NL East: Week 2 Recap

Photo courtesy of cbssports.com

 

The second week of NL East play saw the Nats continue their winning ways en route to the current best record in baseball and franchise history at 9-2. The caveat there is that they have only played other teams in the NL East, and right now the rest of the division isn’t looking so hot. The Mets, who were predicted to go toe-to-toe with the Nats in the East, currently sit four games back of Washington, and have had their share of struggles getting guys on the field.

Really the only other team besides Washington that is at least meeting expectations is Philadelphia. The Phillies are  four games back of Washington with a 6-7 record. Don’t get me wrong, 6-7 is certainly not a record to aim for through 13 games; but the Phillies, with a young up and coming team, have had moments of brightness in what was predicted to be a weak year.

I don’t know what to say about Miami other than, wow. Year in and year out this team seems to look respectable on paper, it has a good mix of seasoned veterans with up-and-coming talent, it acquired Barry Bonds as a hitting coach (yes, the one with the most career home runs ever) and yet it got swept against what was arguably the weakest team in the MLB. It’s certainly too early to sound the warning sirens, but this team’s start doesn’t bode well for the rest of the year.

Speaking of that supposed weakest team, the Braves trip to Miami ended up yielding more than a chance to experience Florida’s lovely weather. While this doesn’t mean I expect the Braves to suddenly make any dramatic moves in the standings, it’s good to see them break open that egg. Hopefully it also means I’ll hear less Atlanta fans grumbling about Fredi Gonzalez needing to go. Your front office is sticking to its, “this is a rebuilding season” front for a reason. It may not be the most fun, thing to experience as a fan, but given a few years (and a brand spanking new stadium) and Atlanta will be right back in the playoff races.

So now that I’ve gotten my rant over fans who expect World Series titles every year out of the way, let’s go a bit more in depth with what happened in week two of MLB East baseball.

1. Washington Nationals (9-2)

There was a lot of good news in Washington this week, so it’ll be a lot faster if I just start off with the bad news. They didn’t go 7-0. There, now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at all of the things Washington can be happy with early in the season. Bryce Harper continues to be an absolute force at the plate. His 100th career home run came on his first career grand slam. Oh, and he also had three more homers last week, bringing his season total to 6, one behind the NL leading Trevor Story. Harper also had 12 RBIs over those 7 games, bringing his season total to a team best, 15.

But this isn’t the NBA, it takes more than one guy to win games in the MLB. The rest of the Nats aren’t slouching, either. Daniel Murphy is leading the entire MLB in batting average by almost 40 points at .432. Wilson Ramos hit .526 with 4 RBIs last week and Jayson Werth had a heck of a game on Friday, driving in 3 runs against the Phils.

The crazy thing is, it isn’t just the hitting that’s been producing for Washington. The arms, particularly the starters, have been fantastic. Nats starters have the best ERA in baseball with a 1.87. That’s over half a run better than the next closest team’s rotation. Tanner Roark, the only starter to suffer a loss in week 1, twirled a 7 inning scoreless gem on Wednesday vs. Atlanta. His friend at the back of the rotation, Joe Ross, did him one better, throwing 7.2 scoreless against the Phillies on Friday. Gio Gonzalez had arguably the best week of any Nats starter, and was the only one without a win. In his two outings he went 13 innings, struck out 12 batters, and allowed just 1 run. Scherzer and Strasburg also showed why they have the 1 and 2 spots in this rotation with great outings on the week.

For the second week, the bullpen is probably the biggest concern, and they weren’t even bad. Unfortunately, Jonathan Papelbon, took the loss on Sunday after blowing his first save of the year in Philadelphia. He converted his other two save opportunities, however, and is currently tied for the MLB lead with 5 saves. Felipe Rivera saw the most action out of the Nats bullpen, making 4 appearances over the 7 game span, and not allowing a run in any of them. Rivera also snagged himself his third career save Tuesday night vs. Atlanta. I feel bad to keep picking on the bullpen, 7 guys made appearances over the week and only 3 of them surrendered any runs. The rest of this team is just so good that they end up being the weak link by default.

