2017 Fantasy Baseball Third Base Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Third Base Rankings

From Eddie Mathews to Ron Santo, from Mike Schmidt to Wade Boggs, from Chipper Jones to Adrian Beltre; the hot corner has remained a staple of power and production for centuries. Third basemen made up ten of the top 50 fantasy hitters in 2016, including the 2015 AL and 2016 NL MVP’s. With so many options to choose from, third base is one of, if not, the deepest position in fantasy baseball.

 

The top 30 third basemen have been grouped into six tiers, with the top and bottom player of each tier profiled below.

Honorable mentions include: Brandon Drury (ARI), Yulieski Gurriel (HOU), Jose Reyes (NYM), Jedd Gyorko (STL), Ryan Schimpf (SD), Hernan Perez (MIL), Matt Duffy (TB), and Johnny Peralta (STL).

 

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball Third Base Rankings

Can Kris Bryant be the first to win back to back MVP’s since Miguel Cabrera? (Courtesy of Chicagostylesports.com)

1. Kris Bryant CHC

2. Nolan Arenado COL

3. Josh Donaldson TOR

4. Manny Machado BAL

 

The reigning NL MVP, Kris Bryant, should be the first third basemen taken in 2017. Bryant was called up in 2015 after mashing 43 home runs at the AA and AAA levels. The minor-league player of the year impressed immediately in the majors, as he hit 26 home runs and drove in 99 RBI’s, resulting in him winning the Rookie of the Year.

The 24-year-old crushed 39 bombs with over 100 runs and RBI’s, which is easily repeatable for many years to come.

Two main reasons why Bryant lands atop this list is because of his steal upside and the lineup in which he plays in. Bryant is athletic for his 6-foot-5 230-pound stature. He stole 13 bases in 2015, and eight in 2016, which gives him a good floor of steals compared to Arenado, Donaldson, and Machado, who combined for nine.

Also, batting ahead of Anthony Rizzo and other elite hitters in the Chicago Cubs offense will give Bryant a great chance to, once again, lead the league in runs. These two factors will help propel him ahead of the other elite third base options.

 

Manny Machado has all of the potential in the world. After having back to back 35 plus home run and 100 run seasons, he remains in the elite category of third basemen.

Machado has batted primarily third in 2016, and still failed to reach the 100 RBI plateau, which is unnerving, as he is set to primarily bat second in 2017. Don’t get me wrong, Machado still has elite value in the two hole, as he will bat around .300, while being a great source of runs, but if you’re looking for 100 RBI’s, Machado may fall short once again.

Machado also failed to steal a base in 2016, after stealing 20 bags in 2015. This may have been a way to limit the stress on his surgically repaired knee, or may have been due to the fact that the Baltimore Orioles were last in stolen base attempts per game, with .2.

The lack of stolen bases and RBI’s compared to Bryant, Donaldson, and Arenado forces me place Machado at the bottom of tier 1.

 

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball Third Base Rankings

Will 2017 be a breakout season for veteran Kyle Seager? (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

5. Kyle Seager SEA

6. Jonathon Villar MIL

7. Adrian Beltre TEX

8. Matt Carpenter STL

9. Todd Frazier CWS

10. Evan Longoria TB

11. Anthony Rendon WAS

12. Justin Turner LAD

 

Kyle Seager has been a consistent source of 160 hits, .270 average, and 24 home runs per season, but 2017 will be the year he breaks out.

Seager will bat behind Jean Segura, Robinson Cano, and Nelson Cruz, which will give him a great chance to finally surpass the 100 RBI mark.

The 29-year-old’s isolated power numbers have jumped from .185 to .221, showing that he has the potential to increase his power numbers as he continues through his prime years.

According to fantasypros.com, he is being selected as the 59th player off the board, and the 6th third basemen. Although Seager’s value does warrant a pick at this position, there are many other third basemen that offer similar value at a much lesser cost.

 

Justin Turner exploded onto the scene in 2016, having a career year, batting .275 with 27 home runs, 79 runs, and 90 RBI’s. The 32-year-old inked a 4-year, $64 million deal, that will lock him in as the everyday third basemen and three-hitter of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the near and distant and future.

Turner provides a great floor of value, as he has a career batting average of .282, while managing to have respectable strikeout and walk rates. I believe Turner is more than likely to repeat his power numbers, and could be a sneaky source of 100 RBI’s come 2017.

 

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Third Base Rankings

Can Jake Lamb recover from his atrocious second half n 2016? (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

13. Jake Lamb ARI

14. Maikel Franco PHI

15. Alex Bregman HOU

16. Jose Ramirez CLE

 

Jake Lamb is currently being severally overlooked, as he is being selected as the 19th third basemen, and 165th overall player in drafts.

Lamb finished 2016 with a .249 batting average, 29 home runs, and 91 RBI’s. This stat line may seem underwhelming, but Lambs first half of .291, 20 home runs, and 61 RBI’s suggests that there is elite potential here.

The 26-year-old will join a healthy Arizona Diamondbacks lineup that includes A.J. Pollock, Paul Goldschmidt, and David Peralta, which will give him the opportunity to repeat or surpass his career high RBI total. Lamb will end up on the majority of my teams in 2017, as his ADP is much too low for his potential.

 

The sneaky top 20 MVP candidate in 2016, Jose Ramirez, will be another cheap source of production at third base in 2017. Ramirez is being selected as the 14th third basemen, which I believe is fairly high, although his ADP of 124 gives him significant value.

The 24-year-old will bat in the middle of the Cleveland Indians lineup, and depending on Michael Brantley’s health, may be behind Edwin Encarnacion, Francisco Lindor, and Jason Kipnis, which will give him an incredible opportunity to drive in runs.

Ramirez, a career .275 hitter, is continuously improving, as he batted .312 with 11 home runs, 76 RBI’s, and 22 stolen bases in 2016. Investing in the young Indian will be highly beneficial come 2017.

 

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Third Base Rankings

Miguel Sano’s strikeout rate is a red flag heading into 2017. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

17. Miguel Sano MIN

18. Jung-Ho Kang PIT

19. Eduardo Nunez SFG

20. Ryon Healy OAK

21. Yangervis Solarte SD

 

Miguel Sano is currently being selected as the 128th player, and 15th third basemen in 2017. After hitting 18 home runs in 80 games in 2015, Sano increased his totals to 25 in 116 games in 2016. Miguel Sano’s power potential is juicy, although his 2016 strike out rate of 36% is a huge red flag.

Sano’s strikeout rates have continuously increased, which suggests that Sano may strikeout at an obnoxious rate again in 2017. Sano, who has already had a problem finding a position, may experience serious issues if his bat continues to struggle. I believe Sano is being drafted to high, as you can draft safer options in Maikel Franco or Jake Lamb later in drafts.

 

Yangervis Solarte is my sleeper of the year. The 29-year-old is primed for a breakout season, as he will have an everyday role for the first time in his career. He totaled 15 home runs and 71 RBI’s in just 109 games, which would have put him on pace for 22 home runs and 105 RBI’s.

Solarte will be the starting third basemen and cleanup hitter for the San Diego Padres in 2017. This will give him plenty of opportunity for RBI’s and runs, as this young Padres lineup could surprise people.

The ascension of young studs Wil Myers, Hunter Renfroe, and Manny Margot, can immensely improve the Friars underwhelming offense, which will positively impact Solarte’s stats.

His ADP of 319 makes him the 32nd third basemen taken off the board, which means he is currently going undrafted in majority of leagues. Solarte will make an incredible late round pick if you miss early on a third basemen.

