MLB - 3 Up 3 Down (06/01/15)

By John Ewing Director of Research and Analytics @johnewing
Three Up, Three Down – reviewing baseball from the month of May.

A look at the notable and disappointing teams from the month of May with updated rest of season projections and playoff probabilities for each team.

Three Up

Minnesota Twins
Season: 30 wins – 19 losses, 1st in the AL Central
Month of May: 20 wins – 7 losses

First place in May doesn't usually mean much unless you are the Minnesota Twins. After sweeping Boston (first time since 2006) last week the Twins moved into a tie for first place in the American League Central, a post they currently occupy by themselves with Kansas City losing five of six. Minnesota has not been in first place in the AL Central since the end of the 2010 season. The Twins have won seven of their last eight and 20 of their past 27 games.

It is not all rainbows and sunshine up north and it's unlikely that Minnesota can keep this winning streak going. For one, the team has been incredibly lucky when it comes to scoring runs. As a club, Minnesota ranks 28th in offensive hitting efficiency yet has scored the ninth most runs in baseball. How do you explain this? Cluster Luck. Teams have little control over how many hits they string together. Minnesota has been the luckiest team in baseball scoring 28.7 runs more than expected.

Twins attendance is lagging behind the team's winning ways. If you are a Minnesota fan don't be in a hurry to buy tickets just yet. Even though the club is in first place, we project the Twins to finish fourth in the division.

Washington Nationals
Season: 28 wins – 22 losses, 1st in the NL East
Month of May: 18 wins – 9 losses

The Nationals were our pick to win the World Series before the season began. After a rough start that included a 10-13 March/April, the Nats rebounded to win eight of the nine series they played in May. Thanks in large part to their two biggest stars.

Bryce Harper has homered in two of his last four games, six of his last 13 and has blasted 13 shots in May (a club record), as many as he hit all of last season. Harper has totaled 18 homers in the young season, tied with Nelson Cruz for the most in the majors. It's not all long balls for the young slugger. Harper has shown exceptional plate discipline walking a league high 44 times.

If the season ended today Harper would be the MVP, joining him in the awards ceremony would likely be his teammate Max Scherzer. Washington's big free agent acquisition is top five in innings pitched per start (7.1), strikeouts (85) and ERA (1.51). By fielding-independent stats, Scherzer has been the best pitcher in baseball.

The Nats are projected to run away with the division and have the second best odds, behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, to win the World Series.

Houston Astros
Season: 31 wins – 20 losses, 1st in the AL West
Month of May: 16 wins – 13 losses

Are the Astros for real? That is the question everyone was asking after a fast start in Houston. A 15-7 March/April was followed up by a winning May leading to the second biggest division lead in baseball. How does a team that lost more than 100 games in each of the last three years have one of the best records in the American League?

The ‘Stros like to bomb it. Houston leads the majors in homers. Five players have blasted seven or more dingers and seven of the nine hitters in the lineup have at least five home runs. The bullpen has been lights out with the second best ERA in the American League. The team's relievers rarely walk opponents (36 walks, fewest in majors) opting instead to strike them out (168 Ks, third most in baseball). The Astros are also a very aggressive shifting team. Last year Houston led the majors in shifting and saved 27 runs according to Baseball Info Solutions and they have already saved 13 runs this season.

On top of all of that, Houston is also getting a little lucky. The Astros are 11-6 in one-run games and 3-2 in games that go to extra-innings. ­

Houston is 70% likely to make the playoffs after starting the season as a longshot to be a .500 club. The Astros' playoff probability has increased 1600%.

Three Down

Miami Marlins
Season: 20 wins – 31 losses, 4th in the NL East
Month of May: 10 wins – 19 losses

The Marlins came into the season with an exciting young core and were a club some were talking about to compete for a Wild Card spot. Instead, the Marlins have been an inconsistent bunch with one of the worst offenses in the league, despite having the Major League leader in both batting average (Dee Gordon) and runs batted in (Giancarlo Stanton). Miami is 11 games under .500 and its manager already got canned. Which is a shame for many reasons, but Mike Redmond didn't even have odds to be one of the first managers fired in 2015.

As rough as the season has been, Miami still has one of the best power hitters in baseball. Giancarlo Stanton has the second most home runs since Opening Day 2011 and he is only 25 years old. Plus, he hit a home run 475-feet in May that actually flew out of Dodger Stadium.

Philadelphia Phillies
Season: 19 wins – 33 losses, Last in the NL East
Month of May: 11 wins – 18 losses

Our next stop is Philadelphia on the tour of NL East bottom dwellers. 2008 was a long time ago. As the fans in the City of Brotherly love know, it doesn't take long to go from World Series champion to joke. The Phillies are one of just two teams to have a zero percent chance to make the playoffs. That is rough considering there are four months of regular season baseball to be played.

There is some hope in Philadelphia. The club has two young pitching prospects, Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin, who could be called up this summer. Plus, super prospect, J.P. Crawford, continues his promotion through the club's farm system. Crawford was ranked as one of the top 15 prospects in all of baseball by Baseball America before the season began.

If the team decides to finally blow it up and rebuild, many teams would be interested in Cole Hamels. The ace is first in innings pitched (74.1), fourth in strikeouts (76), and tenth in ERA (2.91) in the National League. Other pieces that could move include pitcher Aaron Harang and even Ryan Howard. The former All-Star first basemen has regained his power, hitting ten home runs and driving in 25 runs.

This year's trade deadline could plant the seeds for another run at a championship for Philly.

Colorado Rockies
Season: 22 wins – 26 losses, Last in the NL West
Month of May: 11 wins – 16 losses

Colorado entered the month of May with a winning record but stumbles into June four games under .500. The Rockies have already endured an eleven game losing streak this season that straddled the end of April and the beginning of May. The Rockies have the seventh least efficient offense in baseball, which is really saying something considering that the team plays in most hitter friendly park in the majors.

Unlike the Phillies, Colorado still has an outside chance of making the playoffs. After the eleven game losing streak, the club has gone 11-7. Of course competing for a postseason berth is difficult when you are 2-7 against the division leading Dodgers.