Trade

Post-deadline trade market still buzzing

It has been a month since the non-waiver trade deadline passed but there still have been all sorts of wheeling and dealing. It is much more difficult to complete a trade after July 31st, but it can still happen and make an impact for a team. Here is a look at some of the big trades over the past month and the impact it can have on their respective teams.

Curtis Granderson to the Dodgers

Trade

Granderson has ripped 3 bombs since arriving in LA (NBC Los Angeles)

Granderson had been having a good power year but has been struggling otherwise, much like a lot of hitters this season. He has 23 home runs and a .217/.330/.480 slash line on the year. Since making his way to Los Angeles, he is only hitting .135.

It was an interesting move for the Dodgers to make as they have a well-rounded outfield. However, it is evident that Dodgers managements knows that this is their time to go for the whole thing. Thus, they made the decision to do everything they can to improve their offense. The outfield already consists of Yasiel Puig, Chris Taylor and rookie sensation Cody Bellinger. Bellinger was recently on the disabled list though, so the Granderson deal may be precaution just in case something goes wrong. He started most games with Bellinger on the DL and was able to hit three home runs in that time.

Replacing Chris Taylor would also be a tough sell given that he is having a breakout year at the plate with a .305/.375/.532 slash line along with 18 home runs. It would be tough to see Granderson starting in the outfield come October barring injury. He would provide impressive pop off the bench in important situations, so look for him to make his impact there.

Mariners make moves for Mike Leake and Yonder Alonso

The Mike Leake trade news came as a surprise this week. This seemed to be more of a salary dump for the Cardinals as they look to add in free agency this winter or re-sign Lance Lynn. Several sources also reported that Leake was not happy in St. Louis, so that may have contributed in him waiving his no-trade clause. Players in the St. Louis clubhouse were not happy with the deal though, asking if it was a joke even.

Leake has been struggling as of late. He was not contributing much as he has a 8.88 ERA in the month of August. He has shown signs of brilliance though. In April he looked to be one of the best pitchers in the National League as he went 3-1 with a 1.35 ERA. The Mariners may be looking for that Mike Leake for the wild card race at hand, as well as the future with his contract running until 2021.

Yonder Alonso was a big bat that the Mariners were looking for. He has managed to hit 24 this season along with a respectable .267 batting average. It is obvious that Seattle is serious about making a run for the wild card, however they are slumping as of late and will need to turn it around. They are 4.5 games behind the Twins for the second spot in the playoffs. It is going to be especially difficult considering the moves that the Angels are making in Anaheim.

Angels acquire Justin Upton from Detroit

Trade

Upton joins Mike Trout in a star-studded outfield (Sports Illustrated)

The Angels traded for a big name in Justin Upton on Thursday. Upton provides a very strong presence in the middle of the Angels lineup. This acquisition is exactly what the team needs in terms of morale and support. It shows that the Angels are not going to sit idly by when they see there is a chance for the team to do something in the postseason.

Albert Pujols is not the hitter he used to be but he is a great compliment to Justin Upton and Mike Trout. Andrelton Simmons is also having one of his best years at the plate, so there is potential for the offense to take the Angels to the playoffs. Their main issue is pitching though. The performance of their pitching staff is vital in order for the Upton trade to work out this season.

What the Upton trade also shows is that the Tigers are in selling mode. They have now unloaded Alex Avila and their star outfielder Justin Upton. Is there going to be a Verlander-sized domino that falls next? Many teams would love to have an arm with the kind of experience Verlander has at this point in the season. Look for him to be moved soon as multiple sources are reporting that the Tigers want to deal their ace. It is not a sure thing but there are plenty of teams, even the Angels, that are probably calling Al Avila.

Johnathan Lucroy to Colorado

This trade went a tad under the radar, but it has been paying off for Colorado. Lucroy provides solid veteren experience to a relatively inexperienced pitching rotation. He is a good guy to have behind the plate if the Rockies make it to October and have their young pitchers go up against the league’s best.

Lucroy has a solid .299/.415/.448 slash line since being traded to Colorado from Texas. He had a -0.5 WAR in Texas as well but has been looking better with a .4 WAR in his 22 games with the Rockies. He also rounds out one of the better offenses in the league and is making a difference down the line.

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Injury Update

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

I will begin my outfield rankings with one of the more intriguing positions in 2017: left field. This position hasn’t been this deep since the early and mid 2000s when we witnessed Manny Ramirez, Carl Crawford, Matt Holliday and Ryan Braun dominate fantasy as perennial top ten picks.

Many left fielders, young and old, have begun to emerge and make the position much deeper than many people originally anticipated.

The top 30 left fielders have been grouped into five tiers, with the top and bottom player of each tier profiled below.

Honorable mentions include: Alex Gordon (KC), Brandon Drury (ARI), Roman Quinn (PHI), and Matt Holliday (NYY).

Exceptions include: Ian Desmond (COL), who will miss six to eight weeks, approximately 50 games, after undergoing hand surgery, and Yasmany Tomas (ARI), who may start on DL with an oblique injury, and currently no time table for return.  

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

Kris Bryant headlined a World Series roster for the Cubs (Credit: Michael Zagaris/Getty Images).

  • Kris Bryant (CHC)  

Kris Bryant is the lone man in tier 1 of left fielders in 2017. He exploded onto the scene in 2015 to smash 26 home runs and drive in 99 RBIs. That was good enough to win the NL Rookie of the Year award.

Bryant continued to improve in 2016 with 39 home runs, 121 runs scored and 102 RBIs. That resulted in him winning the NL MVP award.

The 25-year-old is a career .284 hitter and has stolen 21 bases in two years. Bryant will be the first left fielder selected in 2017.

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

Ryan Braun will look to continue his strong play in 2017. (Jeff Curry, US Presswire).

  • Yoenis Cespedes (NYM)
  • Ryan Braun (MIL)
  • Starling Marte (PIT)
  • Christian Yelich (MIA)

Yoenis Cespedes is once again an elite fantasy option in all formats heading into 2017. The three-time MVP candidate has been on pace for 100 RBIs per 162 games in four of his five MLB seasons.

The 31-year-old, who is batting .277 since 2014, remains an integral producer in the New York Mets lineup and is sure to be a top 25 overall hitter if healthy.

Christian Yelich had his first breakout year in 2016 with career highs of 21 home runs and 98 RBIs. The 25-year-old has a career .293 batting average and is averaging about 19 steals per 162 games.

Yelich is a perennial 20 home run and 20 steal candidate. He could be a menacing 30/30 threat for years to come should he continue to improve. The Marlins three hitter will be selected within the top 50 picks in 2017.