 

Tier 5

2017 Fantasy Baseball Third Base Rankings

Nick Castellanos’ fractured hand held him back in 2016, so will he improve in 2017? (Courtesy MLive.com)

22. Nick Castellanos DET

23. Mike Moustakas KAN

24. Adonis Garcia ATL

25. Eugenio Suarez CIN

26. Pablo Sandoval BOS

27. Travis Shaw MIL

28. Martin Prado MIA

29. Danny Valencia SEA

30. Yunel Escobar LAA

 

Nick Castellanos had his 2016 cut short due to a fractured left hand, although in 110 games, he managed to hit 18 home runs, while scoring 54 runs, and driving in 58 RBI’s. The Tigers six-hitter remains a solid source of runs and RBI’s while sporting a respectable career average of .265.

Castellanos is very safe option for later in the draft, and if he continues to progress, could be a top 15 third basemen. His current ADP of 239 makes his the 25th third basemen selected, which would be a price well worth paying.

 

Yunel Escobar has quietly been a solid fantasy producer his entire career, as he has a career batting average of .283, and has batted .314 and .304 in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Escobar hasn’t managed to play over 140 games since 2013, but if he can make that happen in 2017, he will be a great fantasy asset.

The 34-year-old will bat leadoff for the Mike Trout lead Los Angeles Angels. The talent behind him along with his great batting average gives him a chance to be an above average run scorer in 2017.

His ADP of 366 makes him the 37th third basemen being selected, which in my mind is astronomical. He will go undrafted in almost all leagues, although he offers great value in deeper leagues with large rosters.

 

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NL East Weekly: 6/13-6/19

Another week went by in the East, and it was another week full of surprises, fantastic pitching outings, and Braves win streaks. Alright, the last one is the first time that’s happened, but the Braves season-high five game win streak came at the expense of a divisional rival with a lot more to lose, the New York Mets. The Mets have struggled in back-to-back weeks now, and have dropped into third place in the East for the first time since April.

Meanwhile the Marlins find themselves in second place for the first time in what feels like forever. The Marlins look to complete a four-game sweep of the Rockies tonight that would make them winners of six of their last seven games. The Marlins still have some work to do chasing Washington, who is currently 5.5 games ahead of them, but the Marlins seem to be putting things together, while New York continues to sputter.

And while the Mets may be sputtering, the Phillies are in absolute free fall at this point. They have won just one of their last 11 games, the last five of which have come at home. While a fall from the near-top was to be expected, the dramatic and sudden fashion in which it happened has really taken the wind out of the team’s and fans’ sails.

Then there’s the Nats, who were able to get their revenge on the Cubs for the four-game sweep that was handed to them earlier in the year. Max Scherzer, in particular, had to exact his toll on a Cubs offense that drilled in seven runs off of him in his first outing against the team, and had a perfect game going for over five innings. While they fell short in the final two days against the Padres, the week was still a net positive for Washington, who maintained the comfortable gap between them and second place.

1. Washington Nationals (43-27)

The Nats continued their pursuit of 50 wins last week, and dashed the Cubs hopes of doing so by taking the series against Chicago. After being swept in four games against the Cubs earlier in the year, it was reassuring to see that Nationals bats and arms are plenty capable to contend with the MLB’s best. While Daniel Murphy’s batting average may be falling back down to Earth, he and his team’s run production continues to be an encouraging sign. Murphy, Anthony Rendon, and Bryce Harper all drove in four men apiece last week. Harper was able to get a couple of RBIs on a two-run homer against the Padres on Thursday, his first in 52 at-bats, an encouraging sign for Nats fans. While Harper hasn’t been the machine he was in 2015, or in April of this year he has begun to turn things around, hitting .291 with a homer and eight RBIs in his last 15 games.

Wilson Ramos continues to make his case for the best hitting catcher this season. He has the highest batting average and RBI total of any qualified player at the position, and is second in the MLB among catchers, with 11 homers this year. The guy looks like a shoo-in for the All-Star game at this rate. Michael Taylor continues to make is difficult for Dusty Baker to take him out of the lineup, belting two homers on Sunday against the Padres. Taylor also swiped three bags last week; and while he will continue to swap time with Ben Revere in center, if he continues to produce like this he may see more playtime come his way.

On the mound for the Nats, Max Scherzer continues to dial up the Ks, with 11 against the Cubs and ten against the Padres in two starts last week. He now has 128 strikeouts on the year, second in the MLB behind only Clayton Kershaw. Stephen Strasburg is right behind him, tied for third in the MLB in Ks with 118. Strasburg went seven innings of one run ball against the Cubs on Wednesday, but did not factor in the decision. Strasburg remains one of just two unbeaten starters in the MLB with at least 14 starts. Tanner Roark and Joe Ross both lasted six innings in winning efforts against the Padres on Thursday and Friday, while Gio Gonzalez continues to struggle. Gonzalez has now lost five of his last six starts, and hasn’t won a game since May 18. The bullpen also looks for a suitable replacement for Jonathan Papelbon, who is on the DL for the first time in his career. Shawn Kelly was two-for-two in converting saves, while Yusmeiro Petit was one-for-one. Felipe Rivero and Oliver Perez were also given save opportunities, but both were unable to close the game out, and Rivero ended up shouldering a loss.

The Nats stay on the road with three games in LA against the Dodgers before a three game set against the Brewers over the weekend.

2. Miami Marlins (37-32) 5.5 GB

The Marlins have continued their slow climb up the NL East ladder. From fourth in April to second in June, the Marlins have been the beneficiaries of some of the better hitting in the division. J.T. Realmuto and Christian Yelich led the way for Miami this week, with six RBIs apiece. Yelich seems to be taking a San Francisco Giant approach to batting, turning in big numbers every other week.

Giancarlo Stanton, while only driving in two RBIs, finally started seeing the ball again amidst a horrible slump, batting .438 last week. Justin Bour, now swapping time with Chris Johnson at first base, made the most of his now limited ABs, driving in four runs and batting .538. Derek Dietrich returned to the lineup, after missing time with a bone bruise on his foot sustained Monday, and put up a quality .412 average on the week. Dietrich has been a magnet for baseballs this year, but has continued to miraculously avoid any major injuries. Marcell Ozuna and Martin Prado both had four RBIs and a big fly last week, with Ozuna’s three-run shot being the only runs in Sunday’s 3-0 win over the Rockies.

Tom Koehler was effectively wild on Sunday, shutting out the Mets through six innings despite walking six batters. Photo courtesy of foxsports.com

Tom Koehler went 2-0 on the mound for Miami this week, despite walking six batters in Sunday’s win. Koehler, after a 1-3 May, is 3-1 to start June, with Sunday’s start being the only start where he walked multiple hitters. Despite the control issues, Koehler turned in a scoreless six innings, and allowed just two runs in Tuesday’s win against the Padres. Adam Conley also struggled with control in an otherwise good outing. Conley surrendered just one hit, a solo homer, on Friday against the Rockies, but walked five men over 5.2 innings.

Jose Fernandez saw his start skipped this week. Manager Don Mattingly says the skip was just a part of Miami’s plan for Fernandez this year, and this will not be the only time it happens this year. Wei-Yin Chen was the other arm who had to make multiple starts for Miami this week due to Fernandez being skipped. Chen continues to struggle a decent bit, he surrendered four runs in six innings against the Padres on Monday before getting shelled on Saturday against the Rockies, lasting just 2.1 innings and surrendering six runs. Despite a couple of poor outings, Chen went 1-0 on the week. Justin Nicolino again struggled last week, and has been optioned to triple-A. Paul Clemens was brought up to replace Nicolino, who is 2-4 with a 5.17 ERA in ten starts. He’s 0-4 with a 6.44 ERA in his last seven outings.

