Who Are the Contenders And Pretenders in the MLB?

Sports are fascinating. If one game decided the champion of an entire season, madness would ensue. Whether it be football, basketball, baseball, or most other sports, there is a reason for a season. Hot starts happen each year, but how do we determine who’s really good and who’s “getting really lucky?” 

Just because a team is on a hot streak doesn’t mean they’re contenders, and just because a team hits a slump doesn’t mean they’re pretenders. Take the Padres for example. Many would consider them to be a postseason contender (seventh best odds to win the World Series according to Fanduel), however, they are 4-6 in their last 10 games. They’ve hit a slump, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t contenders. So which teams are which? Here’s my best guess.  

Pittsburgh Pirates 

One of the biggest surprises of the season thus far has been the success of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Over a quarter of the way into the season, and the Pirates lead the NL Central. Cooling off after their red hot start (6-14 in their last 20 games), they still lead the division over the likes of the Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals. 

How have they done it? Their rising star in O’Neil Cruz was injured early in the season, yet the Pirates have kept winning. Their team average ranks in the middle of the pack at 16th in the league with a .245 team average. However, their pitching has seemingly carried some of the load. The Pirates team has the 7th best team ERA in the league, with a 3.73 mark. 

With that all said, I don’t see the Pirates keeping this up. The Cardinals are surging back to what their expectations were, and at that point, the Pirates would be battling for a wild card spot. In that case, they’d have to beat out two the Mets, Phillies, Brewers, Diamondbacks, Giants, and Padres for a wild card spot. The Pirates have had a nice run, but this was never their year in the first place. 

Ruling: Pretender 

Toronto Blue Jays 

At the time of writing, the Blue Jays are 25-23, going 3-7 in their last 10 games. Even with a winning record, they’re in the basement of the AL East division. Currently, the AL has nine teams with a .500 or above record. It could very well be a bloodbath for the final spots in the AL playoffs. 

The Blue Jays are pretty good at both hitting and pitching. On the offensive side, they rank 10th in the league with a .258 batting average. For the pitching, the team ranks 11th in the league

with a 3.98 team ERA. They’re one of only four teams in the MLB in the top 11 in both pitching and hitting statistics (Rangers, Rays, and Braves). 

Look at those other three teams. Each of those are easily considered to be contenders. The Blue Jays are one of the most well rounded teams in the league. Add to that, they have a star trio right now in Vlad Guerrero Jr, Bo Bichette, and Matt Chapman, who are each batting .290 or better. If the pitching can keep pace with the hitting, the Blue Jays will be a very dangerous team going forward. 

Ruling: Contender 

Seattle Mariners 

Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Remember the whole talk about how stacked the AL is? Yeah that still applies here. At the time of writing, the Mariners are just under .500, with a 23-24 record. They’re 4th in the AL West, behind the likes of the Rangers, Astros, and Angels. Their last 10 games? A pretty good reflection of their total record, at 5-5. 

The pitching for the Mariners has been top notch. They currently have the 4th best ERA in the entire league, with a 3.56. The offense? Different story, with the team having the 25th best team batting average in the league, a .229 team average. 

The Mariners pitching is about as expected, with ace Luis Castillo leading the charge for a really solid group. The offense should get better, with star Julio Rodriguez batting a very low .216 average. He’s proven enough for us to expect him to get better, and when the offense turns the corner, the Mariners will be contending for more than just a playoff spot. 

Ruling: Contenders 

Los Angeles Angels 

Ah, the Angels. You’d think that a team with 2 of the most generationally talented players ever would be contenders every year. However, despite the greatness from Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout, “lack of postseason success” is putting that situation incredibly lightly. Despite this, the Angels have gotten off to a good start on the year, posting a 26-23 record. 

The Angels have been hitting the ball well, having the eighth highest team batting average in the league, a .260 team average. The pitching has been average, as the Angels have the 16th best team ERA, a 4.31.

Why are they pretenders? A lot of it is the whole “believe it when I see it” way of thinking. The Angels have been allergic to postseason success ever since Trout put on an Angels jersey. Even with the likes of Ohtani to pair with him, the idea that the Angels can make real postseason noise seems far-fetched. 

Ruling: Pretenders 

St. Louis Cardinals 

One of the biggest surprises of the year has been the Cardinals cold start. Until recently, the team spent the season at the bottom of the NL Central, behind teams like the Reds and the Cubs. For a team with such high expectations, it’s safe to say its been a less than ideal start for the Cards. 

The reason for the lackluster start shouldn’t be attributed to the offense. The Cardinals have the seventh best batting average in the league, with a .261 mark for the team, as well as a good mark for RBI’s at 242 total (5h best in the league). The pitching has been mediocre, with the team posting the 17th best ERA with a 4.32 mark. The worse part? St. Louis has given up the second most hits in the league. 

Why should they be contenders, then? Simply put: too many good players. With Arenado and Goldschmidt, you have two studs you can depend on. In their starting lineup, they only have 1 hitter with a below .250 average. There’s reason to believe that the pitching will turn a corner, and when they do, they’ll be back contending in the NL. 

Ruling: Contenders 

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