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

Michael Brantley is poised for a bounce back in 2017. (Courtesy of TLA Worldwide)

  • Gregory Polanco (PIT)
  • Kyle Schwarber (CHC)
  • Justin Upton (DET)
  • Matt Kemp (ATL)
  • Khris Davis (OAK)
  • Michael Brantley (CLE)

Like Yelich, Gregory Polanco was another left fielder who broke out in 2016. The 24-year-old managed to reach career highs in home runs with 22 and RBIs with 86 in only 144 games.

Polanco has averaged 25 steals per 162 games, which shows his five-category potential. The 6-foot-5 230-pounder is also bound to increase his power numbers as he continues to grow into his frame. A 30/30 season isn’t out of the realm for Polanco, which warrants him as a top 60 pick in all formats.

Michael Brantley is arguably the most overlooked player in 2017. He is healthy and ready to bounce back. The 29-year-old has been battling a chronic shoulder injury since the end of 2015. He is now officially ready to go for opening day.

The third-place finisher in the AL MVP in 2014 will rejoin the most talented Cleveland Indians lineup since the late 1990s. With the emergence of Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, and the addition of Edwin Encarnacion, Michael Brantley should have no problem producing. He is currently being selected as the 140th player on ESPN according to fantasypros.com. I believe he is well worth a top 120 pick.

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

Andrew Benintendi intends to take home the AL Rookie of the Year in 2017. (Photos via Getty Images)

  • Andrew Benintendi (BOS)
  • Jose Ramirez (CLE)
  • Willson Contreras (CHC)
  • Marcel Ozuna (MIA)
  • Carlos Gomez (TEX)
  • Adam Duval (CIN)
  • Ben Zobrist (CHC)
  • David Dahl (COL)
  • Nomar Mazara (TEX)

My selection for AL Rookie of the Year, Andrew Benintendi, has an uncertain potential. His MLB sample size is a mere 118 plate appearances. The former Golden Spikes award winner is a five-tool player who has batted .313, .312, and .295 in three seasons at five different levels, including the MLB.

The 22-year-old may begin the year at the bottom half of the order. However, he will find his way to the top in no time. Batting ahead or directly behind of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Hanley Ramirez will allow him to be an extremely productive player.

He is currently being selected as the 111th player on ESPN, and certainly warrants a pick this early.

Nomar Mazara has seen his draft stock fall as of late. Word of a possible platoon against lefties has concerned owners about his at bat totals in 2017. I’m a full believer in Mazara’s ability to be an everyday player in this league, He has continuously improved his batting average throughout his minor-league career.

The 21-year-old has shown he has the potential to be a .280 hitter with 20 or more home runs over a full season. If an injury or poor performance were to occur to his platoon partner, Mazara could take the everyday spot and run with it.

He is being selected as the 260th player on ESPN, which makes him a sleeper in the majority of leagues. I wouldn’t hesitate selecting him top 200, especially in keeper leagues and dynasty leagues.

Tier 5

2017 Fantasy Baseball Left Field Rankings

Corey Dickerson sheds 25 pounds in the offseason, is this a sign of good things to come? (Courtesy of Wikipedia.com)

  • Corey Dickerson (TB)
  • Jayson Werth (WSH)
  • Eric Thames (MIL)
  • Melky Cabrera (CWS)
  • Jorge Soler (KC)
  • Curtis Granderson (NYM)
  • Michael Saunders (PHI)
  • Rajai Davis (OAK)
  • Brett Gardner (NYY)
  • Jarrod Dyson (SEA)
  • Ender Enciarte (ATL)

People tend to forget about Corey Dickerson’s success in Colorado. He batted .312 and .304 in consecutive seasons. The 27-year-old has dropped 25 pounds in order to obtain the starting left field spot as opposed to being the designated hitter, which is where he spent the majority of his time in 2016.

Either way, Dickerson will be an everyday player for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2017 and is a threat for 30 home runs and solid RBI production. His current ADP on ESPN is 276, which is very low for someone with .300/80/30/80 potential.

Ender Inciarte has quietly been a career .292 hitter while averaging about 24 steals per 162 games. Inciarte will be the leadoff hitter once again for a young but talented Atlanta Braves lineup that commonly goes under the radar.

Although there is a lack of power, it isn’t out of his realm to sport a stat line of .300 100/10/50/20. The 25-year-old is currently being selected as the 196th player on ESPN, putting him just outside the top 50 outfielders, which I believe he is.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

NL East Weekly: 6/6-6/12

In the East, it was a good week to be a Nats fan… and that’s about it. The rest of the teams had a rough go of things last week, as the Nationals were able to extend their division lead to 4.5 games over the Mets. Washington saw its offense drive in runs at a breakneck pace, while the rest of the division still continues to struggle with their consistency in the runs department.

The Mets saw their game on Monday at Pittsburgh rained out, and when it rained it poured for New York, who were only able to snag one game of the remaining three. As Matt Harvey slowly makes his way out of the danger zone with another respectable outing last week, Steven Matz has garnered a bit more attention, losing two consecutive starts for the first time in his career.

The Marlins found themselves dropping two series to teams they, on paper, should have been able to rack up some wins against in Arizona and Minnesota. The story around the Marlins clubhouse continues to be the mid-season slump of slugger Giancarlo Stanton, who continued his skid at the plate last week, despite breaking his own record for the hardest hit ball professionally.

And then there’s the Phillies and Braves. I think it’s safe to officially write off the Phils as a potential x-factor in the MLB now, as they have dropped 13 of their last 16 games, and are now 10 games back of the Nats. Atlanta had a lot of expectations coming into the week, having to play three games against the Cubs, but they also had to play another one of the worst teams in baseball, the Padres. That series didn’t give Braves fans a lot to celebrate about either, as their Braves continue to have the worst record in the MLB.

Now let’s jump in to get a closer look around the NL East.

1. Washington Nationals (39-24) 

Jayson Werth had another big week for the Nats, including a walk-off double on Sunday. Photo courtesy of sportingnews.com

The Nationals remain atop the East, and actually doubled their lead this week thanks to a rough week by New York. The Nats offense was out in force this week, and is still the main reason I favor the Nats over the rest of this division. The Nationals saw a lot of production from several different guys this week, surprisingly, Jayson Werth found himself atop that list with eight RBIs, a homer, and a .500 batting average last week. Werth continues to be a guy who has hot weeks out of nowhere that really help the Nationals in the offense category. Despite some questions concerning his effectiveness at 37 years old at the start of the year, Werth has put together a solid year so far. He’s got ten homers, 35 RBIs, and is hitting .245. While it’s far from a star-studded season, it’s a great step up from last year’s 12-homer, .221 season (albeit he only played in 88 games).