Miami is home all week this week. They finish up their series against the Rockies tonight, looking for the sweep. The Braves then come to town for two games, before the Cubs arrive for a four-game set, beginning on Thursday.

3. New York Mets (36-32) 6 GB

The Mets continue to struggle to find their form in June, getting swept by the Braves over the weekend. While manager Terry Collins says he isn’t concerned with the current gap between New York and Washington in the division, I think the Mets definitely want to nip whatever this current issue is in the bud before things get too out of hand as the All-Star break approaches.

The Mets must have used up all of their runs for the week in Wednesday’s 11-2 win against the Pirates. They scored just ten runs in the other five games, being shutout in two of them. Wilmer Flores drove in five of those 21 runs last week with a couple of homers. Yoenis Cespedes also had a homer and totaled three RBIs on the week, just like teammate Neil Walker. James Loney continues to get on base, with a .333 average, but the Mets still have to be missing Lucas Duda’s pop and run production at the plate: Loney had just a lone RBI.

Noah Syndergaard and Bartolo Colon were the only starters to pick up wins this week. Syndergaard fanned 11 men in 8.1 innings on Wednesday, while Colon lasted a surprising 7.2 innings and only surrendered two runs. Colon may have just 56 strikeouts in 13 starts, but the 42 year old is still 6-3 on the year and continues to stick it to Father Time in the most entertaining of fashions.

Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom continued to struggle this year. DeGrom lasted six innings in both outings, and turned in a quality start against the Pirates, giving up just two runs and striking out nine, but took the loss in both appearances. He surrendered four runs in six innings on Sunday against Atlanta. Harvey, after inspiring some hope with his previous starts, gave up four runs in six innings on Friday against the Braves. He’s now 0-2 in June, but his last start was the first this month where he had surrendered multiple runs.

The Mets host the second two-game set of the World Series rematch against the Royals on Tuesday and Wednesday, before looking to get some payback in Atlanta, with a four game series starting on Thursday.

4. Philadelphia Phillies (30-40) 13 GB

The Phillies continued their downward spiral, having now lost six straight. While the lack of offense continues to stand out, the pitching has also looked a lot more worrisome as of late. The Phils never managed more than three runs after beating the Blue Jays 7-0 in the series opener on Monday.

Odubel Herrera drove in three of those runs on Monday, along with a couple more throughout the week to lead the team with five RBIs last week. No other Philly hitter managed more than two RBIs on the week. A couple of guys who had performed in weeks past had abysmal times at the plate last week; Tommy Joseph and Freddy Galvis combined for just one hit. Cody Asche and Cesar Hernandez both had a homer and a couple of RBIs on the week, but the Phillies bats as a whole were as silent last week as they have been all season.

On the mound is where things have really turned sour for Phildelphia in recent weeks. The same squad that had the Phillies sitting above .500 in May yielded 50 runs in seven games last week. Jerad Eickhoff was responsible for holding a very potent Jays offense to no runs over six innings on Monday, but that’s where the good news ends. Eickhoff didn’t do so well in his second start on the week, giving up three runs on nine hits in 5.2 against the D-Backs on Saturday. Zach Eflin made his first two professional starts last week, neither of which will be memorable in the way he would have liked them to be. Eflin gave up eight runs in just 2.2 innings against the Jays on Tuesday. Although he had a more reasonable 5.2 innings of two run ball against the Diamondbacks on Sunday, he ultimately took the loss in that performance as well.

Jeremy Hellickson also pitched a losing effort last week, and even Aaron Nola, who had been the Phils beacon of consistency in May, had a very poor June continue in his last start. Hellickson managed to last six innings, giving up four runs to Toronto on Wednesday. Nola lasted just three innings and gave up six runs. He’s now lasted just 6.2 innings and given up ten earned runs in his past two starts, after starting June off with a shutout against the Brewers.

The Phillies finish off their series at home against the Diamondbacks on Monday, before heading to Minnesota for a three game series starting Tuesday. They then head further west for three games against the Giants over the weekend.

5. Atlanta Braves (23-46) 19.5 GB

Freddie Freeman hit for the cycle against the Reds last week. Photo courtesy of espn.com

In some sort of upside-down universe, the Braves go undefeated this year. We’re not in that one, but it definitely feels strange to see Atlanta currently holding the division’s current longest win streak, having won their last five games. I guess that just goes to show what can happen when your franchise player has, arguably, the best week of any batter in the NL. Freddie Freeman hit .538, homered twice, drove in five runs, stole a base, and hit for the cycle against the Reds last week. It doesn’t matter that the game went into extras, getting four hits in a Big League game is a feat within itself, especially with the pitching talent prevalent in the MLB.

Nick Markakis also drove in five runs last week, including one on a solo homer: just his second bomb of the season. Erick Aybar and Jace Peterson had three RBIs apiece, Peterson also stole a base while hitting .286 on the week.

On a more somber note for Braves fans, rookie outfield talent Mallex Smith wound up with a broken thumb over the weekend, when he was hit by an Antonio Bastardo pitch. He will be further evalutated on Monday, but all time he loses hurts the Braves. Smith is hitting .237 this year, and while he hasn’t homered since his two home run game against the Pirates on May 17, he still has 21 RBIs and leads the team with 14 stolen bases this year. The Braves second-place base stealer, Ender Inciarte had a couple of swiped bags last week. His season total now sits at five on the year.

The Braves performances on the mound this week were highlighted by a Julio Teheran gem on Sunday against the Mets. Teheran took the loss earlier in the week, going six innings against the Reds and giving up three runs. But he went the full nine on Sunday against a struggling Mets offense, and gave up just one hit. Teheran became the first Braves pitcher to allow one hit or less in a road start since Kent Mercker in 1994, when he no-hit the Dodgers.

Matt Wisler rebounded from a series of unfortunate outings to nab his first win in his last five starts. Wisler held the Reds to a pair of runs over 6.2 innings on Thursday, despite Cincy scattering in eight hits on him. Rookie start John Gant picked up his first Major League win last week, as well, holding the Mets to one run in 6.2 innings on Friday. Aaron Blair and Bud Norris didn’t have great starts, but benefited from the Braves outpouring of offense last week to wind up with no decisions.

The Braves head to Miami for a two-game series beginning on Tuesday before heading home for a four game series against the Mets. They have the potential to help the Nats and Marlins further bury the struggling Mets, already having swept the Mets this past weekend.

 

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NL East Weekly: 5/23-5/29

This week saw a lot of divisional clashes within the East, providing ample opportunity for a lot of teams to move around in the standings. But nothing ended up shifting in the East this week, but the Marlins have finally caught the Phils and tied them for the third spot 3.5 games back of the Nationals.

With the Odor vs. Bautista punch fading into the distance, the Mets had to rekindle another 2015 playoff flame on Saturday, when starter Noah Syndergaard threw behind Chase Utley, who made a hard slide into then Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada in Game Two of the NLDS in 2015. Guess it just goes to show you that baseball players can have selective memories. They can forget an error in the field they made just half an inning earlier when they’re at the plate, but they can also remember actions taken almost eight months ago in another season entirely.

Matt Harvey’s probably wishing he could return to that season, as the struggles continue on the hill for the young Mets ace. Luckily he wasn’t struggling alone this week, as closer Jeurys Familia may have had some flashbacks to the 2015 postseason himself, with some of his closing performances last week.

