2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Shortstop are commonly known for their glove, but after the explosion of home runs in 2016, shortstops have emerged as a power position heading into 2017. 15 shortstops hit 20 or more homeruns last season, where only two did in 2015. The shortstop position has transitioned from one of the weakest to one of the deepest.

The top 25 shortstops have been grouped into four tiers, with the top and bottom player of each tier profiled below.

Honorable mentions include: Orlando Arcia (MIL), Ketel Marte (ARI), Jose Iglesias (DET), Andrelton Simmons (LAA), and Jose Reyes (NYM).

 

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Manny Machado’s consistency warrants a first round pick. (Courtesy of USA TODAY Sports)

  • Manny Machado (BAL)
  • Carlos Correa (HOU)
  • Corey Seager (LAD)
  • Trea Turner (WSH)
  • Francisco Lindor (CLE)
  • Xander Bogaerts (BOS)

 

Manny Machado, primarily a third basemen, played 44 games at shortstop in 2016, after an injury sidelined Baltimore Orioles starter, J.J. Hardy. Machado, a career .285 hitter, has tallied at least 35 home runs and 100 runs in his last two seasons.

The 24-year-old has yet to reach the 100 RBI plateau, although if continues to progress, he could easily see a .300/100/40/100 season in his near future.

Machado’s consistency and potential make him the first shortstop that should be taken in 2017.

Xander Bogaerts is one of the safest picks an owner can make in 2017. The 24-year-old will be entering his fourth season in the majors, where he is a career .286 hitter.

His .320 batting average in 2015, and .330 batting average in the first half of 2016, suggest that he can sustain a well above .300 average for a full season in 2017.

The 6-foot-3 180-pounder raised his home run total from seven in 2015, to 21 in 2016. Bogaerts power is sure to improve one day, although I believe he will focus solely on sustaining contact rates next season.

Whether the power numbers show or not in 2017, Bogaerts is well worth a top 25 pick.

 

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Trevor Story is healthy and ready to go for 2017. (Courtesy of Sporting News)

  • Trevor Story (COL)
  • Jonathan Villar (MIL)
  • Jean Segura (SEA)
  • Troy Tulowitzki (TOR)
  • Aledmys Diaz (STL)
  • Addison Russell (CHC)
  • Dansby Swanson (ATL)

 

Trevor Story had one of the greatest rookie seasons of all-time, and only played in 97 games due to a hand injury in 2016. After mashing 27 home runs with 76 RBI’s, Story managed to be one of the most productive players in the league during that stretch.

He will bat in the middle of an electric Colorado Rockies lineup, which may put up historically great numbers this season.

The only drawback on the 24-year-old is his atrocious 31.3% strike out rate, which may suggest that he sees a decline in batting average.

Regression of average or not, Story is well worth a top 35 pick, as his power upside is tremendous.

Dansby Swanson is currently being drafted as the 170th overall player, and 17th shortstop off the board, although I have him ranked as the 13th. The upside with Swanson is incredible, as he has the potential to bat .300 while batting second for the Atlanta Braves. This gives him the potential to score 100 runs in his rookie campaign.

The big power numbers have not shown yet, although he had sneaky power in college, hitting 15 home runs in 71 games. He also hit eight home runs in 84 games at the AA-level, which shows that he has the potential to hit 15 or so this season, giving him a chance to be a top 10 shortstop.

I’m reaching on Swanson’s potential in all drafts in 2017.

 

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Can Didi Gregorius continue to improve upon his breakout 2016 campaign?(Courtesy of Getty Images)

  • Didi Gregorius (NYY)
  • Brandon Crawford (SF)
  • Brad Miller (TB)
  • Javier Baez (CHC)
  • Eduardo Nunez (SF)

 

Didi Gregorius, most notably the player that replaced Derek Jeter, quietly had a breakout seasons in 2016. Gregorius has continuously improved his batting average, going from .257 in 2014, to .276 in 2016. He has also seen a huge jump in power numbers, as he hit 20 home runs, which is 11 better than his former career high of 9.