Washington continues with a relatively week schedule this week: the go to Miami for four games before coming home and hosting the 3-9 Twins in an interleague bout. Expect the Nats record to remain sky high.

2. Philadelphia Phillies (6-7) 4 GB

The Phillies ended up with a positive record on the week, taking 3 of 4 at home against San Diego and snapping Washington’s 7 game win streak on Sunday. Ryan Howard hit 2 more home runs, bringing his season total to 4 on the year. The problem with Howard is that he only recorded 1 hit in the remaining 18 at-bats, and struck out in another 6 of them. Howard continues to be a guy who can hit for power, but isn’t very good at small ball. The rest of the Phillies bats were able to fill in the small ball gaps that Howard left. The team never scored more than 3 runs in a game, but was able to get those runs across when it most mattered.

Vince Velazquez had 16 Ks in a complete game shutout vs. San Diego. Photo courtesy of thegoodphight.com

The Phillies were able to win 4 games despite the low runs per game totals due to their pitching staff. The most notable performance of the week had to belong to Vince Velazquez, who became the fifth-youngest starter to have at least 14 strikeouts and no walks in an outing; he fanned 16 while allowing just 3 hits in a complete game shutout of the Padres. Charlie Morton also had a heck of a week, allowing just 1 run in 12.2 innings of work over two starts.

There were also a couple of Phils starters who got shelled, though, both of them at the top of the rotation. Aaron Nola suffered 2 losses and allowed 11 runs in his two starts last week. His outing against the Padres wasn’t horrible, but the Phillies magic number of offense was a measly 3, so Nola’s 4 runs proved too much to salvage. While Nola had a rough 5 innings against Washington, his teammate Jeremy Hellickson fared even worse. Hellickson lasted just 3 innings while surrendering 6 runs.

While the Phillies offense has remained consistently weak through two weeks of play, their pitchers have been hard to predict. Charlie Morton had a great second week after a forgettable first week, while Jeremy Hellickson had the opposite. The pitching will have to become more consistent or the offense will have to find a way to produce more runs if the Phillies want to play dark horse in the East this year.

This week, Philadelphia hosts the Mets for 3 games before heading to Milwaukee for another 3 game set.

3. New York Mets (5-6) 4 GB

The Mets haven’t had the start they were hoping for in 2016. They started last week off dropping 2 of 3 to an apparently abysmal Marlins team before taking 2 of 3 from the Indians in Cleveland. The bats did look better, particularly Yoenis Cespedes, who hit 2 home runs and brought in 7 RBIs over the past 7 games. Neil Walker also continued to prove himself an asset at the plate, matching Cespedes’ 2 dingers. Kevin Plawecki has hit well filling in for an injured Travis D’Arnaud, going .500 over 3 games with a couple of RBIs. D’Arnaud is currently battling elbow soreness, but manager Terry Collins seems confident that he should return by Tuesday’s game against the Phillies.

D’Arnaud isn’t the only guy who has missed playing time, however, as Jacob deGrom continues to be on paternal leave. Fortunately, his son’s health has improved and he is slated to throw a simulated game tomorrow night. Manager Collins will then make the decision on whether to pitch him at the ensuing series in Atlanta, or wait for the Mets to return home.

While the Mets certainly miss deGrom in the rotation, they also have to be missing last year’s Matt Harvey. Harvey again was hit well in Cleveland, suffering his third loss in as many starts in 2016. The bright spot is that Harvey retired the first 13 batters he faced that game, only to have things unravel in the 5th inning. Noah Syndergaard had a strong second outing of the season, allowing just 1 run in 7 innings of work but was stiffed a decision against the Marlins. Logan Verrett, making his first start standing in the rotation for Jacob deGrom, delivered a quality 6 innings of shutout baseball but was unable to factor into the decision against Miami.

