Continuing our survey of division leaders around baseball, let us turn to the National League…

NL East: New York Mets

The Mets are showing many of the classic signs of an early season fluke; they have had some really good luck with several come-from-behind walk-off wins, they have a ridiculous 17-7 record in one run games, and their win-loss total is higher than their run differential would predect according to the pythagorean expected wins formula.  However, the Mets’ record in one run games and their come-from-behind wins, while certainly involving some luck, are also both indicators of their fantastic bullpen – one of the best in baseball – which keeps them in close games and gives them a chance to come back.  Meanwhile, the Mets have moved to fix their most glaring weakness – the black holes that have been their 4th and 5th starter spots after injuries felled Brian Bannister and Victory Zambrano – by bringing in Orlando Hernandez and Alay Soler to hold the fort until Bannister returns.  With arguably the best everyday lineup in the National League and their nearest rival the Phillies still 4.5 games back and also sporting a win-loss record better than their run differential would predict, the Mets look like a good bet to make the dance in October.  Verdict: For Real

NL Central: Cincinnati Reds

Many observers have been picking the Reds as a fluke this year.  Like the Mets, the Reds have had a tremendous record in one-run games at 13-5, and after all, the thinking goes, the Reds pitching staff has been so awful for so many years that it will have to eventually come down to earth, right? But unnoticed by many, the Reds have significantly improved their pitching staff this year, first by trading for Bronson Arroyo, and then by dumping Dave Williams and calling up Elizardo Ramirez.  Whereas the Reds were last in the National League in ERA last season, this year they have improved to a respectable 7th. Even if Arroyo is not able to maintain his Cy-Young-like numbers all season, the Reds have the more reliable starting five they have had in years.  It is certainly not a great staff by any stretch, but with an already strong hitting attack made even stronger by the emergence of youngsters Felipe Lopez, Brandon Phillips, and David Ross, the offense has been able to cover for the occasional pitching lapse, posting the highest team OPS in the NL.  The Cardinals weakened themselves greatly in the offseason, and although Albert Pujols was able to singlehandedly cancel out the offseason losses for two months, his injury is causing these losses to become more apparent.  The Reds, who have already shown they can play with the big boys by going 6-2 vs. the Cardinals so far, should be able to take advantage and stay in contention all year.  Verdict: For Real

NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamond backs have made a strong showing out west this year.  They just might have the best pitcher on the planet with the astonishingly good sinkerballer Brandon Webb, and their wins and losses exactly matching their expected record of 34-26 and their average 10-11 record in one-run games point to a team that has not been extraordinarily lucky so far.  However, their closest competition, the Dodgers, have been rather unlucky, sporting a run differential significantly better than the that of the Diamondbacks and an expected win-loss of 36-24.  The Dodgers have also suffered through a horrendous amount of injuries to virtually every established player on their team, yet are still only one game behind Arizona.  Meanwhile, an uninspiring Arizona lineup that is 11th in the NL in homers and 12th in walks will find it tough to hang with the rest of the league when it comes to scoring runs.  As the Dodgers get some of their injured stars back into the lineup, they should be able to make a move for control of the division, and San Francisco, Colorado, and San Diego all are within striking range, less than 5 games back, making things tough for a very mediocre Arizona team.  Verdict: Fluke

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