The 27-year-old still has room for improvement, although his power numbers may fall, as the majority of his homers limp out of the Yankees short porch in right field.

Gregorius is a safe late round selection, but may have limited upside.

Eduardo Nunez spent his 2016 split between the Minnesota Twins and San Francisco Giants. The All-Star batted .321 with 12 home runs and 22 stolen bases in the first half of 2016. This shows how good Nunez can be when he is playing every day at his best.

The reason for Nunez’s low ranking is because of his lack of consistency and poor production with the Giants. Hitting home runs as a righty in San Francisco can be quite challenging, which makes me think his home run totals will drop severally.

Nunez has a solid average and will continue to steal some bases, which makes him a good mid to late round pick in all formats.

 

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Jose Peraza will finally have an open spot in the Cincinnati Reds lineup. (Courtesy of MLBdailydish.com)

  • Jose Peraza (CIN)
  • Elvis Andrus (TEX)
  • Danny Espinosa (LAA)
  • Asdrubal Cabrera (NYM)
  • Marcus Semien (OAK)
  • Matt Duffy (TB)
  • Tim Anderson (CWS)

 

Jose Peraza has been compared to Jose Altuve, in not only their size, but also their skill set. Both have elite speed and get on base at a well above average clip. Peraza will finally have an everyday role with the Cincinnati Reds as they have parted ways with their franchise second basemen, Brandon Phillips, in a trade with the Atlanta Braves.

Peraza has stolen 281 bases in 611 professional games, which is about a half a steal per game. This alone gives Peraza elite stolen base value, as he has the chance to steal over 60 bases. This paired with the fact that he is a career .312 hitter gives him great potential to be a breakout star in 2017.

Tim Anderson commonly flies under the radar, as he will bat at the bottom of an inconsistent Chicago White Sox lineup. 2017 will be Anderson’s first full MLB season, which could mean a breakout is in the making for the 23-year-old.

We cannot forget that he stole 49 bases in 125 games in 2015. While he bats at the end of the order, which limits his run and RBI potential, he should be given plenty of opportunities to swipe bags.

The former first-round pick in 2013 is a career .283 hitter, which is a solid floor for a starting fantasy short stop. Anderson’s ADP of 191 makes him well worth a late pick as a middle infielder or starter in deeper leagues.

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2017 Fantasy Baseball Second Base Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Second Base Rankings

The Game Haus presents our 2017 fantasy baseball second base rankings.

In the past, the second base position is where one can find steals and average, although in 2016, 15 second base eligible players hit 20 or more home runs. The steals and average have remained constant as well, as 15 second basemen had double-digit steals and nine batted over .280 (Min. 500 AB’s). Second base remains one of the deeper positions in fantasy baseball in 2017.

With spring-training officially underway, it’s time to give our second base rankings for the 2017 season.

 

Players have been grouped into four tiers, with the top and bottom player of each profiled below.

Honorable mentions include: Brandon Drury (ARI), Jedd Gyorko (STL), Howie Kendrick (PHI), Brett Lawrie (CWS), and Ryan Schimpf (SD).

 

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball Second Base Rankings

Jose Altuve is pound for pound the most talented player in the MLB. (Courtesy of MLB.com)

  1. Jose Altuve HOU
  2. Robinson Cano SEA
  3. Daniel Murphy WAS
  4. Ian Kinsler DET
  5. Brian Dozier MIN
  6. Rougned Odor TEX
  7. Matt Carpenter STL

 

Jose Altuve is pound for pound the most talented player in the MLB. He offers above average contributions in all five categories, while offering elite levels of batting average and stolen bases. Altuve will have all of the opportunity in the world, as he will bat third behind budding stars George Springer and Alex Bregman, with All-star Carlos Correa batting clean-up.

The 26-year-old managed to set a career high marks across the board; in plate appearances, home runs, runs, and RBI’s. Even if the 5-foot-7 super-star regresses in all departments, he will remain an elite option in the first round of drafts.