The Mets offense seems to be on the upswing, they hit four homers on Friday in Cleveland to help Bartolo Colon get his first win of the year. Now it just becomes a matter of helping Matt Harvey return to form and ensure Jacob deGrom can be seamlessly returned to the rotation when the time comes. Syndergaard has looked great in his first two outings and Steven Matz has shown that he can deliver strong performances on the mound.

The Mets are on the road this week, with 3 games in Philly followed by 3 games in Atlanta. While it is still early in the season, they will want to snag as many of these wins against should-be lesser opponents now in order to avoid falling too far behind a streaking Nats in the East.

4. Miami Marlins (3-7) 5.5 GB

The Marlins week seemed to start off so well. They were able to explode for 10 runs against Steven Matz and the Mets on Tuesday and then take the series with a 2-1 win behind 4 scoreless innings of bullpen work. The game 3 drop was unfortunate, but you can’t win every close game, and Chris Conley going 6 scoreless innings was nothing to be upset about. Then they came home for what looked like a cake series against a winless Braves club.

It ended up being the Braves who took that cake, scoring 6 runs in each game against the Marlins, and Miami only mustered a max of 5 in game 3. To be fair, the Braves aren’t as bad as their record suggested at the beginning of the series, but still, being swept at home is never something a team wants to do.

Wei-Yin Chen had the best outing of any starter in his return from elbow injury, not allowing a run in his first 6 innings of work. Tom Koehler had a rough day at the office, allowing 5 runs across in just 3.2 innings and Jared Cosart continued to issue too many free passes, with another 6 against the Braves (he now has a 7/9 BB/K ratio). Ace Jose Fernandez and rookie Adam Conley both had strong outings against the Mets: Conley shut out New York for 6 innings with 9 strikeouts. Fernandez did not have a particularly lengthy outing, but his bullpen stepped up behind him with 4 scoreless innings.

The offensive run producers were Adeiny Hechavarria, Giancarlo Stanton, and Justin Bour. Bour and Stanton both had a homer and 4 RBIs on the week, while Hechavarria had a big fly of his own and 5 RBIs. Dee Gordon also showed off his speed with 3 swiped bags on the week.

The Marlins won’t have an easy time righting the ship this week, with 4 games vs. Washington followed by 3 games at San Francisco. It will be interesting to see if the offense is able to step up this week against some very good arms.

5. Atlanta Braves (3-9) 6.5 GB

Adonis Garcia had 3 RBIs en route to a 6-3 Braves win against the Marlins on Friday. Photo courtesy of zimbio.com

Look at it this way, the Braves are now 3-3 when playing teams that aren’t from Washington. Nick Markakis continues to be the driving force for the team at the plate while Freddie Freeman continues to battle his way through an early season slump. Markakis has 8 RBIs and hit .360 on the week and was a key player in making sure the Braves had just enough runs to sweep Miami. Gordon Beckham, Adonis Garcia, and Jace Peterson also receive honorable mentions for having 3 RBIs each last week, Garcia drove in all 3 of his in the Braves first win of 2016.

Jhoulys Chacin had 2 respectable outings, surrendering just 3 runs combined. Bud Norris is the only Braves starter who currently has a win despite a couple of ugly starts. The Braves bullpen looked pretty good, with Alexei Ogando and Jason Grilli both picking up wins in Miami. Grilli allowed 1 run in 3 appearances. That 1 run unfortunately blew a save, but his offense was able to gift him a win instead. Ogando surrendered just 1 run in 4 innings over 3 appearances as well. The MVP of the Braves bullpen had to be Chris Withrow. Withrow did not allow a hit in 4 appearances and 3.1 innings last week.

The Braves continue a difficult April schedule, but will at least be at home this week. They host the Dodgers for 3 games starting Tuesday before the Mets come to town Friday for a 3 game set.

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