Another bat with a surprisingly good week was Danny Espinosa, who hit three homers, four RBIs, and batted .429 last week. Espinosa is still hitting below-average on the year with a .220 batting average on the year, but his power has begun to become a factor as of late, hitting eight of his 11 season homers in the last 15 games. Daniel Murphy, while having a surprisingly low .227 batting average last week, continues to be a RBI machine, driving in five more runs last week, and taking the team lead with 42 on the year. Meanwhile, both Ben Revere and Michael Taylor had strong weeks at the plate, making manager Dusty Baker’s job of deciding between the two at center field increasingly harder. Revere hit .400 with two RBIs, while Taylor hit .389 with three RBIs. I think it’s a good problem for Baker to have, however, especially looking at how some of the other offenses in the division are doing.

On the mound, Stephen Strasburg became the first NL pitcher since Andy Hawkins in 1985 to start a season 10-0. He has a chance to tie Hawkins’ 11-0 record for the best opening record for a NL starting pitcher since the start of the live ball era (in the 1920s). Strasburg’s 10-0 start deserves a lot of credit, yes, but his win was certainly not the prettiest of Strasburg’s career, surrendering four runs in seven innings to the Phillies on Friday. Strasburg has statistically been the greatest beneficiary of the Nationals’ offense this year, with Washington averaging 7.53 runs per nine innings in Strasburg starts.

Tanner Roark had another excellent start against the Phillies on Saturday, not allowing a run in seven innings. While Roark doesn’t draw as much attention as some of his fellow Nats starters, he currently has four starts that have gone seven or more innings with no runs allowed. This puts him in some pretty elite company, as Clayton Kershaw also has four of these starts, and Jake Arietta leads the MLB with five. The rest of the Washington staff has four of those starts combined. Max Scherzer had one of those four starts on Wednesday, where he also went seven innings of scoreless baseball against the White Sox. Jonathan Papelbon continues to slightly struggle in the bullpen, surrendering the go-ahead homer to Maikel Franco on Sunday night in what was a tied game in the ninth inning. Luckily for Papelbon, the Nats offense came through with a two-run, walk-off double from Jayson Werth to win in the bottom half of the inning.

The Nationals get a second chance against the Cubs this week, who swept them the first time the teams met. They then play four games in San Diego against the Padres.

2. New York Mets (34-28) 4.5 GB

The Mets lost ground this week, despite winning three games in a row in the middle of the week, and now sit over twice as far back as they did last week. Injuries are not a friend to the Mets right now, who are already down first baseman Lucas Duda and third baseman David Wright. Michael Conforto is currently battling wrist soreness as well, which would further hinder a Mets offense that is already struggling with consistency. Wrist problems would explain Conforto’s current woes at the plate; he went just .105 at the plate last week, but did knock a three-run homer against the Pirates on Wednesday.

Curtis Granderson led the way for the Mets this week, slugging another three homers to boost his season total to 12. Granderson is still not putting up typical leadoff-hitter numbers, batting just .218 this season,  but he’s been effective in the power department and has drawn his fair share of walks, with a .316 OBP this year. Yoenis Cespedes continues to be the Mets most productive hitter, hitting another homer and driving in three men this week. He’s got a team-high 16 homers on the year and 40 RBIs to boot, both of which are top 10 in the NL.

The Mets’ affinity for the long ball has cost them as of late, however. They led the league in homers in mid-May, but now rank 7th in the MLB, and as their homer production has fallen, so has their runs. The Mets are 28th in the MLB in total runs scored, which is unheard of for a team that so many teams saw making a playoff push.

The best starts on the mound last week came from the two guys you’d least expect them to come from this year, Matt Harvey and Bartolo Colon. Harvey threw six innings of one-run ball on Friday, giving him just two earned runs allowed in his past three starts. Colon, meanwhile, went seven innings with just one run allowed against the Brewers on Thursday, and was the only Mets starter to get himself a win last week.

Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom both suffered losses last week, Matz suffering a pair of losses against the Pirates and the Brewers. DeGrom went six innings and allowed three runs and took the loss, despite striking out nine on Tuesday against the Pirates. The loss was deGrom’s first decision in his past six starts (the prior decision also being a loss against the Padres on May 5th. Matz lost two consecutive starts for the first time in his career last week. He allowed two earned runs in five innings against the Pirates, and four earned runs in six innings against the Brewers. Those six earned runs eclipse his total for all of May (5) in just his first two June starts. We’ll see how Matz rebounds since, even though every pitcher drops a couple of games here and there, it can still have an impact on a very young Matz’s confidence.

The Mets are at home all week this week, starting with a three game rematch against the Pirates before the Braves come to town for the weekend.

3. Miami Marlins (32-31) 7 GB

The Marlins also had a rough week on the road last week, only scraping together a couple of wins against the Twins and the D-Backs. Despite that, Marcell Ozuna continues to hit fire, driving in eight runs and tying Giancarlo Stanton for the team lead in homers with 12. Ozuna has hit a very impressive .345 in his past 30 games, with 20 RBI and slugging a strong .595.

And while young Ozuna continues to be a boon to the Marlins offense, a couple of seasoned vets are proving that they can also hang with the young whippersnappers of the team as well. Martin Prado reclaimed the team’s highest batting average last week, after hitting .480 with a couple of RBIs. His season average now sits just a few ticks above Ozuna at .323. Ichiro also continues to take advantage of his newfound starting time, hitting .471  and driving in three as well. Justin Bour also deserves an honorable mention, as he became just the sixth player in Marlins history to belt a pinch-hit grand slam. Bour’s slam highlighted a seven run seventh inning on Friday against the Diamondbacks.

Jose Fernandez’s perfect run is finally over, as he suffered his first loss in a month and a half on Saturday against Arizona. Fernandez surrendered four runs in six innings, but kept the season K count high with another eight punch outs. Tom Koehler turned in the best outing of any Marlins starter on Thursday, going six innings and surrendering two runs.

The rest of the Marlins arms continue their struggle however, as Justin Nicolino and Wei-Yin Chen both yielded five runs in their starts last week. Chen mustered just 5.1 and only struck out two Twins on Wednesday while Nicolino struck out six through 5.2 against the D-Backs on Friday. Despite their rough starts, neither pitcher was given the loss. Adam Conley was the only other Marlins starter to lose a game last week. Conley went a cumulative 11.2 innings and gave up eight runs in his two starts last week. He suffered the loss on the back of his five inning, five run start against Arizona on Saturday.

The Marlins finish their road trip with three games in San Diego before coming home and hosting the Rockies over the weekend.

4. Philadelphia Phillies (29-34) 10 GB

Tommy Joseph continues to hit well since being brought up from the Minors this year. Photo courtesy of metro.us.