 

The St. Louis Cardinals lifer, Matt Carpenter, is being severely over looked in 2017. Due to an oblique injury, he finished 2016 with only 566 plate appearances, whereas he had averaged 697 per season from 2013 to 2015. Carpenter was on a tear in the first half of 2016, batting .298 with 14 home runs and 53 RBI’s.

The 31-year-old will continue have the opportunity to produce as he will bat third in a very talented young Cardinal’s lineup. I expect Carpenter to severally outperform his current ADP of 68, as I believe he will bat around .290 with a possibility to produce both 100 runs and RBI’s.

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball Second Base Rankings

Trea Turner has a bright future, but what is his ceiling? (Courtesy of Federal Baseball)

  1. Trea Turner WAS
  2. Jean Segura SEA
  3. Jonathon Villar MIL
  4. Jason Kipnis CLE
  5. J. Lemaheiu COL

 

According to FantasyPros.com, Trea Turner is currently being drafted as the 11th player off the board, which is why he will not be on any of my teams in 2017. Turner was called up in June of 2016 and exploded, batted .342 with 13 home runs, 40 RBI’s, and 33 steals in only 73 games. I understand the hype, but let’s pump the breaks.  We are talking about a player who has never hit, or has never been on pace to hit, 20 home runs in a full 162 game season. He will bat at the top half of a stacked Washington Nationals lineup, giving him plenty of value in the runs department.

His career average of .329 and stolen base floor of around 30 should translate to a great fantasy season, although I do not believe he is worth a draft pick at his current ADP.

 

D.J. Lemahieu, is currently being drafted as the 88th overall player, and 13th second basemen off the board in 2017. Lemahieu was awarded the 2016 National League batting champion after having an astounding .348 average. The 6-foot-4 second basemen has only hit 26 career home runs in 672 games, although playing at his stature, as well as at Coors Field gives him a possibility to increase those totals in 2017.

The 28-year-old will bat second in one of the most prolific offenses in the MLB, with the Colorado Rockies. Lemahieu’s floor gives makes him well worth a top 50 pick, and he is being drafted in the top 100.

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Second Base Rankings

The aging-veteran Dustin Pedroia will continue to dominate in 2017. (Courtsey of alchetron.com)

  1. Dustin Pedroia BOS
  2. Jonathon Schoop BAL
  3. Ben Zobrist CHC
  4. Devon Travis TOR
  5. Logan Forsythe LAD
  6. Neil Walker NYM
  7. Starlin Castro NYY
  8. Javier Baez CHC
  9. Brandon Phillips ATL

 

Dustin Pedroia remains a solid fantasy option once again in 2017. The 33-year-old’s 2016 was arguably his best season since his 2008 MVP year. Pedroia had 200 hits for the second time in his career, while hitting 15 home runs with 74 RBI’s atop the Boston Red Sox order.

Health concerns have always been an issue for the 5-foot-9 (more like 5-foot-6) veteran, although after completing a full season in 2016, there is no reason to assume he cannot repeat this once again in 2017.

 

Brandon Phillips will leave Ohio for the first time in his MLB career as he heads south for Atlanta. The 35-year-old hasn’t lost a step as he has batted over .290 in his last two seasons, while averaging about 10 home runs, 70 runs, 70 RBI’s, and 16 steals.

Phillips will bat in middle of a very underrated Atlanta Braves lineup, behind the likes of Freddie Freeman and Dansby Swanson. Phillips’ talent and lineup position give him a great floor for his current ADP of 321.

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Second Base Rankings

Josh Harrison looks to complete his first full MLB season in 2017. (Courtesy of Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Spors)

  1. Josh Harrison PIT
  2. Danny Espinosa LAA
  3. Joe Panik SFG
  4. Cesar Hernandez PHI

 

Josh Harrison has yet to play in over 145 games in a season in his MLB career, although he has shown promise to become a great fantasy asset in 2017. Harrison’s finished 2016 with a .283 average, 57 runs, 59 RBI’s, and 19 stolen bases. If Harrison played a complete season, he would have been on pace for 72 RBI’s and 22 steals, which, along with his average, would have put him in the top 15 for second basemen in 2016.