Some guys that weren’t in the postseason last year are making some big noise at the plate, as two Marlins hitters hit above .500 this week, and really catapulted the Marlins offensive effort. Meanwhile, some veterans on teams atop the division are showing that they’ve still got some pop in the bat, with seasoned veterans David Wright, Ryan Zimmerman, and Jayson Werth all belting bombs last week.

Now lets take a closer look at how each team is doing in the NL East…

1. Washington Nationals (30-21)

The Nationals offer a bit of a mixed bag of news that can be taken from last weeks seven games. While they did drop two of three to the Mets, evening the season series at 3-3 so far, they got some help from the Dodgers to remain atop the division.

Anthony Rendon is beginning to find his rhythm at the plate, hitting .385 in his last 15 games. Photo courtesy of rantsports.com

We’ll start with the good news: the hot hitters remain on the upswing, with Daniel Murphy continuing to keep his batting average in the .390s, and Anthony Rendon continuing to trend in the right direction. Rendon has hit all four of his 2016 homers in May, hitting .290 on the month after a .242 April. Another bit of good news appears to be Bryce Harper; who has regained a bit of his power swing, hitting two homers last week, doubling his May total. And Harper wasn’t the only one who got a hold of a few pitches last week; 14 homers were hit by eight different Nats players last week, including a surprising three by Ryan Zimmerman. Washington hitters might be hitting their strides at the right time, and the success of Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon at the plate looks to be contagious.

The bad news is that Harper is still sputtering at hitting for average, and the walks weren’t there to boost his OBP either. Harper hit just .167, bringing his season total to .245 and his May total to .205. Lucky for Harper, May is almost over, and hopefully whatever has been troubling him at the plate will begin to fade as June rolls in. Another bit of sour news is that Ben Revere continues to be inconsistent with reaching base as a leadoff man. Revere is hitting just .182, with a .232 OBP, and unlike his cohort Curtis Granderson of the Mets, he doesn’t make up for it with power: Revere has just five homers in his entire career.

The same good news/bad news situation can be seen on the pitching staff as well. Tanner Roark continues to look stellar against teams not from Miami, but his offense was unable to provide him with enough run support to avert him the loss. Roark gave up just two runs, one earned, in seven innings against the Mets on Wednesday but was still shouldered with the loss. Stephen Strasburg remains unbeaten as a Nationals starter, picking up wins eight and nine last week on the back of more impressive performances on the mound. The same can’t be said for Gio Gonzalez, who got shelled in both of his performances last week, giving up 13 runs in 9.2 innings against the Mets and Cards combined. His ERA jumped nearly two points, from 1.86 to 3.57 last week. Ace Max Scherzer had similar troubles on the mound, with walks being his undoing against the Cardinals on Friday. Scherzer allowed just three hits, but walked four men and allowed five runs in his loss.

The Nationals look to rebound this week against two very different teams. Their pitchers could have some confidence-boosting starts in Philadelphia, where the Phils offense continues to struggle, while the bats can look to continue (or begin in some cases) some hot streaks against the Reds in their first June series starting Friday.

2. New York Mets (28-21) 1 GB

The Mets evened up the season series against rival Washington at the beginning of last week to pull within 0.5 games of reclaiming the division lead. They failed to take the lead and ended up dropping half a game further back after a rough series vs. the Dodgers. The struggles for the Mets remain the same as they have all year. Matt Harvey is continuing to have the worst season of his career, and the Mets offense keeps hitting a lot of homers, but still isn’t providing a lot of run support.

David Wright, of all people, led the Mets bats in hitting last week. Now, that isn’t a quip against Wright as a player, so much as that is my surprise that he did it in just three games. Wright hit three homers and brought in five RBIs, but missed three games due to neck injury. While the extent of the injury won’t be known until Tuesday, manager Terry Collins fears Wright may spend time on the DL because of it. Another bat that has been fairly quiet this year is Juan Lagares. This is in part due to his not seeing as much playtime as some of his fellow outfielders, but he made the most of it this week: hitting his first two homers of the season and hitting .400 on the week. On the opposite end of that spectrum was first baseman Eric Campbell, filling in for the injured Lucas Duda. While the offense as a whole has done well in compensating for Duda’s loss, Campbell had a rough go of things. He hit just .050 last week, his sole hit being a homer against the Nationals.

The majority of the Mets rotation looked strong last week. Steven Matz threw another gem against Washington on Wednesday, with a career high eight shutout innings. Noah Syndergaard didn’t allow a run either, albeit he was ejected after just 2.1 innings for throwing behind the back of the Dodgers’ Chase Utley on Saturday. Bartolo Colon continues to quietly hold down the fifth-spot, delivering two strong starts and picking up a win last week.

The real struggles this week on the hill came from Matt Harvey, which hasn’t been as much of a surprise given the season he’s having. The real question is what Harvey will do in his upcoming start against the White Sox. The Sox have been struggling as of late, meaning Harvey could really get a boost in the confidence department with a strong outing this week. If things go south, Harvey may spend some time with triple-A Los Vegas. The guy whose struggles came as a surprise last week was closer Jeurys Familia. Familia surrendered six runs in two appearances against the Dodgers. He actually got the win against the Dodgers on Friday, despite giving up four runs. He gave up two on Sunday and took the loss. His season ERA jumped over two points in the Dodgers series, from 2.01 to 4.07. With how consistent Familia has been, I assume he’ll bounce back if given the opportunity against Chicago. If he doesn’t do so, then his role as closer may begin to come into question.

The Mets host a struggling White Sox before heading to Miami for three games this week.

3. Philadelphia Phillies (26-24) 3.5 GB

The Phillies were the latest victim of the Chicago Cubs, who have just torn through the East (as well as the majority of other teams to be fair) in 2016. Chicago is currently 8-1 against the NL East, with their only loss coming against the Braves so far. While the Phils struggles against the Cubs are merited, they also only managed to scrape one game from the Detroit Tigers last week.

While the Phillies may not have gone deep as much as the Mets or Nats did last week, their one multi-homer player, Tommy Joseph, continues to be a welcome sight at first base and the plate. Joseph and the Phils longtime first baseman, Ryan Howard, had the same amount of plate appearances last week. The two statlines tell the story of why the Phils called Joseph up in the first place. Howard was 2/18 with a run scored and eight Ks. Joseph was 6/19 with two homers, four RBIs, a stolen base, and five Ks. While it had been apparent that Howard was on the downswing over the past few seasons, the Phils had been reluctant to give Joseph a chance before this season. Perhaps that extra time in the Minors helped Joseph develop into the quality hitter he’s proven to be since coming to the Bigs in mid-May. Only time will tell if he can provide what Howard could in his prime, but he’s off to a good start.

Elsewhere in the lineup for the Phillies, young bats continue to be the story. Maikel Franco is beginning to bump his average in the right direction, proving he can be a reliable situational hitter, and not just a crush it or strikeout slugger. Odubel Herrera is arguably the most productive and consistent leadoff man in the division, hitting .320 on the year and notching four RBIs in the series against Detroit, three of those coming on a homer on Wednesday. Young outfielder Tyler Goeddel hit the second homer of his career last week, and 29 year old (which makes him an old man on this Phils roster) Peter Bourjos hit his first homer on the year in Wednesday’s win as well. The Phillies have a lot of strong up and coming players, and if they’re able to nail down the pitching some more (they very well could with the #1 overall pick in the upcoming Draft) I could see the Phils being a Cubs-like team in a couple years.

