The Dodgers have thrown a wrench into the battle for the NL West by adding themselves to the list of contenders. Photo courtesy Doug Pensinder/Getty Images

As always, we have a few teams making waves in the big leagues that we didn’t see coming. Not only that, but there are other team’s that some people kind of saw coming but have since validated their sleeper status at least temporarily with a hot start to the season.

But this doesn’t change the fact that only ten teams will be playing ball in October. And, simply put, someone will be left out of the dance. Do these surprise hot-start teams have what it takes to continue strong for another 147 days? We have your answers right now.

Baltimore Orioles | 19-11 (2nd in AL East)

BELIEVE: I hate to say it, but there isn’t anything solid to cling on here to. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, is playing out of their minds right now. I guess what you can believe is that there are plenty of youngsters on this roster with lots of potential and  some of them finally may be realizing it.

DON’T BELIEVE: There are plenty of red flags in the consistency of the numbers. Matt Weiters and Nolan Reimold both have an OPS approaching 1.000 when they’ve never been even .800 hitters in the big leagues. Even Adam Jones, who actually HAS proven to be an offensive stud from time to time, is playing outside of his established ceilings. He’s slugging the ball at a .576 clip through 30 games. His best season statistically, last year, tapered off at just .466.

Then there’s the pitching. Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel have been pitching out of their minds. When you look at his numbers, Hammel very clearly has an opponent batting average almost always between .270 and .290. So far this year it’s below .200. Hammel also has an ERA of 2.09. In the last three seasons, he’s never finished with it lower than 4.33.

CONCLUSION: There must be something in the water in Baltimore, but I’m not drinking the Kool Aid. Clearly Buck Showalter has these kids playing inspired ball but numbers don’t lie. Everything is going too well all at once for this to continue and these past two losses to Texas may be all the proof we need.
FINAL RESULT: PRETENDER | ADJUSTED PROJECTED FINAL RECORD: 75-87 (+9 Wins)

Cleveland Indians | 17-12 (1st in AL Central)

BELIEVE: How about the offense as a whole. Is Asdrubal Cabrera a .350 hitter? No. But Shin-Soo Choo doesn’t bat a .220 clip either. With only four players with an OPS over .800, the Indians are winning ballgames with very pedestrian numbers.

As for the pitching, you should also believe in Derek Lowe. His ERA (2.39) is uncharacteristically low (last sub-3.00 season was 2002) but opposing batters are hitting nearly .300 against him. He no longer has overpowering stuff but he’s pitching his way out of jams like a veteran pitcher should.

DON’T BELIEVE: You shouldn’t be buying into Jeanmar Gomez. His 0.99 WHIP so far in 2012 is even lower than it was during his stint in AAA last year. An upward trend in his K/BB ratio from season to season may mean he’s getting a better feel for his control, but his current rate of 15/4 is a little too good to believe.

CONCLUSION: Cleveland got off to a hot start last season, but finished in the .500 zone. Still, that only puts them about 10 more wins away from a playoff berth and the additions of Derek Lowe and Ubaldo Jimenez (for a full season) may be enough to put them over the top. They should be a pesky team that hangs around with Detroit into September.
FINAL RESULT: CONTENDER | ADJUSTED PROJECTED FINAL RECORD: 86-76 (+1 Win)

Washington Nationals | 18-11 (1st in NL East)

BELIEVE: This pitching staff is for real. We don’t have a big enough sample size for Strasburg to know how genuine his start to the season is, but we know his ceiling for potential and it is very, very high. The same also bodes true for Ross Detwiler who might just be the best #5 pitcher in all of baseball. Both Edwin Jackson and Jordan Zimmermann are also young, but they’re numbers so far are pretty on par with the rest of their career. The only one really over-performing here is Gio Gonzalez and it ain’t by much.