The 29-year-old will bat atop a Pittsburgh Pirates lineup that looks to redeem itself from a poor 2016 campaign. Batting ahead of Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, and Gregory Polanco will make him a great source of runs in 2017. His ADP of 322 makes him well worth a pick late in your draft.

 

Cesar Hernandez was quietly a top 20 second basemen in all formats in 2016. He offered a great source of speed and average as he stole 17 bases while batting .294. The 26-year-old also managed to lead the league in triples in 2016, which is always a good sign.

He will bat atop a young Phillies lineup, which will make him a great source of runs and steals, as the Phillies were a top 10 team in stolen bases attempted per game in 2016. Hernandez is a great low risk pick for the last rounds of your draft.

 

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fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Top Sleepers Candidates at Each Position

The Game Haus presents our fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates at each position for the upcoming Major League Baseball season.

According to Yahoo.com, the following players average draft positions, or ADP, are in, or after round 22. Standard fantasy baseball drafts range from 23-25 rounds, so these players are low risk, high reward.

They offer greater value than other players at their position, as they are being overlooked and selected in much later rounds than players who offer similar value.

 

Mike Zunino, C, Seattle Mariners

fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates

Mike Zunino is no longer the backstop of the future for the Mariners as 2017 is his year to shine. (Courtesy of lookoutlanding.com)

The 2012 first-round pick has struggled in his time in the show, but 2017 is his year to earn his spot. Zunino is a pure power hitter who has hit fifty career home runs in 350 games.

He will bat sixth behind Kyle Seager, Nelson Cruz, and Robinson Cano. If this doesn’t get you excited, then I don’t know what will. He will have plenty of chances to rack up some RBIs.

Unfortunately for Zunino, the Seattle Mariners traded for veteran Carlos Ruiz from the Los Angeles Dodgers this offseason. This is a bit unnerving, as Ruiz will inevitably steal some at-bats from Zunino. However, I believe that it will be Zunino’s job to lose.

His ADP is currently above 260, as he is commonly going undrafted.

 

Mitch Moreland, 1B, Boston Red Sox

The Gold-Glove award winner in 2016 heads north to join Boston’s star-studded lineup lead by Dustin Pedroia and the killer B’s. Moreland will be the everyday first basemen for the Red Sox and will bat sixth or seventh in the lineup. The Red Sox are looking to make a World Series run in 2017, and Moreland will be a key contributor.

He is currently being selected in the 23rd round, after fellow first basemen Travis Shaw, Brandon Moss, and Danny Valencia. I prefer Moreland to the aforementioned options for multiple reasons.

First, he has a more proven track record, hitting twenty plus bombs three times in his career. Second, the Red Sox lineup adds immense value, as we all saw how well Travis Shaw produced in the six hole last season. Finally, Moreland’s glove will keep him on the field, so there is no need to worry about losing at-bats to Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, or Allen Craig.

Moreland should do just fine in his first season in Boston.

 

Jose Peraza, 2B, SS, OF, Cincinnati Reds

fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates

Brandon Phillips, Jose Peraza will finally have an open spot in the Cincinnati Reds lineup. (Courtesy of MLBdailydish.com)

The Cincinnati Reds have officially traded second baseman Brandon Phillips to the Atlanta Braves for two pitching prospects. This means that it is officially Jose Peraza time!

Peraza is a top 100 prospect according to MLB.com, Baseballprospectus.com, and Baseball America. The speedster has stolen 244 bases in 611 career games. Also, he has logged innings at second base, shortstop, and center field in his professional career, which will help him remain in the lineup throughout the season.

Peraza will primarily play second base, and will presumably start the season batting at the bottom of the order, but a promotion to the leadoff spot could be in order if he continues to find success at the plate. He has a career batting average of .312 at all levels.

He offers tremendous value through his speed and versatility in 2017.

 

Yangervis Solarte, 3B, 2B, San Diego Padres

Solarte, once a utility man for the Padres, will have the everyday third basemen job in 2017. He will bat in the heart of the order behind All-Star first basemen Wil Myers, allowing him to have plenty of opportunities to do damage. Solarte played in only 109  games in 2016, but managed to manufacture 71 RBIs on 15 home runs, while batting .286.