The Phillies starters looked shaky at best on the mound last week. Only Aaron Nola managed to scavenge a win, thanks to some uncharacteristic run production on Wednesday. Nola is 3-1 in May after a 1-2 April. Aside from Nola, only Jeremy Hellickson managed to provide a decent outing on the hill: three runs in seven innings with seven Ks. Hellickson still suffered the loss in that one, however, as the Phils mustered just one run of support. Adam Morgan lasted just four innings against the Cubs, and has now taken the loss in three consecutive starts. Vince Velazquez didn’t make it to the sixth inning in either start, mustering just four innings against the Tigers and 4.2 against the Cubs. He allowed three runs to Detroit, although his offense got him out of the loss in that outing. He also surrendered seven runs to Chicago over the weekend. Those two outings put a damper on what was an otherwise respectable May for Velazquez.

The Phillies host Washington for three games, and then host Milwaukee for another four games this week.

Miami Marlins (26-24) 3.5 GB

The Marlins have finally moved into position to pass the Phillies and begin to look further up the division at New York and Washington. This is due in large part to some of the Marlins younger hitters going absolutely berserk at the plate last week.

Marcell Ozuna hit .536 last week. Photo courtesy of sun-sentinel.com

Marcell Ozuna and Derek Dietrich both hit over .500 last week. This isn’t necessarily uncharacteristic for the team, as they haven’t struggled to get men on base so far this year. The trick for them has been getting those runners home, which Miami a did much better job of last week. That said, it’s still encouraging to see these young Marlins bats produce the way Ozuna and Dietrich are. What isn’t so encouraging is Dietrich getting hit in the back of the head with a foul ball on Sunday in Atlanta. Dietrich drove in four runs, two of them coming on a homer, in Sunday’s game before he left. X-rays have come back negative, which is good news for Marlins fans and hopefully we’ll be seeing Dietrich back in action and continuing to produce at the plate. Ozuna passed team slugger Giancarlo Stanton for the team’s lead in RBIs last week, and he’s dangerously close to having the team triple-crown lead. Ozuna is hitting .344 with 10 homers and 27 RBIs, with two of those homers and four of those RBIs coming last week.

Dietrich and Ozuna weren’t the only Marlins hitters to rack up the ribbies last week. Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and outfielder Cole Gillespie also both hit above .300 and had at least 4 RBIs. Hechavarria hit .375 with four RBIs and hit his third homer of the year last week, while Gillespie had five homers and hit .333. The backup first basemen, Miguel Rojas and Chris Johnson also both had four RBIs when filling in for Justin Bour this week.

Jose Fernandez continues to dominate for the Marlins on the mound, while the rest of the rotation continues to be difficult to predict. Fernandez continues a scorching May with seven innings of one run ball and 12 punch outs. On the month, Fernandez is 5-0 with a 1.69 ERA and 50 strikeouts in five starts. He’ll have a chance to up those numbers (or down them in some categories) with a start on Tuesday vs. Pittsburgh. Wei-Yin Chen gave up five runs in 5.2 innings against the Rays on Monday, but followed it up with five innings allowing just one run against the Braves on Sunday, with neither outing earning a decision. Adam Conley continues to be hit-or-miss, allowing just two runs but lasting just 4.1 innings against the Braves on Friday. Meanwhile Tom Koehler fell victim to the Marlins worst offensive day against Tampa, taking a loss while surrendering only two runs in seven innings.

The Marlins stay home all week: hosting Pittsburgh for four games before the Mets come to town for another three.

5. Atlanta Braves (14-35) 15 GB

While the Braves were able to win their second weekend series in two weeks, they were swept by the Brewers at home during the week, which always stings. I guess it’s a good thing that the Braves are leaving Turner Field next year, as The Ted has not been kind to them in 2016. Atlanta is 4-21 at home so far. While we’re still a long way out from any potential record setting, I don’t think that’s the kind of note the Braves want to head to Cobb County on.

Jeff Francoeur once again hit well, going an even .500 at the plate last week. Gordon Beckham is another guy who has turned it on in the past couple of weeks, hitting two homers and driving in six men while hitting .300. The only other Brave to leave the yard last week was Tyler Flowers, who saw  the majority of the action behind the plate, with one dinger and three RBIs. Nick Markakis continues to slump at the plate, but still managed to drive in four men last week. Ender Inciarte is slowing turning his batting average around with a .316 week. Inciarte missed almost a month on the DL, returning on May 7th; he’s hit just .238 on the month, which isn’t where the Braves want him if he hopes to reclaim the leadoff position.

Some more bad news from Atlanta: shortstop Erick Aybar has been placed on the DL with a bruised foot. Aybar was acquired as a part of the deal that sent Andrelton Simmons to the Angels. On the season, Aybar is hitting just .182 with six RBIs and two stolen bases. Daniel Castro and Chase D’Arnaud are currently splitting time in the position.

The young Braves rotation is continuing to settle down, and saw decent outings from the pitchers throughout the week. Julio Teheran is unable to catch a break, allowing one run in seven innings against the Brewers but being stiffed a decision. He also drew a loss on Sunday with his worst outing in May, giving up three runs in 5.1 innings. Do not let Teheran’s record fool you, though, he’s had a great May statistically. Teheran, while just 1-2 this month, has just a 1.38 ERA and 37 strikeouts, alongside just nine walks in six starts. Mike Foltynewicz also saw his efforts go unrewarded, allowing just one run in 5.2 innings against the Brewers Wednesday, striking out seven men.

Aaron Blair and Williams Perez also had respectable no-decision outings. Blair, returning from triple-A Gwinnett, allowed two runs in 5.2 innings against the Marlins on Saturday. Perez delivered a quality outing, allowing just two runs in six innings of work against the Marlins on Thursday. Jason Grilli didn’t allow any runs in three appearances totaling 2.1 innings of work, although none of them in save situations. Grilli and Teheran remain the Braves hottest trade pieces as the season rolls on.

The Braves play four games at home against the Giants before heading to LA to play the Dodgers for three games.

NL East Weekly: 5/16-5/22

For the first time in two weeks, there was no lead change in the NL East. The Nationals remain atop the division. They didn’t gain too much headway in the division, as every team won at least three games last week, aside from Miami.

One of the bigger news stories from the East last week was the Braves firing manager Fredi Gonzalez. The move was inevitable with the way the Braves had been playing, and with the plans have for the future, but it’s always hard to gauge exactly when a manager is going to bite the dust. The Braves did win their second series on the year, their first since April 17th, under interim manager Brian Snitker against the Phillies over the weekend. While I doubt there was a whole lot of correlation between the two events, it is good to see the Braves young pitching is starting to show more life.

Jose Fernandez ended up in handcuffs last week. That’s right, the young Marlins ace stole the keys to Phillie Phanatic’s ATV prior to Wednesday’s game, and ended up being cuffed by the Phanatic and led back to the Miami dugout. One thing’s for certain, guys need to stop messing with the Phanatic’s ATV. Another guy in Miami that may as well be batting with handcuffs on is Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton recorded just one hit in 21 at-bats last week, striking out 17 times. Stanton became just the second batter in the modern era to strike out 15 times over a five game span, and the first position player to do so.

I guess the bright side (if you’re one of those optimists who absolutely has to find one) was that Stanton’s one hit came off of Nats ace Max Scherzer, who has looked extremely dominant in his last three starts, combining for 38 strikeouts over that time. Scherzer wasn’t the only one looking dominant on the mound for Washington, as the entire bullpen combined to post a 0.00 ERA last week. Any fans would be ecstatic to see those kind of numbers put up by their bullpen, Nats fans particularly so, given how the bullpen has been one of their sore spots over the past years.

Since we’re already on the topic of the Nats, let’s dive a bit deeper into them as we take a closer look at how the NL East teams fared last week.

