5 MLB teams who changed my mind during May

May 29, 2024; New York City, New York, USA;  A fan wears a bag over his head during the game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets in the eighth inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
May 29, 2024; New York City, New York, USA; A fan wears a bag over his head during the game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets in the eighth inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports / Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the end of May, and I may be changing my judgment about these five teams.

Some are better than I thought they’d be; some are worse. Either way, the future looks a lot different for these five teams at the end of May than it did just one month ago.

5 MLB teams that changed their immediate futures in May

Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies have been ranked among baseball’s elite teams since spring training. They finished April at 20-11, just a half game behind the Atlanta Braves, and with the perfect combination of a high-performing lineup and possibly the game’s best pitching staff.

What’s changed since May 1? Not the Phillies. They steamrolled to a 19-7 May, matching the majors’ best record for the month.  That included seven and six-game win streaks. But their principal challengers, the Braves, have changed. Atlanta has slept through a 12-13 month, allowing the Phillies to open a six-game lead.

It is now possible – indeed likely – that the Phillies are not merely a post-season threat but MLB’s best team. Through May, they ranked first in runs scored per game (5.25) and fourth in runs allowed per game (3.61). It’s hard to lose when you out-score opponents by an average of 1.5 runs per game.

New York Mets. The Mets finished April at 15-14 and in contention for an NL Wild Card spot. But following a 7-19 May, you’d be hard-pressed to find a half dozen fans in Queens who still buy that scenario.

The team’s problems burst into the open Wednesday when reliever Jorge Lopez reacted to being ejected by throwing his glove up into the stands at Citi Field.  Lopez later told reporters he was “the worst teammate on the worst team,” prompting the front office to designate him for assignment. Mets players called a 40-minute clubhouse meeting following their 10-3 loss to the Dodgers, hopeful of finding some sense of unity.

Right now the Mets need more than unity. They have lost a dozen games to the Phillies in the standings this month, and they are six and a half games out of the final Wild Card spot. That’s five and one-half games further back than they were the morning of May 1.

Their big star, Pete Alonso, is hitting .231, Francisco Lindor is at .211 and Jeff McNeil is batting .229. They’re allowing 4.8 runs per game and scoring 4.1. News flash: that’s not a winning formula. Oh, and Alonso is a free agent at season’s end.

Milwaukee Brewers. When they opened 18-11 after trading away their best pitcher and losing both their second-best arm and their closer to injuries, the Brewers were a cute short-term story in what looked like a wide-open NL Central.

The Brewers didn’t exactly dominate through May, going just 14-12. But their divisional competition tanked. The Chicago Cubs are finishing up a 10-16 month, and the Reds have gone 8-18…more on them in a moment. The Cardinals and Pirates were both just OK.

That leaves the Brewers in a surprisingly dominant position, having opened up a four and one-half game lead on the Cardinals.

Milwaukee’s secret has been one of the game’s most efficient offenses. The Brewers are fourth in runs per game, third in stolen bases, fifth in walks, fourth in on base percentage, and fifth in slugging. They have leadership at the two most important spots: catcher William Contreras and shortstop Willy Adames.

Cincinnati Reds. With a raft of exciting young talent, the Reds finished April 16-14 and on the cusp of playoff contention.

May was supposed to be the month when Elly De La Cruz, Spencer Steer, Will Benson and the rest took command of the Central. Not even close. De La Cruz batted a powerless .208 last month. Benson, who has great power potential, hit .182 with four homers in May.

The Reds’ problems are deeper than just those two, but they illustrate the issue. As a group, the Reds have gone 8-18 in May, better only than the Mets, and fallen into last place in their division. They’re hitting .214 as a team for the month. In 11 of their 26 games, they scored two runs or fewer.

Cleveland Guardians. The Guardians ended April as a designated front-runner in what was viewed as a wide-open AL Central. They end May as an 87 percent playoff bet and the division’s first place team.

The Guardians raced through an 18-9 month that included a nine-game winning streak. Under new manager Stephen Vogt the Guardians are averaging 5.11 runs per game – more than any team except the Phillies.

The most intriguing thing about the Guardians, though, is what’s happening elsewhere in the division. The defending division champs, the Minnesota Twins, have by now established themselves as ordinary. They’re in third place, six and one-half games behind a team that has beaten them five out of five.

The Royals are legit, following an 18-13 April with a 17-9 May. Maybe they can catch and pass the Guardians. Doesn’t matter; that still leaves Cleveland as a solid 87 percent pick to play October baseball, either as champion or wild card.

What's behind the Brewers' surprising showing to begin 2024? (calltothepen.com)