El Nino may be the most overlooked player in 2017, as he is a clean-up hitter playing an everyday role, but is being selected after utility players like Sean Rodriguez, Jurickson Profar, and Howie Kendrick.

Solarte has a great opportunity to surpass all of his career highs this upcoming season.

 

Danny Espinosa, SS, Los Angeles Angels

fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates

Danny Espinosa has escaped the platoon that held him back in Washington. (Courtesy of Zimbio.com)

New doors have been opened for Espinosa, as he heads from Washington to Los Angeles to be the Angels everyday second basemen. The slugging middle infielder hit 24 home runs with 72 RBIs in 2016, surpassing his former career highs.

He will bat towards the end of sneaky deep Angels lineup, which will give him ample RBI opportunities. Espinosa is being selected in the 23rd round, after other shortstops including Alcides Escobar, Jose Reyes, and J.J. Hardy.

The 29-year-old can still improve his approach at the plate, and I would not be surprised by a 30 home run, 70 RBI campaign.

 

Michael Saunders OF, Philadelphia Phillies

The first-time All-Star in 2016 signed a one-year deal with a team option for a second with the Philadelphia Phillies this offseason. He will be one of their everyday corner outfielders and will bat sixth behind the young Phillies core of Odubel Herrera, Maikel Franco, and Tommy Joseph.

Saunders provides great upside as he hit .298 with 16 home runs and 48 RBIs before the All-Star break in 2016. His value comes as he is being selected in the 23rd round after fellow outfielders Nick Markakis, Melvin Upton Jr., and Steve Pearce.

Saunders will have to bounce back to his first half form from 2016 if the Phillies want to have any serious success in 2017.

 

Chris Tillman SP, Baltimore Orioles

fantasy baseball 2017 top sleeper candidates

Chris Tillman looks to recover from his disastrous second half of 2016. (Courtesy of csnmidatlantic.com)

Tillman has completed four consecutive seasons with over 170 innings pitched, with an average of 147 strikeouts per year. He will be atop of the Baltimore Orioles rotation for another year as he looks to improve on his career high win total of 16 from 2016.

Tillman had a phenomenal first half last season, sporting a 3.4 ERA and 7.8 K/9. His second half was atrocious, but he has shown enough consistency in the past to not warrant any serious regression.

I suspect Tillman to make adjustments, as he did from 2015 to 2016, where he went from a 4.99 ERA to a 3.77. Also worth noting that he had a sub three ERA on the road, and a four plus at home, so take that into consideration as well.

He is being selected in the 22nd round, after other starters including Clay Buchholz and Mike Montgomery. Tillman will eat innings and have great opportunities to win games for the Orioles come 2017.

 

Fernando Rodney, CL, Arizona Diamondbacks

The veteran closer signed a one-year contract for $2.75 million with the Arizona Diamondbacks this offseason. He is coming of a 25-save season where he exhibited a K/9 of 10.2, which is well above league average. His K/9 has surpassed 10 three times in his last four seasons. This is encouraging as his K/9 have not dipped even though his velocity has.

The 39-year-old will be the closer for the Diamondbacks to start 2017. With the return of A.J. Pollock, David Peralta and others, Rodney could be in store for an abundance of save opportunities. He is being selected in the 24th round, after many set-up men, including three Chicago Cubs, Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon, and Koji Uehara.

Rodney’s value should spike as owners realize his value as a closer, so do not be afraid to “reach” for him in 20 or 21st round.

 

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Why The Nationals Are A Special Team

Currently first in their division, the Washington Nationals have demonstrated just how special a team they are during the first half of the MLB season.  Nationals manager Dusty Baker has showcased his philosophy of rotating his players and starting lineup every few games or so to keep guys fresh.  Personnel depth is desirable for any team and the Nats have it.