1. Washington Nationals 27-17 

Max Scherzer was great, the bullpen was great, and the offense also looked very strong for Washington last week. The Nationals outscored their opponents 30-8 over sox games last week, whose offensive production compared to the rest of the division is why they’re still my favorites in the East (injuries not withstanding). The Nationals bats were hot last week, and they’re continuing to show that they aren’t a one-man Bryce Harper show like some were claiming them to be in April. While Harper continues to pile up the walks, Wilson Ramos continues to drive in runs, totaling six RBI on the week. Ramos is having a standout season through the first two months, and while there’s still a long way to go, Ramos is on the way to having a career year if he continues producing at this rate. The career .264 hitter is almost .100 points higher in 2016, hitting .347.

Anthony Rendon led the team in hitting last week, batting an even .500 and bringing in seven runs in six games. Coming into the year, the biggest problem concerning Rendon was his health, after missing extended time in 2015. Weeks like this show why: it’s obvious that Rendon has the tools necessary to provide in this Nationals lineup if he can stay healthy. A guy who has already spent time on the DL in 2016, Ben Revere, is beginning to turn into the weapon Dusty Baker wanted him to be before his injury. He stole his first two bases and drove in four runs last week. Revere has still been recovering from an oblique injury suffered on Opening Day, but this week’s performance looked reassuring as he looks to return to full form as the Nats leadoff man.

While Max Scherzer struck out 18 men in his two outings last week, he still took the loss in a 2-0 pitcher’s duel against Noah Syndergaard and the Mets on Tuesday. Scherzer allowed just four runs over two starts, with all of them coming off of homers. Solo shots by Curtis Granderson and the hot hitting Michael Conforto were enough to down the Nats, who couldn’t get anything going against Noah Syndergaard. The offense made it up to him on Sunday, however, giving him eight runs of support against the Marlins in the rubber match of that series.

Another guy who (finally) found success vs. Miami was Tanner Roark. Roark was 0-3 against Miami before Friday’s start in which he went 6.2 innings and allowed just one run. Gio Gonzalez continues to fly under the radar on the mound for the Nats. While he is just 3-1 in eight starts, Gonzalez has struck out 40 men in 48.1 innings and posted an impressive 1.86 ERA. Gonzalez picked up his third win in a strong 6.1 inning, one run start against the Mets on Wednesday.

The bullpen deserves a lot of credit on the mound this week as well. Seven men combined for zero earned runs allowed in 13 innings of work last week. Jonathan Papelbon had been looking more suspect than Nats fans had hoped in the past weeks, but he was able to convert his only save opportunity flawlessly on Thursday.

The Nationals are at home all week, with three games against New York before a four game set against the Cards beginning on Thursday.

2. New York Mets (25-18) 1.5 GB

While Noah Syndergaard was able to out-duel Max Scherzer on Tuesday, the rest of the Mets arms were overwhelmed by Washington’s offense in games two and three of the series. The Mets were able to rebound, however, with a sweep of the Brewers over the weekend to keep things interesting in the East.

The Mets offense, while still producing with the long ball, looked much more dormant last week compared to weeks prior. Obviously, the Mets strong pitching staff can make up for some lack of offense, but Syndergaard cannot pitch every game, and even if he did he can’t be expected to put up double-digit strikeouts and give up two runs or less in every start. While Michael Conforto has been fantastic for the Mets offense in recent weeks, belting some balls that still haven’t landed, the Mets appear to have lost first baseman Lucas Duda right before a key series against the Nats. Duda currently has seven homers and 19 RBI on the season, but had to see a doctor on Sunday in regards to an ailing back.

Curtis Granderson is still in the midst of a May slump, hitting just .151 with an OBP of .235. While he did hit two more home runs last week, Granderson is going to need to find himself on base more frequently, and provide opportunities for the men behind him to bring him in. Yoenis Cespedes has proven himself more than capable of doing so. While he didn’t homer last week, his 3 RBI increased his season total to 35, which leads the National League. If Granderson is able to get on base more often, Michael Conforto can begin turning those solo shots into multi-run homers, which can both solidify leads and spark comebacks.

When you look at the Mets’ starting pitcher performances this week, we’re reminded that everybody is human. Except Noah Syndergaard, who is making a very strong case for actually being a demigod. He posted 21 Ks in two scoreless outings, improving his season line to 5-2 with a 1.94 ERA and 76 strikeouts. Thor doesn’t even have the best record on the Mets staff, however. That honor belongs to Steven Matz, who is now 6-1 in seven starts (6-0 in his last six). While he isn’t striking out as many guys as Syndergaard, he’s been just as productive on the hill.

The surprising troubles for the Mets have come from their one and two spots in the rotation, Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey, both of which were hit well in their appearances last week. Harvey lasted just 2.2 innings against the Nationals. Harvey threw a simulated game at Citi Field Saturday in hopes he can work his way out of the worst slump of his young career. He’ll get a shot at redemption against the Nats on Tuesday. DeGrom didn’t suffer a loss in his five innings against the Brewers, and still struck out seven men, but he, admittedly, still isn’t quite back to the form he was in 2015.

The Mets won a number of close game this week, in large part to the efforts of closer, Jeurys Familia. Familia converted three of three save opportunities and notched himself a win last week, all without surrendering a single run. Familia ranks second in the MLB in saves, only behind Jeanmar Gomez of the Phillies. Logan Verrett, after being roughed up in a start filling in for Steven Matz, continues to look more at home in the bullpen, not allowing a run through 2.2 innings of work.

The Mets plays three games in Washington before hosting the Dodgers for three games over the weekend.

3. Philadelphia Phillies (25-19) 2 GB

The Phils missed an opportunity to take second place in the division last week, dropping two of three games to the Braves over the weekend. Despite that, they’re still very much in the conversation in the division. The offense continues to show that it needs some serious help, however, as the Braves young arms held the Phils to just one run in the first two games of the series in Philly.

Tommy Joseph NL East

Tommy Joseph is finally seeing Big League action in Philly, hitting his first homer off of Wei-Yin Chen last week. Photo courtesy of articles.philly.com

We’ll start with the positives surrounding the offense. New first baseman Tommy Joseph is looking primed to produce at the plate. While he is currently splitting starts with Ryan Howard, Joseph hit his first big league homer on Tuesday against the Marlins. Joseph is currently hitting .250 in 2016, and while that isn’t earth shattering, it’s a step up from Howard’s .161. One other thing I like about the Phils is their gameplan at catcher. Both Cameron Rupp and Carlos Ruiz started three games behind the plate last week. Alternating catchers ensures that both remain fresh when it’s their turn to start, which has really paid dividends for Rupp, who hit .545 with a homer and three RBI last week.

What Philadelphia really isn’t doing at the plate is getting on base and manufacturing runs. They’re 13th in the NL in on-base percentage, with a team .292; 14th in walks, with just 111; and dead last in stolen base percentage, converting a steal just 50% of the time. When you have a young, developing offense like the Phils, small ball is usually the more conducive way to produce runs, especially when you have talented pitching. That isn’t saying the Phillies should forego the long ball entirely, they have some guys, like Maikel Franco, who can produce in that category. But they also have guys like Freddy Galvis, who can fly on the basepaths, and I feel that Philadelphia isn’t really taking advantage of that.

None of the Phils arms looked particularly bad this week, despite their starters suffering three losses. Aaron Nola suffered from three unearned runs in what would have otherwise been a quality, two-run start in seven innings against the Braves. The loss ends Nola’s streak of unbeaten starts at five. Jerad Eickhoff had to make two starts this week, and looked strong in both. The lack of run support hurt in his six inning, three run loss to Miami on Monday. But he returned with a strong seven scoreless innings against the Braves on Sunday. Jeanmar Gomez continues to lead the MLB in saves, converting numbers 15 and 16 last week.