Someone apparently threw a beer bottle at Ryan Howard earlier this month. That pretty much sums up how this month has gone so far for the Phillies. Or maybe it just shows that Phillies fans are done with Howard, because his replacement, Tommy Joseph, turned in another impressive week at the office last week. Joseph led the team with three more home runs and five RBIs, a welcome sight at the plate for fans who were used to seeing unproductive at-bats from their cleanup man for the past few years.

Cody Asche saw starting time in left field this week, returning from a rehab assignment in Reading, and delivered his first homer of the year. Asche returned from the DL last week, with Philly sending David Lough back for assignment. Asche is another young outfielder the Phillies are hoping to develop down the road, as the team further matures. Freddy Galvis continues to show that he’s another young stud Phils fans can hope to see a lot more of in the future, with four more RBIs this week. Maikel Franco also hit a homer this week, to give the Phils a one-run lead in the top of the 9th inning on Sunday against the Nationals. Unfortunately, the bullpen was unable to seal the deal.

Bad news on the pitching front, as starter Vince Velazquez ended up on the DL last week with a bicep strain. Velazquez left his start against the Cubs after just two pitches, and was placed on the 15-day DL on Friday. Luis Garcia has been recalled from triple-A Lehigh Valley. To further the bad news, everyone else on the Phillies staff had a rough go of things as well last week. Aaron Nola lasted just 3.2 on Saturday against the Nats, yielding four runs. Meanwhile Jeremy Hellickson made it six innings on Friday, but he gave up seven runs against Washington. Even Jeanmar Gomez struggled over the weekend, blowing just his second save on the year on Sunday.

I’ll end it for Phillies on a high note, however, Jerad Eickhoff. Eickhoff went seven innings and surrendered just one run on two hits against the Cubs on Tuesday, in the Phils’ only win last week.

The Phillies play Toronto for four games, two on the road followed by two at home, before playing the Diamondbacks over the weekend.

5. Atlanta Braves (18-44) 20.5 GB

Actually, I’ll start this segment off with some more good news for the Phillies fans. Your rebuilding season hasn’t been as rough as Atlanta’s. The Braves swiped a couple of games last week, one in San Diego and one from the Cubs. Nick Markakis is turning things around in June, after a slow end of May, with another three RBIs last week. Ender Inciarte also delivered with three RBIs and a .400 mark on the week, although he wasn’t able to swipe any bags. Chase D’Arnaud was able to nab a couple, however, as he continues to prove himself as a promising speed prospect for the Braves. Adonis Garcia and Tyler Flowers were the only Braves hitters who left the yard last week, still showing how little power this Braves team has.  The offense just continues to show how much help it needs, and as the trade deadline approaches, it’ll be interesting to see if Atlanta makes any moves in hopes of securing some potential hitting prospects.

On the mound, both Bud Norris and Julio Teheran got wins for Atlanta. Norris has had a couple of good starts since returning from the bullpen, surrendering just one run in each of them. He went seven innings against the Cubs and allowed just one run during that time to get the Braves their only win of the series against Chicago. Teheran, who had had a couple of iffy starts after a stellar May, surrendered just two runs in eight innings against the Padres to help Atlanta avoid the sweep.

Aside from Teheran and Norris, it wasn’t pretty for Braves starters. Matt Wisler continues to be in a funk, surrendering five runs in just four innings. Williams Perez, who hasn’t been great but has at least been solid so far this year, was roughed up on Monday in San Diego. John Gant became another young pitcher to start for the Braves this season, but it wasn’t the most memorable of starts on Sunday against the Cubs. Gant mustered just 4.1 innings, surrendering two runs during that time.

The Braves trudge on in 2016, hosting the Reds for four games before heading to the Big Apple for a three game set against the Mets over the 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.

Nats vs. Mets: Stars Continue Struggle in Second Series

After two best-of-three series, the Mets and Nats season series is now knotted at three wins apiece. Star players on both teams continue to struggle as the month of May comes to an end, a detail that is lost in the tension of this NL East rivalry.

Mets starter Matt Harvey is probably undergoing the roughest and lengthiest of the slumps players on these teams are experiencing. After a stellar 2015 season, Harvey was considered to be the ace of a very strong Mets rotation, many argued was the best in all of baseball.

And while Harvey’s slump has lasted throughout the entirety of the 2016 season so far, some players are experiencing a rough May on the diamond. Nationals young star Bryce Harper remains at the forefront of the team’s headlines, with Dusty Baker giving Harper a “mental day off” on Wednesday for the rubber match of the series.

Despite these slumps by prominent figures on both teams, they both remain just half a game apart at the top of the National League East. This just serves as a testament to players who have really stepped up their games and picked up some slack that their star players are left.

In this article I’ll discuss Harvey, Harper, and other slumping players on both rosters, as well as give credit to the players who have bumped up in their performances in response. We’ll start with the Mets.

Matt Harvey (Slump)

As mentioned earlier, after a fantastic outing through the regular and postseason in 2015, Harvey was looked at as the ace of the fearsome Mets rotation. It goes without saying that Harvey has under performed for the Mets as a starter in 2015. In 10 starts, Harvey is 3-7 with a 6.08 ERA in 2016. After a rough five runs in a five inning outing on Tuesday against Washington, questions began circling the Mets organization as to whether Harvey would remain in the Bigs, or see some recovery time with Triple-A Las Vegas. Although Harvey did not help himself, given the manner in which he handled the press after the outing, manager Terry Collins made it clear that Harvey will remain in the rotation for his next start against the White Sox next Monday. While Harvey appears healthy, manager Terry Collins thinks this start could be the result of 216 innings of work in 2015, just one year after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

However, while Harvey’s numbers aren’t pretty on the season, there’s one set of numbers that’s especially interesting in Harvey’s case. In his first three innings of work per game, roughly his first run through the lineup, Harvey’s ERA is a respectable 3.03, per ESPN. However, from the fourth inning onwards, his second or third times through the lineup, Harvey’s ERA skyrockets to almost double digits, 9.89, while the opponent’s batting average rises from .256 to .413. The case remained true on Tuesday night, with Harvey allowing all five of his runs in the fourth and fifth innings. I think these numbers also provide a testament to why Collins continues to have faith in Harvey, and why I still believe people shouldn’t sleep on him bouncing back; he still has the stuff to put up solid stat lines against Major League hitters, he just has to do a better job of mixing up his stuff as Big League hitters become more familiar with him the longer he remains in the League.

Steven Matz, Noah Syndergaard, Jeurys Familia (Bump)

Jeurys Familia set a Mets record on Wednesday for most consecutive regular season save conversions with 32, 16 of them have come in 2016. Photo courtesy of rotoace.com

Steven Matz hasn’t lost a game since his initial start. Since then he’s 7-0 and now stands at a season ERA of 2.36. Matz went a career-long eight innings against the Nationals in the rubber match on Wednesday, shutting the Nats out over that time. Although he is the four slot in the rotation, Matz still had very high expectations coming into the season, and he’s done magnificently in meeting, and surpassing, them so far.