DON’T BELIEVE: How about ‘Don’t believe their run on bad luck’. Offense was the their weakness heading into the season and injuries to LaRoche, Zimmerman, Morse and Werth certainly haven’t helped. In their place, this budding stars in a LOADED farm system have come up and stepped in just fine. Bryce Harper isn’t the only star prospect making an early name for himself: Steve Lombardozzi is batting a .300 clip as he fills in for Zimmerman at third.

You also shouldn’t believe Espinosa’s struggles at the plate. In less than two full seasons of service time, Danny has shown he’s not really going to hit for an outstanding average, but this .186 BA is uncharacteristically bad even for him. He’s eventually going to find his stride. And if he doesn’t, you can bet Lombardozzi will be jockeying for playing time.

CONCLUSION: If the Nationals are winning ballgames with guys like Xavier Nady in the lineup, they sure as heck will once their offense gets healthy again. In the meantime, they’ll hang in there in perhaps the most crowded division in the majors. Expect this team to be playing meaningful baseball right until the end.
FINAL RESULT: CONTENDER | ADJUSTED PROJECTED FINAL RECORD: 92-70 (+2 Wins)

New York Mets | 17-13 (3rd in NL East)

BELIEVE: Believe in the small ball. The Mets have 6 batters hitting over .300 for average but only 3 with an OPS over .800. They are the worst team with a winning record when it comes to home runs, but who said you have to win pretty?

Feel free to also believe in Johan Santana. He hasn’t been healthy since god knows when, but he seems to be back and as good as ever. The sub-3.00 ERA, 1.19 WHIP performance is a lot more like what the Mets had in mind when they acquired him years ago. And you want to continue the small ball conversation? How about only one home run in six games started.

DON’T BELIEVE: Andres Torres. The .313 average is nice, but we have plenty of evidence to suggest that it won’t last. And when that goes, he won’t bring much more to the lineup. He’s never been one to hit for power and he’s reminded us of this so far in his brief 9 games this season.

But you also shouldn’t believe in their run of luck. They’ve enjoyed beating up on division rivals like the Braves, Phillies, and Marlins (a combined 11-3), but we know that’s not going to last. They were only .500 before a recent 4-game tear and that was with Atlanta basically spotting them three games to begin the season. I’d be shocked if it lasted.

CONCLUSION: I may have been too harsh on the Mets in my season preview, but this is still not a playoff team. So far in 2012, all we’ve been reminded of is what can happen when both Johan Santana and David Wright are healthy. I don’t want to wish anyone harm, but smart money is on that not lasting for 162 games.
FINAL RESULT: PRETENDER | ADJUSTED PROJECTED FINAL RECORD: 77-85 (+8 Wins)

Los Angeles Dodgers | 19-11 (1st in NL West)

BELIEVE: Believe in Matt Kemp. Is he going to slug .832 or bat .406? No, but this guy is for real. He can hit for average, he can hit for power, and he is a threat on the base paths. He’s every pitchers worst nightmare and he will keep the Dodgers competing.

You also might want to believe in this pitching platoon. They aren’t going to finish with some of the jaw-dropping numbers they have now, but you better believe Billingsley, Capuano, and Lilly are going to get the almighty Kershaw some help in the middle of that rotation.

DON’T BELIEVE: Don’t believe in the nice supporting cast. A.J. Ellis and Jerry Hairston are not going to hit anywhere near .300 for the season and this should ultimately prove to be nothing more than a hot start for them.

CONCLUSION: There is plenty of star power in Chavez Ravine, but the no-name guys have been stepping up as well. Like I said, that won’t last so the question really becomes are they just buying time for guys like Dee Gordon and Juan Rivera to get going offensively? The big surprise in 2011 came from this division last year and you shouldn’t be surprised if it happens again this year with the Dodgers.
FINAL RESULT: CONTENDER | ADJUSTED PROJECTED FINAL RECORD: 90-72 (+5 Wins)

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NOTE: This story was originally published on SportsHead. To read this article and others click here.
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