The Phillies begin a road trip on Monday in Detroit for three games, before playing the Cubs in Chicago for three more over the weekend.

4. Miami Marlins (22-21) 4.5 GB

The Marlins lost the most ground last week, but they’re still within striking distance in the East. With that in mind, they have to find a way to help slugger Giancarlo Stanton out of one of the worst slumps in baseball. Stanton struck out 15 times in five games last week, before finally recording a hit in Sunday’s game against Washington.

Christian Yelich, despite missing two games for back spasms, posted a strong .412 batting average last week. But the real surprise came from his replacement, Ichiro Suzuki. The 42 year old showed he’s still got it, going hitting .667 in the weekend series against Washington, hitting from the three-hole. Justin Bour was able to pick up some of Stanton’s slack in the power department, hitting three homers and notching five RBI. Marcell Ozuna hit the only other two homers for the Marlins last week, and brought home three runners himself.

Jose Fernandez delivered another strong outing against the Nationals on Saturday, striking out nine in six innings of work and allowing just one run. Hernandez was the Nats’ worst nightmare in his starts. In three starts against them, he allowed just three runs combined while striking out 29. Fernandez is also 4-0 in the month of May and hasn’t lost a game in over a month, since April 23 against the Giants.

The only other Marlins starter to pick up a win last week was Adam Conley, who tossed six innings of one run ball against the Phils, before being hit hard by Washington on Sunday. Tom Koehler and Wei-Yin Chen both were stiffed offensively, allowing just two earned runs in seven and six innings respectively, but ending up being dealt the loss. While Koehler is 0-1 in his past three starts, he has surrendered just four earned runs over 19.2 innings of work, and has struck out 16 men. Hopefully for Marlins fans, he’ll continue to trend in this direction while Adam Conley tries to work out of his consistency issues at the bottom of the rotation.

The Marlins play a four game series against the Rays, two games at home before heading to Tampa for the last two. They then head to Atlanta for three games over the weekend.

5. Atlanta Braves (12-31) 14.5 GB

While the firing of Fredi Gonzalez cast a shadow over the Braves this week, it was a good week for them overall. They picked up their first series win in over a month against the Phillies over the weekend, and more guys are starting to relax and find their power swings. Mallex Smith, Jeff Francoeur, and Freddie Freeman all turned in multi-homer weeks; meanwhile Nick Markakis, Kelly Johnson, and Tyler Flowers all hit their first dingers of 2016.

This is a good sign for the Braves, not because it means they’re going to miraculously turn their season around and make a postseason run, but because it means their young pitchers can finally start playing with some run support. When pitchers have run support, they’re able to be more relaxed on the mound and throw their game. Particularly for younger guys, this can play a huge role in a pitcher’s confidence when they take the mound. When pitchers know they will get some run support, they won’t put so much pressure on themselves when they’re on the mound, which can lead to more quality outings. That’s not to say that Braves starters are going to begin routinely throwing seven scoreless innings every time they take the hill, but it will help further their development and maturation on the mound.

Freddie Freeman continues, as expected, to be the top producer for this Atlanta offense, while Mallex Smith continues to solidify his position as a promising player down the road. Jeff Francoeur came out of nowhere last week, with two homers and four RBI. Francoeur is another guy who can provide a lot of veteran knowledge to some of the younger players around him on this Braves roster. The Braves are finally starting to get back into the groove on the basepaths as well, as new third baseman Chase D’Arnaud and Ender Inciarte both swiped two bags last week. D’Arnaud hit a loud .412, and looks to be another strong candidate in the Braves leadoff spot.

Julio Teheran pitching NL East

Julio Teheran finally got a win in 2016. He tossed a 7.2 inning shutout against the Pirates. Photo courtesy of totalprosports.com

Julio Teheran finally snagged his first win of 2016, turning in 7.2 scoreless innings against the Pirates on Wednesday. Teheran has allowed just two earned runs in four starts this month, but is still just 1-1 over that period. Matt Wisler also turned in another strong start, surrendering just one run to the Phillies in 6.2 innings of work. Wisler, also, has been strong in the month of May; he’s allowed just six runs in four starts and has a 2-1 record. Aaron Blair continues to struggle the most of any of the young Braves starters, getting roughed up in Pittsburgh. Blair lasted just 1.1 innings and gave up nine earned runs over that time. The silver lining for Blair is that there’s nowhere to go but up from here, as he’ll have some time to recover some confidence with triple-A Gwinnett.

Nats Primed for Hot Start in April

Washington is entering 2016 blazing hot. They went 18-4 in the spring, with a +81 run differential, they have one of the strongest one-two punches in the National League in the rotation, and reigning NL MVP, Bryce Harper, is picking up right where he left off in 2015.

The Nats started off 2016 on Monday with a 4-3 win in Atlanta in ten innings of play. That one game displayed a lot about the strengths and weaknesses of the team entering 2016. The offense looked good, Bryce Harper hit his fourth career Opening Day home run (in five Opening Days played) and Daniel Murphy dropped his first bomb in a Nats uniform along with the eventual game-winning RBI in the top of the 10th. Max Scherzer delivered a quality start, allowing just 2 runs over 7 innings of work, but the bullpen once again left Washington exposed heading into the late innings.

One of Washington’s biggest concerns in 2015 was injuries, especially heading into the late parts of the season. Third baseman Anthony Rendon, first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, and left fielder Jayson Werth, all played in less than 100 games in 2015, which contributed in part to their collapse in the late months of the season. This year, the Nats made it through the offseason and the preseason with little damage.  Aaron Barrett is the only player on the DL coming into the season, with elbow issues.

Ben Revere is the first injury of the Nats 2016 regular season. Injuries played a huge part in their 2015 collapse. Photo courtesy of Washington Post.

Despite being so healthy coming into the 2016 season, Ben Revere was pulled from the game in the fourth inning. Revere was seen grabbing his side during his at-bat in the third inning. The bright side of that news, is that the backup center fielder, Michael Taylor, has already proven himself to be an asset at the plate in the field. Taylor’s sacrifice fly into center scored Jayson Werth, to tie the game at 3 in the top of the 9th. Revere was not one of the players who was looked at to be a potential injury liability coming into 2016, he is not one of the well-aged veterans of the team, like Zimmerman or Werth, nor does he have an injury-laden past. Revere was placed on the DL Wednesday, with an oblique strain. Matt den Dekker has been called up from Triple-A Syracuse to fill the roster vacancy, and Michael Taylor will presumably be starting in center until his return. Revere claims he felt something after he took his first swing of the game.

Even with the loss of Revere, another thing worth looking at is Washington’s April schedule. Washington only plays two games against projected playoff teams in their opening month, those two games being in St. Louis on the 29th and 30th. The rest of April is full of the should-be bottom three NL East teams, and the Minnesota Twins, who are still getting younger guys acclimated to the MLB. This gives Washington a great advantage to get their foot on the gas early, as they have in years past.

The caveat here is that in recent years the Nationals have been prone to late-season breakdowns. While it is still too early to tell if the team will be healthy, or if the chemistry will remain in the dugout (both catalysts in their 2015 collapse), the Nats should be sitting in a comfortable position atop the NL East by the end of April.

2016 National League East Preview

The NL East is squaring up to be a two horse race once again in 2016.  The returning National League champion New York Mets look to defend their title with one of the scariest rotations in all of the MLB. But the Nationals looked absolutely monstrous through March, and it’s worth noting that they sat atop the East for a majority of 2015 before sputtering to the finish. Here is how the NL East will look by the end of the regular season.