By this point, unless you get your sports news from a rock, you’ve heard of Noah Syndergaard and what he’s done on the mound thus far. While Matz’s 2.36 ERA is impressive in its own right for a starter, Syndergaard tops that (or I guess bottoms it?) with a 1.94 ERA on the year through nine starts. What’s been even more impressive is how dominant Syndergaard looks throughout the entirety of his ouings. He can touch 99 MPH on a fastball, whether it’s his 10th pitch of the outing or his 100th, which would explain his average of 11.34 Ks per nine innings. While the Mets dominance in the rotation in coming from the opposite end of what many expected, they’ve shown the same level of dominance on the hill in 2016 that Harvey and deGrom have shown in years past.

Jeurys Familia’s save on Wednesday set a record for Mets closers with 32 consecutive saves converted in the regular season. Half of those saves have come in 2016, and many more are to come if the Mets continue to play the style of baseball they have in 2016. The Mets hit a lot of homers, sure, but they usually come with one or no men on base, leaving the Mets averaging just a tick under four runs per game. With the Mets being in a lot of close contests (17 of their 27 wins have been save situations coming into the 9th inning) a strong closer is the key to winning games. The Mets are proving that they have that in Familia this season.

Curtis Granderson (Slump)

The Mets leadoff man is having a rough May. Imagine courtesy of huffingtonpost.com

Curtis Granderson is known for being a guy with a solid mix of speed and power throughout his career, which can account for a lower batting average than expected from a a leadoff hitter. While he has delivered on the home runs, currently with eight, he’s currently hitting below the Mendoza line in 2016. While this might be expected, and maybe even acceptable, from guys like Adam Dunn or Ryan Howard who could hit 40 homers a season, that isn’t what Granderson’s role in this Mets lineup is. The Mets are tied for the MLB lead with 65 home runs, meaning there are plenty of other guys that can bring Granderson in on his own, so he should be focusing more on getting on base and using his speed on the bases. Granderson’s batting average has fallen almost .100 points in May, as he’s hitting just .155 on the month. While this may just be Granderson in the midst of a May slump, perhaps manager Terry Collins should put someone with a slightly higher on-base percentage in the leadoff hole while Granderson tries to work out whatever funk he’s currently going through.

Now we’ll look at the Nats.

Bryce Harper (Slump)

Harper’s batting average was at a season-low .246 after Tuesday’s win against the Mets, so manager Dusty Baker decided to give him a day off to try and refocus. After a blazing hot start to 2016, Harper has cooled off significantly in his past 30 games. After hitting .327 with seven homers and 21 RBIs in the initial 14 games of the year, Harper has hit just .207 with three homers and nine RBIs.

To be fair, this tremendous drop in batting average has not been entirely Harper’s fault. After the Cubs walked him 13 times in their four game series at the start of May, teams have adopted the idea of walking Harper to get to statistically weaker hitters behind him. While he’s hitting almost .150 points behind his MLB leading teammate, Daniel Murphy, in batting average (Murphy: .394, Harper: .245), Harper actually has a higher on-base percentage than Murphy (.430 vs. .426).These walks now seem to have thrown Harper out of rhythm when he is getting hittable pitches, as the stats demonstrate. With that said, hitters are defined by how well they can battle against slumps, and Harper is no different; many people see him as one of the greats of this generation of baseball, and he has an opportunity to prove it in the coming months.

Daniel Murphy, Wilson Ramos (Bump)

Daniel Murphy leads the MLB with a .394 batting average. Photo courtesy of nypost.com

Daniel Murphy caught a lot of attention for his performance in last year’s postseason with the Mets, and a lot of people wondered if he’d be able to carry over that momentum into 2016, especially after joining a division rival. Murphy currently leads all MLB hitters in batting average at .394, .030 points higher than Ryan Braun, the next closest qualified hitter. While Harper still leads the team in just about every other major hitting category, Murphy is hot on his heels in a majority of them. His 30 RBIs sits just one behind the current team lead, his seven homers also ranks second on the team. Giving Murphy the nod from the five-spot in the lineup to the cleanup spot, directly behind Harper, has worked very well for the team’s efficiency at the plate. While Murphy may not be the guy you’d expect to see at the cleanup position in the lineup, you’d be hard pressed to find an argument that he’s been less efficient than a lot of other guys at his position at boosting the lineup’s efficiency.

Wilson Ramos is making a loud rebound after a career-low 2015 season. Ramos is currently hitting .333 in 2016, has five homers, and is tied for third on the team with 21 RBIs. All of these coming off of the worst season of his career in 2015. He’s improved his approach at the plate significantly. In 2015, Ramos struck out 101 times in 475 ABs. He has just 17 in 129 ABs this year, and has already walked nine times (he had just 21 in all of 2015). He’s been a strong hitter at the bottom of the lineup, and is on his way to a career season with the Nats if he’s able to continue performing at this rate.

Wilson Ramos is en route to having a career year after a tough 2015. Photo courtesy of abcnews.go.com

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.

NL East Weekly Recap: 5/9-5/15

The NL East continues to heat up with four teams within 2.5 games of the division lead. While the East may not have a bench clearing brawl last week, it did see some dominant pitching (namely Max Scherzer), and is shaping up to be one of the most exciting in the long run of division races. Aside from arguably the NL West, the NL East is probably the tightest division race throughout the bulk of its teams.

The Mets showed that the Nationals aren’t the only team that can lose the division due to a bad week of play; the really surprising consequence of the Mets’ 2-5 trip out west, however, is that the Phillies are now not just hanging around in the divisional race, they’re right in the thick of it in the #2 spot. The Phils admittedly had one of the easier schedules this week, getting to enjoy beating up on poor Atlanta just like every other team in the division has up to this point.

While offenses in the division continue to be below average in the runs category, the pitching continues to be leaned on as the real workhorse in the division. While none of the staffs were as dominant as we’ve come to expect, there were some surprising starts (both good and bad) for a lot of guys in the division.

Without further ado, let’s take a closer look at each team in the NL East.

1. Washington Nationals (23-15)

The Nationals finally find themselves on the positive side of a divisional lead change. Washington found themselves on both ends of some bizarre fielding in their game against Miami on Sunday, but Washington ended up on the losing end of the trade, resulting in the four game set being split at two wins apiece. Ryan Zimmerman was the beneficiary of one of those Sunday plays, notching himself an inside the park home run when Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna collided in the outfield. Both Ozuna and Stanton appear to be fine despite being shaken up on the play. That homer was one of Zimmerman’s surprising three home runs last week, which led the team. Unforfunately for the Nats, Stephen Drew, who started in place of a sick Daniel Murphy on Sunday, gifted the Marlins two runs earlier in the game when he lost a pop up in the sun in the Nats 5-1 loss.

