Can any team catch the Phillies and Dodgers in the National League?

Through two months, the NL is a mess of mediocrity. But one team that is currently below .500 will make the playoffs

Some teams have it. Other teams have to find it. But as June opens, there’s no question that the Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies are among MLB’s elite teams.

The Dodgers and Phillies being the two best teams in the National League 10 weeks into the season is no shock. These teams have been about as expected through two months of play. The real surprise is how much better they are than the rest of the NL field.

The Phillies are 25 games over .500 entering Thursday, with a +104 run differential that leads the NL. Los Angeles is 13 games over .500 with a +81 run differential. And not only do both of these teams have a significant advantage when it comes to their top-end talent — featuring names such as Mookie Betts, J.T. Realmuto, Shohei Ohtani, Bryce Harper, Freddie Freeman, Alec Bohm and Will Smith — but they also seem to be getting better as the season goes along.

The Dodgers, who started the year with a variety of injuries, are getting healthier by the day. Walker Buehler has returned to the starting rotation, with Bobby Miller on the way, and rookie right-hander Gavin Stone has taken off this season.

Meanwhile, the Phillies look like baseball’s best team. Their offense is currently leading MLB in runs scored, and that’s with $300 million shortstop Trea Turner on the IL due to a hamstring injury. The team’s pitching has also been elite and ranks first in starter ERA, with Ranger Suárez and Zack Wheeler the catalysts for the rotation’s success.

The only real knock against Philly right now is that their schedule has been comparatively weak, and they’ve been playing this well against teams below .500. In the coming weeks, they’ll face baseball’s elite with the Orioles and Dodgers.

Which brings us to the question: Is there any team close to the Phillies and the Dodgers at the top of the National League?

The Atlanta Braves (95.0% chance to make the playoffs, per FanGraphs) are in about as weird a position as any team in baseball this season. It would be tough for any World Series contender to lose an ace such as Spencer Strider, one of the best pitchers in the majors, to UCL reconstruction surgery. But losing Strider and 2023 NL MVP Ronald Acuña Jr., who suffered a torn ACL on May 26, in the same season would probably throw any team off-track — even one as deep and talented as the Braves.

A next-man-up mentality always sounds brave (no pun intended) when teams face injuries, but in the rotation, the Braves have been getting ace-level production from left-hander Chris Sale, whom they acquired in the offseason via a trade with the Boston Red Sox. Sale, who is 8-1 with a 3.06 ERA in 2024, has been everything and more for Atlanta and is on pace to pitch his most innings in a season since 2018, helping keep the Braves afloat in Strider’s absence.

The lineup is where the Braves will see their biggest drop-off following the Acuña injury. Acuña is one of the best players in baseball, and very few can come close to matching his skills as an offensive force. But even with him, the Braves’ offense has scuffled so far this season, despite featuring Matt Olson, Austin Riley, Michael Harris II and Ozzie Albies. If not for Marcell Ozuna’s phenomenal first half, this team would probably be in worse shape than it is, sitting eight games back of the Phillies in the NL East entering Thursday.

Are the Braves still part of the NL’s elite? Their roster has some of the biggest names in baseball, but given their recent play, including a 13-14 record in May, and season-ending injuries to two of their biggest stars, the Braves can’t be included with L.A. and Philly. If the NL were tiered, they’d be in the second group at this point.

The Milwaukee Brewers (77% chance to make the playoffs) might also be in the second tier with Atlanta. Before the season, it appeared that Milwaukee was headed for a retool, with former manager Craig Counsell moving 90 minutes south to join the Chicago Cubs. The Brewers also traded ace Corbin Burnes to Baltimore in the offseason. Nonetheless, Pat Murphy’s team has been as consistent as any in the NL. With breakout star William Contreras and veteran Christian Yelich playing at a high level, the Brew Crew hold a five-game lead in the NL Central entering Thursday.

The rest of the National League continues to be an enigma. Currently, the Cardinals (31.6%), Giants (28.1%), Pirates (15.6%), Diamondbacks (30.2%), Reds (17.8%), and Nationals (0.8%) are each within three games of the third and final NL wild-card spot held by the Chicago Cubs (42.1%). (The Padres, with 50.1% playoff odds, hold the second wild card.) Even the Mets (12.7%), despite their performance on and off the field in recent weeks, are only 3.5 games back of a playoff spot.

None of those teams is currently over .500.

It’s easy to say that there’s a lot of time left in the season for teams to turn things around, but it's clear that as of right now, the NL is a big pile of blah. Every team has had a stretch in which it played well, and each has had a stretch of looking like a last-place team. And while these clubs have strengths, such as the Cubs’ starting pitching or the D-backs’ offense, all of them have at least one glaring weakness that could be the reason they miss October.

The mediocrity of the senior circuit this season creates an opportunity for parity, but as we begin to look toward the trade deadline, it also makes things pretty interesting. The Cardinals have been considered a team that might be better off selling, but after they went 13-7 in a recent 20-game stretch, with Paul Goldschmidt beginning to wake up, it might be difficult for the St. Louis front office to convince itself that a rebuild is necessary.

Who’s to say the Cubs, Giants, D-backs, Pirates, Reds, Nationals and, yes, even the Mets don’t feel the same way? Which team will acquire a player who helps put it over the top? Will the Cubs trade for offense? Does general manager AJ Preller have one more move in him for San Diego? Can the Reds add a boost to their team?

The Phillies are the team to beat in baseball, with the Dodgers right there at the top. And with the way they’re playing, it doesn't look like anybody in the NL is going to stop them anytime soon. But the reality is that a team that is currently under .500 will make the postseason in the National League.

We just have no idea at this point which team that will be.