Week Three: NL East Recap

Week three of the NL East actually saw one team gain some ground on the Nationals, who shot out of the gate to an early divisional lead. This week had it all for the East: Jacob deGrom returned from emergency family leave, the Nationals engaged in a 16-inning barn burner, and the Braves continue their franchise trend of instilling a small bit of hope before viciously ripping it all away.

It was a good week for the Nats (again), but the Mets were the biggest winners from the East in week three, dropping just one of their six games and gained half a game (I know, groundbreaking) on the division rival Washington. I know their pitching has been good, but everyone kinda figured that it would be, the real story in New York has been the offense. It may just be that they’re starting to face some of the lesser teams throughout the National League, but the Mets bats have just caught fire over the past 10 games.

The Phillies and Marlins turned in average weeks, both winning three games, but that’s a marked improvement from Miami, who has seen Christian Yelich really begin to bloom into a promising young star throughout the month of April. Maikel Franco has re-asserted himself as the top hitter in Philly power-wise, passing his teammate Ryan Howard this week for the most homers on the team. The Phillies had scraped together a modest first three weeks of play, but the loss of starting pitcher Charlie Morton to the DL could derail any hopes of this team remaining a dark horse in the division early in the season.

And then there’s the Braves. You’d think the people of Atlanta (fans of the team or otherwise) would be used to them dashing their hopes by now. The Braves were on a season high four-game win streak after an impressive Monday night win against the Dodgers (season high meaning the only four games they’ve won all year). Now, most realistic fans didn’t take that win streak to mean they were actually a playoff contender, but it did mean that this team could compete with some of the better teams in the League. Then the Braves, in typical Atlanta fashion, went and dropped their remaining five games of the week. But hey, at least someone was able to enjoy their ballpark experience in Atlanta.

Since I’m already talking about Atlanta, I’ll go ahead and do this week’s recap from the bottom of the division to the top.

5. Atlanta Braves (4-14) 10 GB

The Braves offense continues to be the cellar dwellers of the National League. They’re last in the NL in almost every batting category (save batting average, where they’re a whopping .002 ahead of the Phillies) with just three home runs and 61 runs scored. The new infielders Adonis Garcia and Daniel Castro, along with outfielder Mallex Smith, have to be the beacons of hope for this team going forward. Garcia, on top of holding one of the team’s three HRs on the year, hit .381 on the week and sits at .317 on the year. Castro scored three runs and hit .357 on the week along with three RBI. Smith, while just hitting .158 on the week, drove in a team best four RBI. These stat lines won’t blow people away, but a team that’s rebuilding, like the Braves, has to start identifying who its more productive younger hitters are, so they can play a bigger role down the road when the team is competitive again.

Matt Wisler is one of several young pitching stars the Braves have. Photo courtesy of myajc.com

That isn’t to say some of the old men aren’t producing. A.J. Pierzynski and Jeff Francoeur both had productive weeks at the plate, but these guys are entering the twilight years of their career, and may not be here when the Braves farm system moves up the the Bigs.

As far as pitching goes, Matt Wisler deserves a tip of the cap for holding the Dodgers scoreless in his 6.2 innings of work. Wisler is just one of the several young pitchers the Braves have in their organization, and his outing shows that there are good things to come for this organization down the road. It’ll be a few years until that happens though, and for now the Braves rotation still has Bud Norris in it, who suffered his 3rd loss on the year, surrendering four runs in four innings of work against the Mets. The bullpen didn’t look particularly bad, with four guys not surrendering a run and Alexi Ogando giving up just one run in four innings this week (even though that run got him credit for a loss).

The Braves just have to continue to looking for bright spots in what should continue to be a pretty bleak season. They play an interesting four-game series against the Red Sox (first two games at home, last two in Boston), followed by a three-game visit to Chicago to play the Cubs.