Zimmerman may have led the team in homers last week because their usual suspect at the dish, Bryce Harper, continues to adhere to the lyrics of Unk and Walk it Out. Harper hit just .267 last week with four hits, one of them a homer, but he walked 11 times, giving his OBP a .310 point boost on the week to .577. At this rate, according to ESPN’s Dave Schoenfield, Harper is on par for being the second most-walked player in a season, only behind Barry Bonds. What Harper is doing more than Bonds is starting controversies with home plate umpires. Harper game two of Washington’s doubleheader against Miami on Saturday due to a one-game suspension for his actions towards the home plate umpire in game one of the Detroit series on Monday. Harper continues to let his emotions dominate his play, and manager Dusty Baker continues to acknowledge that, but I feel brief episodes like this will continue for Harper. So long as he doesn’t put himself at risk by inducing an all-out brawl on the diamond, I think the Nationals are not going to force Harper to undergo any dramatic changes behaviorally.

The Nats arms have plenty of stories surrounding them as well. We’ll start with the good: Max Scherzer struck out 20 against his former team on Wednesday. Scherzer joins Kerry Wood, Roger Clemens, Tom Cheney, and Randy Johnson as the only pitchers to strike out 20 or more players in a game. What’s almost more impressive is that he did it without walking a single Tiger in the appearance. Scherzer actually threw the least amount of balls in any 20+ K performance (119 pitches, 93 strikes, 26 balls). Scherzer still has some room to go if he wants to put up numbers similar to last season, his ERA is currently 4.15, and his walk total through his first eight starts (15) is nearly half of what it was through all of 2015 (34). Scherzer will start on game one of the series against New York starting Tuesday against Noah Syndergaard. Scherzer struggled the last time he faced a projected playoff team, giving up seven runs in five innings against the Cubs. While New York’s offense isn’t quite as explosive, they have shown an affinity for the long ball this year, and Scherzer will have to avoid missing his spots.

Stephen Strasburg received a huge seven-year, $175 million contract last week. He’s currently 6-0 for the Nats in 2016. Photo courtesy of finance.yahoo.com

Stephen Strasburg signed a $175 million extension, and he rewarded the Nationals with his 6th win on the season against Miami. Strasburg now sits at 6-0 on the year with a 2.95 ERA. His start is the second-best in franchise history through eight games, only behind Pedro Martinez’s 8-0 start in 1997. If Strasburg is able to remain healthy throughout the majority of his new 7-year, $175 million deal and continue to deal like this, then GM Mike Rizzo will show that he earned the extension he received shortly after Strasburg this week.

The bad news is, Tanner Roark continues to struggle against the Marins, and Joe Ross is now 0-3 in the month of May. Roark is currently 2-3 on the year, with all three of his losses coming against the Marlins. Roark’s season ERA sits at just 3.10, but is 8.40 in his three starts against the Marlins. Whatever the cause is for his woes, the good news for Roark is that the Nats only play Miami once more before the All-Star Break. Meanwhile, Ross had an ERA of 0.79 in four April starts. In three May starts, his ERA is sitting just below five at 4.91. This may be due, in part, to Washington’s tougher schedule in May, but the Nationals still need to see Ross recover from the slump he’s in right now.

The Nationals begin their long-awaited, three game set with the Mets on Tuesday, before playing Miami for three games.

2. Philadelphia Phillies (22-16) 1 GB

Every week, we’ve been waiting for the Phillies to fall to where they were expected to be in the NL East, and every week we’ve seen the opposite, with Philadelphia moving closer and closer to a top two spot in the division. Well, now it’s finally happened. The Phillies took advantage of the Mets bad week to jump to #2 in the standings and are just a game back of Washington.

While pitching has been the catalyst of the Phils successes, the young guys at the plate continue to step up for Philadelphia. Odubel Herrera is proving to be a very effective leadoff hitter, hitting .333 on the season with six stolen bases and four homers. He also leads the team in walks by a wide margin, with 29. Maikel Franco is shaping up to be a very strong three-hole hitter, with 22 RBI on the year and seven HRs, just one behind Ryan Howard, who leads the team. According to ESPN’s Doug Mittler, the Phillies may be considering moving up Minor League first baseman, Tommy Joseph, in hopes of yielding more consistent results from their first baseman. Joseph is currently hitting .368 with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. With the way some of these other young guys have hit for the Phillies, Joseph could make this offense even more promising for the future.

Pitching was more of the same in Philadelphia, Aaron Nola allowed just one earned run in a seven inning win against the Reds. Nola tied his career high in that start, with nine punch outs. Nola ranks 3rd in the NL in WHIP, sitting at 0.85. Nola has really blossomed this season after a rough opening three starts. He’s turned in quality starts in four of his last five appearances, and averages just one walk per start in the month of May.

Jeanmar Gomez now leads the MLB in saves with 14. While having a weak offense that wins a lot of close games helps inflate this number, there’s no denying that Gomez has been key to a lot of Philadelphia’s success this year. The Phils are now 14-3 on the year in one-run ballgames, a team can’t have numbers like that without a great closer. The rest of the Phils bullpen is no slouch either, four set-up men allowed no runs over 11.1 innings of work. The highlights there being Brett Oberholtzer, who threw five scoreless innings of relief in two outings, and Hector Nerris, who had three shutout innings over three games last week.

The Phillies have a real shot to move into first place this week with three game sets at home against both Miami and Atlanta.

3. New York Mets (21-16) 1.5 GB

The Mets had a pretty rough trip out west, scraping together just two wins in seven games. Both the offense and the pitching looked a little more docile than it had over the past few weeks. The good news is that catcher Kevin Plawecki is beginning to look sharper at the plate, driving in a team high five runs last week. While the Mets were victim to some controversial calls over the course of the week, they also have fallen victim to some mistakes in areas they have control over. Curtis Granderson is having a rough time in the leadoff spot this month, and when the leadoff man is struggling to get on base, runs are that much harder to get. Granderson has just a .179 OBP with a .132 batting average this month. He’s also struck out 18 times through the first half of May; he had just 19 Ks throughout all of April.

Perhaps the most interesting story in New York was Noah Syndergaard, and not just because of his performance on the mound. Thor may as well have been hitting with his hammer, hitting two thunderous homers, and providing himself with all of his run support on the day. It’s pretty rare to see a pitcher hit one homer in a game, let alone two. Syndergaard became the first pitcher to hit two dingers in a game since  Micah Owings in 2007, and the first Mets pitcher to do so since Walt Terrell in 1983. Syndergaard’s four RBI were the second most for any Met last week.

