

2. Milwaukee Brewers (10-11):

milwaukee brewers

Good

Top-end pitching. Brandon Woodruff and Adrian Houser, a pair of 27-year-old starting pitchers, have combined for nine starts thus far, going 2-2 with a 3.21 ERA. High-leverage bullpen arms Josh Hader, Eric Yardley, Devin Williams, and David Phelps have given up just three earned runs in 33 innings pitched.

Bad

Justin Smoak, the 33-year-old first baseman brought in during the offseason to replace Eric Thames. He’s struggled in 2020, posting a .614 OPS and 26 strikeouts to just two walks in 73 plate appearances.

3. St. Louis Cardinals (5-6):

st louis cardinals

Good

Jack Flaherty and Adam Wainwright. Despite a small sample, both starting pitchers are off to a good start. Wainwright is 2-0 with a 1.64 ERA over his first two starts, and Flahery pitched six strong innings and picked up the win in his only start of 2020. Both players, Wainwright at 38 and Flaherty at 24, are vital pieces to the Cardinals success this season.

Bad

Their games played to games postponed ratio. The St. Louis Cardinals were the second team to experience a breakout of COVID-19. After playing just five games to begin the season, The Cardinals began testing positive and sat for roughly two weeks before resuming play. Again, much like the Marlins, some cardinals players were reported to have broken protocol.

4. Cincinnati Reds (9-11):

cincinnati reds

Good

Trevor Bauer and the starting rotation. Bauer, who has yet to throw a ball over the center field fence out of frustration in 2020, has a 0.93 ERA in his first three starts with 32 strikeouts to just four walks. Sonny Gray is 4-1 with a 2.05 ERA and while Luis Castillo hasn’t seen the results that we’ve come to expect from him, the underlying metrics indicate that he’s likely gotten unlucky so far in 2020 and that his best is yet to come.

Bad

Eugenio Suarez. In each of the past three seasons, Suarez has had an OPS over .800 and hit at least 25 home runs. Last year, he hit 49 with a .930 OPS. So far in 79 plate appearances in 2020, Suarez has just two home runs, 25 strikeouts and a .525 OPS.

5. Pittsburgh Pirates (4-15):

pittsburgh pirates

Good

Utility infielder Erik Gonzalez. The fifth-year career backup is earning his keep with the 2020 pirates. In thirteen games, Gonzales is hitting .349 with a .907 OPS over 43 plate appearances, appearing at both third base and shortstop. This is Gonzalez’s first year of arbitration, and if he keeps this up, he’ll earn himself a nice pay bump for the next two years.

Bad

Joe Musgrove and Mitch Keller. On paper, the Pirates rotation looked solid. Joe Musgrove, Mitch Keller, and Trevor Williams have all shown promise. However, both Musgrove and Keller are currently on the shelf. Musgrove struggled in three starts and was put on the 10-day IL for a tricep injury. Keller left during his second start with “side discomfort” and was ultimately placed on the 10-day IL.

NL West

1. Los Angeles Dodgers (18-7):

los angeles dodgers

Good

Prized-prospect Dustin May. Despite calling upon the 22-year-old much sooner than the Dodgers would have liked, May has been a source of excitement in the Dodgers rotation in 2020. So far in 58.2 major league innings going back to last season, he has a 3.38 ERA with 51 strikeouts to just ten walks. Watching him display his electric arsenal of pitches, it’s clear why the Dodgers have been so high on him.

Bad

Add Cody Bellinger to the list of MLB sluggers that are struggling in 2020. It’s become increasingly clear how important spring training is for hitters to tune in to the delicate timing of hitting a 95 mile-per-hour fastball. In his 106 plate appearances in 2020, Bellinger’s Hard Hit % and Average Exit Velocity are below league average, and he’s posting an absurdly low .565 OPS.

2. Colorado Rockies (13-10):

colorado rockies

Good

Charlie Blackmon, the 33-year-old lifetime Colorado Rocky is currently batting .425. Prorated, Blackmon will get approximately 146 more at-bats this season. With 55 additional hits, or a .376 average the rest of the way, and he’ll join the .400 batting average ranks.

Bad

The senior member of the Rockies’ rotation, Jon Gray. Luckily, everybody else is pitching well. Gray, who is in his second year of arbitration, is coming off one of his best seasons as a pro (11-8 with a 3.84 ERA). So far in 2020, Gray is 1-2 with a 5.74 ERA in his first five starts. The big concern is his velocity, which is down over two miles-per-hour.

3. Arizona Diamondbacks (13-11):

arizona diamondbacks

Good

Zac Gallen, the 24-year-old starting pitcher the Diamondbacks acquired from the Marlins last year in a trade that sent top-prospect Jazz Chisholm to Miami. Gallen, who posted a 2.81 ERA and a 10.8 strikeout-per-nine ratio in 80 innings last season, is off to a hot start in 2020. So far through his five starts, Gallen has a 2.40 ERA and a 10.8 strikeout-per-nine ratio over 30 innings.

Bad

Five-year, $85 million free-agent acquisition, Madison Bumgarner. Just a month into this contract, the Diamondbacks must be second-guessing their commitment. The three-time World Series champion, and former World Series MVP, who is only 30, has not looked sharp in 2020. Over his four starts and 17.1 innings pitched, Bumgarner has given up 18 earned runs and has just 13 strikeouts to his seven walks. Much like Jon Gray, the big concern here is velocity. Bumgarner has lost roughly four miles-per-hour of velocity on his pitches.

4. San Diego Padres (13-12):

san diego padres

Good

Dinelson Lamet. It was difficult to leave off Fernando Tatis Jr., but let’s be honest, nobody is surprised with his performance. Lamet, however, has been a pleasant upgrade in the Padres rotation. After an impressive rookie season in 2017, Lamet has since been climbing back from Tommy John surgery he received in 2018. After an encouraging return in 2019, Lamet has been electric in 2020. His 2-1 record and 1.59 ERA is backed by an 11.4 strikeouts-per-nine rate and a restructured pitch arsenal that features a slider that nobody seems to be able to make solid contact with.

Bad

Francisco Mejia, the once-top catching prospect the Padres acquired from Cleveland in exchange for Brad Hand and Adam Cimber. Last year, at 23, Mejia earned his keep. He appeared in 79 games, taking part-time catching duties alongside Austin Hedges, and posted a .265 average and .754 OPS. So far in 2020, Mejia managed just three hits and one walk in his first 41 plate appearances before hitting the 10-day IL with a thumb contusion.

5. San Francisco Giants (9-16):

san francisco giants

Good

Generational talent. Despite not making his major league debut until age 28, Mike Yastrzemski appears to have been worth the wait. The grandson of legend Carl Yastrzemski has 16 extra-base hits in his first 110 plate appearances, posting a 1.092 OPS. His six home runs currently lead the team.

Bad

The Panda, Pablo Sandoval. 2020 has not been kind to the long-time Giant. It started with a viral photo shaming him for showing up to summer camp out of shape, and he has since not performed well. Over 61 plate appearances, primarily as a DH now, Sandoval has just a .556 OPS. Sandoval has nothing to prove to anybody, having racked up a remarkable 13-year career that includes three World Series titles and one World Series MVP.

  
Zach Boeder is a high school math teacher that has a passion for sports and data journalism. Zach received a Bachelor's Degree in Mathematics and a Master's Degree in Education from the University of Arizona. He currently teaches in Saint Paul and Lives in Minneapolis with his partner Sarah, their dog Dozier, and cat Remy. Zach plans to argue for a very long time that "2020 would have been the Twins' year if baseball hadn't been shut down."

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