4. Miami Marlins (6-11) 7.5 GB

The Marlins had their best week as far as wins are concerned, doubling their season total to six after going 3-7 through their opening two weeks. The biggest issue is that both the bats and the arms have lacked consistency for the Marlins. Rather, they have lacked the good kind of consistency, they consistently only put up 1 or 2 runs when they lose.

This offense seems to fringe a lot on the success of its outfielders at the top of the batting order. Christian Yelich is producing at a 3-hole hitter level, batting .379 on the year after a .417 week. Yelich also quieted some of those who doubted his fielding abilities over the weekend, throwing an absolute dart to gun down Angel Pagan at home. Another young Miami outfielder, Miguel Ozuna, drove in a team-high six RBI this week from the 2-hole, bringing his season total to eight. The name we were all expecting to hear, Giancarlo Stanton, doubled his season HR total to four and continues earn the cleanup spot, leading the team in homers and RBI. Dee Gordon also continues to lead the NL in stolen bases, swiping three more over the past seven games.

Ace Jose Fernandez continues to look for consistency on the hill. He went six innings in both starts this week. Against Washington he surrendered just one run and struck out nine batters. Then, against the Giants, he gave up four runs and struck out just five. It isn’t entirely fair to pin the loss against San Francisco squarely on him, as the offense produced just three runs in the first two games of that series.

Jared Cosart and Adam Conley were both hit hard last week, and Wei-Yin Chen was a victim of no run support in his one start as well. I think the primary concern for the Marlins comes more from the offense, as they have just two more runs than the NL-worst Braves on the year with 63. While we all know Jose Fernandez and the rest of these Marlins arms can throw better than what they did this week, as they did not all deliver particularly bad starts. Chen gave up three  runs over seven innings and took the loss. Especially with a hitting coach as renowned as Barry Bonds, the team should be able to plate more runs than they have in these first three weeks of baseball.

The Marlins are on the road all week: they have four games in Los Angeles against the Dodgers before going the Milwaukee for a three-game stint with the Brew Crew.

3. Philadelphia Phillies (9-10) 5.5 GB

The Phillies went an even 3-3 this week. They continue to show that they are not as weak of a team as initially thought coming into the season, taking the series against a weak Brewers team 2-1 and swiping one game off of the Mets, but they aren’t a top-caliber team that will be competing for a playoff spot come September. They, too, have woes offensively, with 62 runs on the year (so to recap the bottom three teams in the NL in terms of run production all come from the East) and now things just got more difficult pitching-wise with Charlie Morton going on the DL.

Maikel Franco was the offensive stud for the Phillies this week, something that Phils fans will probably be hearing a lot over the course of his career, hitting three homers and driving in eight RBI while hitting .346. Adding to that group of up-and-coming Phillies infielders, Freddy Galvis and Odubel Herrera also drove in at least three RBI each on the week. The Phillies infield (with the exception of Ryan Howard) exemplifies what the Phillies are working towards, and the kind of offensive talent they will have available to them in the next couple of seasons. One thing you would like to see less of from these three is strikeouts. Plate discipline comes through experience, so hopefully that number will continue to go down over the years, but they’ve kept up with Ryan Howard this year in terms of Ks, and that’s not something to strive for.

Speaking of strikeouts, Jared Eickhoff had 16 of them in two starts this week for the Phillies. That’s about where the good news ends for him, going 0-2 and allowing nine runs in 12.1 innings over those two outings. Jeremy Hellickson had another bad day at the office, surrendering four runs on 10 hits through 4.1 innings. This week was Aaron Nola’s week to shine on the mound, who threw a strong 7 innings of one-run ball against the Brewers. The Phillies arms face an almost identical problem as the Marlins, a lack of run support and inconsistency. Nola had a great outing this week after a forgettable week two, while Jeremy Hellickson had a good week one and has struggled since. We’ll also see how Luis Garcia does in replacement of Charlie Morton, who is on the DL with a left hamstring strain.

The Phillies play three games in Washington starting Tuesday before hosting the Cleveland Indians for three games over the weekend.