Syndergaard also got it done on the bump in his start against the Dodgers. He tied a career high with eight innings of work, in which he gave up six hits, two of them solo homers, and picked up his 3rd win of the year. Steven Matz was the other Met to get a win last week, although he did miss his second start on Saturday with forearm soreness. It is unknown yet if Matz will remain in the Mets rotation or end up on the DL, but he did throw long toss on Thursday and has a doctor’s exam upcoming.

Matz’s replacement in the rotation, Logan Verrett got roughed up by Colorado. He lasted just 2.2 innings and gave up seven runs on 10 hits in that timespan. Verrett is the same guy who filled in for Jacob deGrom when he was out of the rotation earlier this season, however. During that time Verrett went 2-0 in two starts, so the ability is there. Speaking of deGrom, he claims he still doesn’t feel as comfortable on the mound as he did in 2015. He did not factor into the decision in either of his two starts last week, despite turning in a quality seven innings of two run ball against the Dodgers on Tuesday. Matt Harvey also continues to have a rough run at returning to form, giving up five runs on 11 hits through 5.2 against the Rockies on Friday. Colorado hit .407 off of the Mets ace.

New York looks to end their four game skid at home on Tuesday against the Nationals, before squaring off with the Brewers on Friday for a second three game set at home.

4. Miami Marlins

Miami went 4-3 last week to remain in the thick of the action in the East. Their batting averages continue to be sky high, with four starters hitting .300 or above last week. They have four starters on the season hitting at that same level, with Derek Dietrich, Dee Gordon’s replacement, hitting .298. With Giancarlo Stanton having an off week, hitting just .154, some other Marlins bats came out to help the offense last week. Justin Bour had two homers and three RBI, while J.T. Realmuto hit .348 and led the team with four RBI. Marcell Ozuna hit .500 last week and provides a strong bridge between the middle and the bottom of this Marlins lineup. While the offense did not look quite as impressive with Yelich and Stanton both having off weeks, it still proved last week that it has the talent and the potential to get wins, especially when its pitchers deliver like they did last week.

Jose Fernandez went seven innings with 11 strikeouts in both of his starts last week. Thumbs up, Photo courtesy of gardygoesyardy.com

Jose Fernandez showed last week why he’s still considered a fantastic starter for the Marlins. He allowed just one run in his two starts combined, a total of 14 innings, and struck out 22 batters, 11 in each start. Fernandez’s lines were nearly identical  in each start, surrendering four hits over seven innings and striking out 11 men. One thing he’ll still want to improve on is his accuracy, as he also issued seven free passes over those two starts.

Wei-Yin Chen also put up some impressive numbers in the K column, fanning 12 hitters in 6.1 innings Wednesday against Milwaukee. Chen is 3-0 in his last four starts, and hasn’t suffered a loss since April 20 against Washington. Tom Koehler was stiffed a decision despite providing a strong 5.2 innings of one run ball against Washington. Koehler’s biggest problem remains to be control, he walked five Nats hitters and struck out just four. He has 27 Ks to 20 BBs on the year, but has looked strong in his last two starts.  The Marlins biggest concern on the mound continues to be walks, they’re 3rd in the NL with 154 free passes issued. If they can cut down on the free base runners, they might save themselves a few runs here and there, which can add up at the end of a ballgame.

Miami plays three games in Philly starting Monday before hosting Washington for the final time before the All-Star Break over the weekend.

5. Atlanta Braves (9-27) 13 GB

The Braves now have the only rotation in baseball made up entirely of players 25 years old or younger. They traded Jhoulys Chacin to the Angels on Wednesday and will now be showing off nothing but young guns from this point onward in the rotation. Atlanta got two wins over the week, which, all things considered, isn’t terrible for them. At this point it really isn’t about wins and losses either, it’s about getting experience to the now entirely young pitching staff. Whether this experience will be used for the Braves or to establish trade pieces as the deadline approaches is yet to be seen.

While Freddie Freeman might be one of the most tantalizing pieces of trade bait the Braves have, the organization has repeatedly announced that they have no interest in trading their staple at first base. That may due, in part, to the fact that he’s providing more power for that team than the rest of the players combined. Then doubled. Freeman’s two homers last week moves his season total up to six. The rest of the Atlanta bats had an off week, even by their standards. Nick Markakis hit just .087 on the week. Recently activated Gordon Beckham did well; he tied for a team best three RBI last week and hit .316.

The pitching should be the main focus for Atlanta right now, and not just because they’re in a division that’s been so reliant on it this season. With nothing but young guys starting for the foreseeable future, the team has the potential to weed out those they want to keep and those they want to trade. The bulk of the rotation did look stronger last week: Mike Foltynewicz turned in his best outing of the season, and notched his first win of the year last week. He went eight shutout innings in Kansas City against the Royals. After a rough first start against the Mets, Foltynewicz’s last two starts have both been quality outings, and have looked impressive.

Williams Perez made his first start in nearly a month against the Phillies on Wednesday, and it was by far his best. He went eight innings and allowed just two hits, one of them a solo homer. Julio Teheran picked up another loss on Friday at Kansas City, but it was due to both a lack of offense, and an error by the right fielder Jeff Francoeur. With Freeman supposedly off the table, Teheran may be the Braves most valuable trade piece right now. While his record is an ugly 0-4, he’s looked very good in the month of May, allowing just two earned runs in three starts, including a shutout seven innings against the World Series favorite Cubs.

Matt Wisler continued to look strong, despite going 0-1 in two starts last week. He went eight innings in a losing effort to the Phillies and another 7.1 of two run ball against the Royals on Sunday, but didn’t factor in the decision. Aaron Blair is still experiencing some growing pains in his first year in The Bigs, lasting just 3.2 against the Phillies on Thursday. This rotation is young, however, and even the most veteran of pitchers have rough outings every now and then, so as long as the Braves are able to turn these outings into quality learning experiences for their young starters, then the results don’t hurt quite as much.

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.

Mets Finding Form in Week 3

The New York Mets did not start off 2016 in the most glamorous fashion. Matt Harvey is starting off the year on the wrong foot, Jacob deGrom has been on paternal leave, and the offense hadn’t been producing on levels Mets fans had hoped for at the start of the year.

Logan Verrett is 2-0 in 2 starts in replacement of Jacob deGrom this season. He’ll return to the bullpen when deGrom returns on Sunday. Photo courtesy of nydailynews.com

With that said, the Mets now find themselves winners of five of their last six and seem to have started righting the ship in mid-April.

Logan Verrett has proven to be invaluable on the mound during this adjustment process. Verrett did not start the season off on the Mets initial five-man super rotation. However, he got the spot after Jacob deGrom went on emergency leave due to the health of his newborn son. Verrett turned in his second straight six innings of shutout baseball on Tuesday against the Phils. Verrett is now 2-0, hurling 12 scoreless innings in two starts this year, striking out 10 batters and walking just three.

