My, what a difference a year and a few beards can make.
One season after winning just 69 games, the Boston Red Sox have all but locked up the AL East crown, leading the division by 8.5 games with an 89-59 record. The Braves, too, have nailed down a division crown -- meaning the real drama is in the NL Central and surrounding the AL wild card, where a half-dozen teams can claim legitimate designs on the postseason.
Here's how Nationals Insider Mark Zuckerman, Nats writer Chase Hughes, and I see the rest of the league shaking out, with just more than two weeks of regular-season baseball left to play:
1. Boston Red Sox (89-59; LW: 3) - Zuckerman: How good has Koji Uehara been? He's retired 34 straight batters. That's a perfect game, plus another 2 1/3 innings!
2. Atlanta Braves (88-58; LW: 1) - Zuckerman: Note to whomever faces them in October: Do not — repeat: DO NOT — take too long rounding the bases if you hit a home run.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers (86-60; LW: 2) - Hughes: Both Yasiel Puig and the Dodgers have slowed down lately, but they are so far ahead in the NL West they can coast to the finish line.
4. St. Louis Cardinals (85-61; LW: 7) - Roney: Matt Carpenter for NL MVP? He won't win, but he's got a better case than you'd think, at first blush.
5. Pittsburgh Pirates (85-61; LW: 5) - Roney: They've tossed off the ghosts produced by the past 20 years of futility, when they went from back-to-back NLCS appearances. How cool would it be to bookend that stretch with another NLCS berth?
6. Detroit Tigers (84-62; LW: 4) - Roney: Noted glove man Jose Iglesias continues to punch above his weight class at the plate, batting .292 for the Tigers since his trade from the Red Sox.
7. Oakland A's (85-61; LW: 8) - Hughes: The A's are up 3.5 games on Texas in the AL West and start a three game series with them tonight. This could be the Rangers' last chance if they want to win the division.
8. Cincinnati Reds (83-64; LW: 9) - Roney: Will Joey Votto be worth $25m a year if he only hits about 25 home runs and drives in around 80 runs each season?
9. Texas Rangers (81-64; LW: 6) - Hughes: Texas has lost eight of ten, but still holds on to an AL Wild Card spot. With the Yankees surging, however, it may not be for long.
10. New York Yankees (79-68; LW: 11) - Zuckerman: Are they really going to wind up making the playoffs? After everything they've gone through, really?
11. Tampa Bay Rays (79-66; LW: 10) - Zuckerman: Very uncharacteristic of a Joe Madden-managed club to be collapsing like this down the stretch.
12. Washington Nationals (77-69; LW: 15) - Zuckerman: Oh, if only they had turned it on in, say, mid-July instead of mid-August. Who knows what might have been.
13. Cleveland Indians (78-68; LW: 12) - Roney: The Indians have the easiest road to the wild card of any of the remaining contenders -- though I'm not sure they'll inspire much fear if they do make it to October.
14. Kansas City Royals (77-69; LW: 14) - Roney: You don't set out to draft a dominant eight-inning reliever when you have the No. 1 overall pick, but Luke Hochevar's renaissance in the bullpen is nice to see.
15. Baltimore Orioles (77-69; LW: 13) - Zuckerman: Major-league-worst 16-26 in 1-run games this season. Funny how that stuff balances out.
16. Arizona Diamondbacks (73-72; LW: 16) - Hughes: They may be just a .500 team this season, but they have a franchise player in Goldschmidt to build around and two talented young left-handers in Corbin and Miley.
17. Los Angeles Angels (70-76; LW: 17) - Hughes: For as great as Mike Trout was last season, you can make the argument he's been even better this year. His OPS is 40 points higher than it was then.
18. Philadelphia Phillies (68-78; LW: 20) - Zuckerman: Note to Ruben Amaro: Just give Ryne Sandberg the full-time job now. He's earned it.
19. Toronto Blue Jays (67-79; LW: 19) - Zuckerman: Will play two exhibition games against the Mets in Montreal next March. Magnifique!
20. San Diego Padres (66-79; LW: 22) - Hughes: A pending free agent, Chase Headley picked a bad time to have an off year.
21. Colorado Rockies (67-80; LW: 18) - Hughes: Pitcher Jhoulys Chacin has quietly put together a very nice season. The 25-year-old has a 3.09 ERA through 183.1 innings.
22. San Francisco Giants (66-81; LW: 24) - Hughes: Yusmeiro Petit sure came out of nowhere, but the Giants insist he's legitimate and could be in their rotation next season.
23. Seattle Mariners (65-81; LW: 23) - Hughes: Even Raul Ibanez isn't hitting now. It's been a long season in Seattle.
24. Minnesota Twins (63-82; LW: 25) - Roney: Via Sports Illustrated, an interesting bit of trivia I picked up this week: Joe Mauer is one of only two players to have broken up three no-hitters in the ninth inning.
25. New York Mets (64-81; LW: 21) - Zuckerman: Citi Field was a ghost town this week. Imagine what it could be like next spring if Matt Harvey has Tommy John surgery.
26. Milwaukee Brewers (63-82; LW: 26) - Roney: Jean Segura, one of the most exciting players in the game through the first few months of the season, has gone ice-cold since August 1: .247 average, .272 OBP, and just 9/17 on stolen base attempts.
27. Chicago Cubs (62-84; LW: 27) - Roney: Theo Epstein snagged Daniel Bard off waivers from Boston recently. Bard, once a closer-in-waiting in Beantown behind Papelbon, has completely lost himself -- once again -- after failing as a starter last season.
28. Chicago White Sox (58-88; LW: 28) - Roney: Adam Dunn is just 33, and stands only 63 home runs short of 500.
29. Miami Marlins (54-91; LW: 29) - Zuckerman: If nothing else, they found an ace to build their staff around next year and beyond.
30. Houston Astros (50-96; LW: 30) - Hughes: A rotation headed by Mark Appel and Jarred Cosart next season could be decent. Anything would be better than Houston's current staff.