2. New York Mets (10-7) 3.5 GB

The Mets lost just one game this week, as both the offense and the pitching seemed to click for them. The real success story for them this season has been Noah Syndergaard, who has been an absolute monster on the mound thus far. He turned in another beautiful performance against Philadelphia, going seven innings and allowing just one run while striking out eight.

Curtis Granderson has hit 4 homers since April 16, and is now 2nd on the Mets in the category. Photo courtesy of nydailynews.com

The rest of the Mets arms also turned in performances that were more in line with what we expected from them at the beginning of the year. Matt Harvey finally got the monkey off of his back and got a W against the Braves. While it wasn’t the prettiest of outings, giving up seven hits in five innings, he was able to play damage control and limit the Braves in the only column that really matters at the end of the day. Jacob deGrom also faced the Braves, making his first start since April 8. He, too, surrendered a lot of hits, but made sure that not many Braves came across to score against him, giving up just one run through 5.2 in his first start in over two weeks. Steven Matz has really flown under the rader (as far as Mets pitchers are concerned) in 2016. He turned in another stellar performance, striking out eight in 6.1 innings of two-run ball.

The Mets bats have also been red hot. They hit four more homers in their three game series against the Braves, totaling now 21 in their last eight games. Curtis Granderson has hit four of those homers, one of them being a grand slam in game one against the Braves, with a solo homer later in the game to boot. Granderson is still playing catch up to the Mets’ biggest surprise at the plate this year in Neil Walker. Walker leads the team with seven homers (four of them in week three). Walker came into 2016 as a solid power hitter, but he has only hit over 20 home runs once in his first seven years in Pittsburgh. I don’t know what has caused this sudden surge in power in 2016, but I’m sure Mets fans won’t complain about it. The only concern for Mets fans currently is the status of Yoenis Cespedes. Anthony diComo of mlb.com reports that Cespedes had a lot of fluid drained from his leg on Monday, and is listed as day-to-day.

Week three was a great week for the Mets. They got to face some of the weaker teams, which helped provide confidence boosts to Matt Harvey, who has been struggling, and Jacob deGrom, who had been off for more than two weeks. It also seemed to do wonders for the entire offense. Look for the Mets to continue surging forward as they settle back into their normal routine.

The Mets host the Reds for three games starting Monday, and then the Giants over the weekend for another three games.

1. Washington Nationals (14-4)

The Nationals continue to go full speed ahead, posting another impressive week. The production continued to come from the same places it has all year, both at the plate and on the mound. Bryce Harper had another monster week, with three HRs and eight RBI. Jayson Werth stepped up his production last week as well, hitting two HRs of his own. Werth was a guy who, coming into the year, was seen as somebody potentially past his prime or at the very least on the downswing of his MLB career. While his numbers may not be as flashy as they were in his prime, he has produced very well, and has  taken the loss of Ben Revere in stride. Daniel Murphy continues to be a rock in the lineup, hitting .346 this week and leading the MLB with a .397 average on the year.

Max Scherzer was the only Nationals pitcher who had a real off week, giving up five runs in five innings against Miami and suffering his first loss of the season. Other than that, the Nats staff looked great. Stephen Strasburg struck out 20 men in 15.1 innings over the course of two starts and Tanner Roark was just behind him with 17 Ks in 13 innings of work. Joe Ross turned in a solid start, but was removed early with a blister on his middle finger and will not start Tuesday against the Phillies.

The Nats bullpen also got to display what it can do in Sunday’s 16 inning game against the Twins. Yusmeiro Petit turned in 4.2 innings and allowed just one run, which was crucial in keeping the Nats alive long enough for Chris Heisey’s walk off in the bottom of the 16th. Oliver Perez also turned in 1.1 innings and ended up getting the win, also dropping a clutch bunt (yes, bunts can be clutch) to set up the game-tying hit in the bottom of the 15th.

The Nats will get their first test against predicted playoff contending opposition later this week against the St. Louis Cardinals. They play three games at home, starting Tuesday, before heading to St. Louis for the weekend.

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