1. Washington Nationals

I think the Nationals have the strongest balance between offense, defense, and pitching coming into 2016. The reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper is primed for another big year. The rest of the offense looks strong as well. The outfield has a lot of depth with Michael Taylor on the bench, which helps take some of the burden off of an aging Jayson Werth in left field, while Ben Revere looks to make a splash with a different team within the East. The former Philadelphia outfielder will see a lot of action at the top of the lineup, and has plenty of guys behind him to bring him home.

Two other factors worth noting: The Nationals are actually healthy coming into this year. Ryan Zimmerman at first has looked slightly more injury prone in his older years, but he seems to be 100% along with Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth, who all missed time with injuries in 2015. Finally, the Jonathan Papelbon issue seems to have passed under the bridge in the offseason, so he can focus on shoring up the Nats bullpen which has been suspect over the past few seasons.

Impact Players: Offense – Daniel Murphy, Pitching – Gio Gonzalez

If Gio Gonzalez can return to his 2014 form, the Nationals rotation could be really scary in 2016. Photo courtesy of dcsportpodcast.com.

Murphy showed how much of an impact he can have throughout the playoffs last season. If he can provide a hot bat for the Nats in the heart of the lineup, then this offense has the potential to wreak havoc on pitchers throughout the MLB. His addition at second base also relocated Danny Espinosa to short, so it will be interesting to see if the middle infield looks slightly less porous than it did with Ian Desmond there.

Gio was a stud in 2014 and mediocre in 2015. If Max Scherzer has another stellar season and Stephen Strasburg can stay healthy then it falls on Gio to round out what could be a killer 1-2-3 punch in the Washington rotation.

2. New York Mets

What the Mets lack in offense compared to the Nats they make up for in pitching. That isn’t to say that the Mets offense is bad or that the Nats pitching is bad, but you can’t say enough about how scary this rotation is for New York coming into 2016.

My one double-take here is Bartolo Colon. Colon has done very well since coming to New York, despite his age, but I can’t help but feel like his 19th season in the MLB will be a rough one. That said, the remaining four starters have already stood out in their first few seasons in the MLB. Matt Harvey has looked stellar as the ace, and should continue to do so this year. I think what prevents the Mets from winning their second straight division will be arm fatigue or pitch counts. Harvey may be at the point in his career where pitch counts are no longer needed, but Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz are both just second year starters, and the Mets may want to tread carefully with them to ensure they have long, successful careers with the organization.

Impact Players: Offense – Yoenis Cespedes, Pitching – Jeurys Familia

Jeurys Familia will need to continue to succeed as the Mets closer if New York is to have success in 2016. Photo courtesy of dailystache.net.

Cespedes will need to be a sparkplug in what could otherwise be a fairly small ball Mets lineup. Lucas Duda and Curtis Granderson may be the only other real power threats on the team, but Granderson also has a lot of Ks. Cespedes will need to provide a solid mix of contact hitting and power in the heart of the New York batting order.

With this potential small ball lineup, closer Jeurys Familia will be coming into a lot of close games in 2016. He was great in 2015, only blowing 5 saves in 48 attempts, and will have to post similar numbers again to seal victories in 2016.

3. Miami Marlins

The Marlins have enough talent to be a dark horse in the NL East, but they have underperformed the past few years with teams sitting on similar talent curves. Hitting coach Barry Bonds hopefully will have a positive impact on Miami in 2016.

Another requirement for the Marlins to stand a chance in the East will be Giancarlo Stanton remaining healthy. Stanton missed significant time in 2015 due to injury, and being one of two real hitting threats on the team means losing him hugely impacts offensive production.

On the pitching side of things, Wei-Yin Chen has steadily improved throughout his career in the MLB and seems primed to be a strong #2 pitcher in the rotation. Outside of Chen and Jose Fernandez, however, it’s hard to see this Marlins rotation making a real splash against strong offenses, like Washington.

Impact Players: Offense – Justin Bour, Pitching – Adam Conley

Justin Bour is gonna have to hulk out a lot to provide runs for a low-depth pitching rotation in Miami. Photo courtesy of foxsports.com.

Bour is the only other true power threat aside from Stanton in the lineup. While in a perfect world for Marlins fans, Stanton does not miss any games, it is a long season and there will most likely be games without Stanton in the lineup. This means a lot of the burden will fall on Bour in the cleanup spot to bring guys like Dee Gordon home and get the offense rolling for a weaker pitching staff than Washington or New York.

Conley is a young guy, entering just his second year in the Bigs. I think it’s safe to say he won’t be blowing anyone away in the #5 spot in the rotation, but if he’s able to exhibit some potential this year, he could end up serving as valuable trade bait or be a strong spot in the rotation down the road.

4. Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies surprised a lot of people this Spring Training, but I don’t think they’ll be transferring this success into regular season results in 2016. What it did do is provide Phils fans with a glimpse of what’s to come in the future. Philadelphia is in the midst of rebuilding, so expectations shouldn’t be high this year, but it will provide good experience for younger guys down the road. Ryan Howard seems to be entering the twilight of his career and does not seem to have the same oomph at the plate as years past.

It will be another rough year for Phillies fans, but this will be a good time for the organization to sift out who it wants to keep in Philadelphia and who it intends to put up on the trading block over the next few seasons. Jeremy Hellickson and Aaron Nola are the only starters I see maybe having an impact in games, the rest of the rotation just seems weak.

Jeremy Hellickson (pictured) and Aaron Nola will have their work cut out for them at the top of the Phils rotation in 2016. Photo courtesy of csnphilly.com.

Impact Players: Offense – Mikael Franco, Pitching – Jeremy Hellickson

Franco hit 8 homers this March. He’s entering his first year as a full-time starter at third base, and has the potential to establish a lot of confidence in the league. If he’s able to develop this now, he could become a valuable leader on the field for the Phillies organization in years to come.

Hellickson has had moments of brilliance throughout his career. He had a lot of hype surrounding his being drafted by the Rays, and lived up to it in his first three seasons. He’s been in a slump as of late, however, but a good season in 2016 could keep him around in Philadelphia for a while longer.

5. Atlanta Braves

There’s very little going for Atlanta coming into 2016. They were bullied all of Spring Training, and I don’t see that changing once the regular season starts. The plus side is that Freddie Freeman is looking much healthier than last season, and hopefully he will be able to provide for the Braves offense as he has in years past. Nick Markakis is another batter who did well with Atlanta last season, but two hitters isn’t going to be enough to make this season a success. The Braves are going to have to find a way to get batters to step it up in 2016, but I don’t see it happening.

The pitching doesn’t look much better this year in Atlanta, Julio Teheran will have to duel against some of the top aces in the National League, and I just don’t think he’ll have the stuff or the run support to do it. It will be a very unceremonious final chapter in Turner Field’s storied history. In a couple of years, the Braves should be up in form with one of the best farm systems in the nation, but until then they’ll continue to be at the bottom of the division.

Braves fans hope Freddie Freeman can stay healthy to provide a bright spot in what should otherwise be a very rough year. Photo courtesy of blacksportsonline.com.

Key Players: Offense – Freddie Freeman, Pitching – Jason Grilli

Freeman will have to remain healthy to give the Braves any semblance of offense in 2016. He missed over 40 games in 2015 but still led the team in home runs and RBIs, which shows how much the team needs him to produce.

Jason Grilli has the potential to be valuable trade bait for playoff-contending teams that want a veteran closer. If Grilli is able to demonstrate his value prior to the trade deadline, the Braves could use him to pick up some big names or prospects for future seasons.