While Verrett’s success has been great to see for Mets fans, perhaps the even better news is that Jacob deGrom’s son is out of the hospital in healthy condition. DeGrom threw a simulated game Tuesday, and manager Terry Collins liked what he saw, so deGrom will be making his second start of the season in Atlanta this weekend. DeGrom’s first outing was a win against the Phillies in which he went six innings and allowed just one run, striking out six. Verrett seemed content with his moving back to the bullpen, claiming he’s happy so long as the team is winning.

The Mets offense has also given Mets fans more reasons to be excited coming into this week. They exploded for their largest run total of 2016, pounding across 11 runs on Tuesday against Philadelphia. Five of those runs came off of Vince Velazquez, who was coming off what could be the most dominating outing of 2016, where he fanned 16 Padres and walked none in a complete game shutout.

Neil Walker leads the Mets with 6 HRs in 2016. He has 3 from each side of the plate. Photo courtesy of usatoday.com

The Mets have shown a particular affinity for the long ball, driving 17 home runs over their last five games. Neil Walker has been the Mets’ biggest slugger of 2016, belting six bombs through 13 games thus far. Walker came into the year as a respectable switch-hitter, but a guy who found most of his power from the left-handed batter’s box. With his two homers from the right side of the plate on Tuesday, Walker now matches a career high in right handed homers in a season with three. To put this power spike into perspective: Walker has three home runs in his last 11 plate appearances from the right side of the plate. It took him 640 plate appearances over the previous five years to reach that same number. So, whatever New York is feeding Walker, get him some more of that stuff.

Some other bats are waking up for the Mets as well. Curtis Granderson hit his first two homers of the year during this five-game stretch, as well as his first triple. Captain David Wright had two dingers on Monday’s series opener against the Phils, and Yoenis Cespedes, who was anticipated as the Mets biggest bat coming into the year, has hit three homers over these last five games.

The Mets and manager Terry Collins attribute this in part to a more consistent playing schedule over the past few weeks. During the initial five days of the year, the Mets played only two games. Baseball players are creatures of habit and routines. When that routine is thrown off by inconsistency in the schedules, the entire rhythm of the team can be thrown off.

The Mets seem to have found their rhythm, however, and look to complete their song about a sweep in Philadelphia on Wednesday. Bartolo Colon will square off against Jeremy Hellickson as the Mets look to get out the brooms for the first time in 2016. The Mets go on to play the Braves in Atlanta over the weekend. Jacob deGrom is slated to make his second start of the year on Sunday.

Wrapping up the NL East: New York Mets

This piece concludes my preview of the NL East.  I have already looked at the Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves, Miami Marlins, and Washington Nationals.  Today I will look at last year’s National League champs, the New York Mets.

The Mets are coming off a 90-72 season highlighted by dominant young pitchers who will look to continue their reign atop the mound.  The Mets hung around the Nationals in the number two spot of the NL East for a majority of the season, surging past them in the second half of the year, including a crucial 3 game sweep in Washington from September 7-9.

The Mets’ bats were middle of the pack in the NL last season, finishing 7th in runs and actually finishing tied for 14th in the NL in team batting average with .244 (ironically, they tied with the NL runner-up Chicago Cubs).  The pitching is what really defined New York last season, and for good reason.  Young phenoms Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey excelled with sub 3 ERAs, and Bartolo Colon had a fantastic year on the mound, leading the Mets in wins.

Coming into the year, the Mets lineup has everything: New guys playing their first full season in the Bigs, well-known players in the middle of their baseball careers, and some veterans who are entering the twilight hours of professional play.  Last season’s batting average leader, Daniel Murphy, signed with rival Washington in the offseason, but hits leader Curtis Granderson returns to the Mets for his 13th MLB season, 3rd with the Mets. Granderson shows that, while he is aging, he still has some pop at the plate, his 26 HR and 70 RBI ranked second and third on the team respectively.  Granderson also led the team last year with 11 swiped bags in 17 attempts.

David Wright, one of the Mets all-time best, looks to spend less time on the IR and more time cranking base hits. Photo courtesy of  CBS New York

The other leading hitter returning to the Mets is their first baseman, Lucas Duda. Duda hit .244 in 2015 , smashing 27 homers and tying Daniel Murphy for a team-leading 73 RBI. Duda provides an intimidating presence in the middle of the order alongside last year’s acquisition from the Tigers, Yoenis Cespedes.

Cespedes has had a lot of buzz surrounding him this offseason (and not just because of what he’s been driving to Spring Training). The Outfielder hit 17 homers in just 57 regular season games for the Mets, although he cooled off in the postseason, hitting just .222 and 2 HR.  All the same, Cespedes provides talent in multiple aspects, as he also brings an absolute cannon to the outfield (he did it in the NLCS, too).

One final player worth mentioning is David Wright.  Wright played just 38 games in 2015 on account of spinal stenosis. Manager Terry Collins continues to be hesitant to play the long-time Met on account of his recent injury habits. Wright is entering his 13th season in the league, and has had a fantastic career with the Mets.  He leads the organization in career hits, runs, RBIs, and extra base hits. He’s had 5 100+ RBI seasons through his first twelve.  If the Mets take care of him and he can remain healthy, I think he can still be a strong provider for the Mets offense.

The Mets pitching rotation is absolutely loaded coming into the season. While expecting Bartolo Colon to have the season he did last year on the mound is unlikely, the young arms look primed to terrorize the division. Last year the Mets were 4th in team ERA, and 3rd in opposing batting average.  Steven Matz, the youngest of the group, went 4-0 in 6 starts and posted a 2.27 ERA in 2015. Noah Syndergaard looked to be the most vulnerable of the Fantastic Four of the Mets staff; but when the team’s most vulnerable still posts a 3.24 ERA and strikes out 166, you know that rotation has talent.

Bartolo Colon has pitched well for the Mets, combining for 29 wins in his two years with the team. Photo courtesy of http://www.bloggingmets.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/bartolocolon.jpg

The front two men of the rotation, Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom, both put up astounding numbers for such young talent.  Between the two, they hold 393 Ks to just 75 walks in 2015.  If these two continue to deal at this pace, (neither posting an ERA above 3.00 in their first few seasons) and Syndergaard and Matz can continue to build on their first year in the MLB, this Mets rotation could be primed for another deep postseason run.  Bartolo Colon is admittedly the wildcard in the rotation, but the 18 year veteran has been solid in his past two years with the Mets.

This Mets team has the pitching to make them a contender for a long time in the National League, it will be up to the bats to provide them with run support.  Yoenis Cespedes, Lucas Duda, and (hopefully) David Wright should all be very strong providers for the Mets offense in their attempt to guard their National League belt.

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