The Nats are indeed special in 2016 because of their batting. This article will focus solely on the Nats batters.  T Nationals have players ranked first and second in the National League in batting average among players who have played in at least 69 games. These players are second baseman Daniel Murphy (.348) and catcher Wilson Ramos (.343) respectively.  Murphy was brought in because of his ability to make contact with the ball and generate any kind of directional hit. Whether it be a home run or a line drive single to advance the runners while Ramos, whose average is usually in the .200s, has simply had a breakout season.  Murphy is also first in the National League in hits (108) and eighth in runs batted in (56).

Daniel Murphy is congratulated by Jayson Werth after batting a hit.

Young stud and possible back to back MVP right fielder Bryce Harper holds an impressive on base percentage at .404, good for fourth in the NL.  Harper brings another strong dynamic to this team.  A batter who can be intentionally walked or hit a grand slam, the pitcher must roll the dice. Harper keeps his fans guessing when he’ll make a play or be a hero.  He’s got a keen eye at the plate and smart, quick base running instincts, leading the team in stolen bases with 11.

Bryce Harper runs towards first base after hitting a double.

Then there’s the durable third baseman Anthony Rendon, who leads the team in runs with 52.  His batting average ranks fourth on the squad at .256.

Another big time hitter for Washington is part werewolf, part nut. I am talking about the beginning of this squad, left fielder Jayson Werth.  A clutch performer, and a bit of a lumbering base runner. Werth is as steady as they come, registering solid numbers across all aspects of batting.  And how can we forget his recent post-game interview in which he addressed his doubters with, “Those people can kiss my ass!”

Jason Werth during one of his most hilarious post-game interviews in which he exclaims, “Those people can kiss my ass!”

Next up to bat is shortstop Danny Espinosa, the team’s leader in home runs (18).  Though Espinosa has shown flashes of brilliance, he remains an inconsistent puzzle piece.  He may hit two home runs in one game and then fail to have a good eye at reading balls and strikes at his next few at bats.  Still, this shortstop can electrify the stadium when his good luck is happening.

Let’s not forget center fielder Ben Revere. His role on the team is a bit like a secret weapon or x factor.  Revere can make contact with the ball in a lot of ways.  He can hit a well-placed grounder, or a solid base hit in a clutch moment.  Though Revere has struggled to hit the ball out of the park (he has just one home run), his speed has compensated.  Revere’s 10 stolen bases are second only to Harper and his three triples are second only to Murphy.    In summary, Revere is a valuable signing with a penchant for flying around the bases.

Ben Revere attempts to bunt the ball.

Other honorable mentions include second baseman Stephen Drew, who hit an inside the park homer earlier in the year. Also Ryan Zimmerman, the longtime first baseman and backbone of the team.

Any one of these players can shine in any game.  And when everyone is on fire, the results are blowout wins for the Nationals.

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: 5/30-6/4

The NL East is starting to see a little bit more stratification after this week of play. The Phillies, after a surprisingly hot two months to start the year, have had trouble winning games as of late, and are slowly but surely sliding away from the top of the division. The Marlins now have the job of trying to hang with the two obvious division favorites, and try to find off weeks where they can pick up some ground.

The Braves continue to lose ground in their search for good news, as their week against the NL West was painful, especially for anybody facing Corey Seager in fantasy. The offense is continuing to barely put up runs, and you can see the effect that holds on these young pitchers, who keep looking rattled and uncomfortable on the mound.

Meanwhile, I’m sure every Nationals fan felt rattled and uncomfortable when Stephen Strasburg had to make an early exit from Saturday’s start against the Reds. Strasburg has a history of dealing with injuries, and with the way he’s pitching this year, Washington really can’t afford to lose him for extended periods of time. It seems like Strasburg, who had thrown 97 pitches before leaving, was simply dealing with cramps due to potential dehydration, so he should be fine to get back on the hill for his next start.

Strasburg wasn’t the only guy who missed some time last week, as the injury bug bit evenly throughout the NL East. Getting the worst of it was probably Derek Dietrich, who, after taking a foul ball off the head in the dugout last weekend, got hit by a pitch on Wednesday and left the game. Dietrich wasn’t the only Marlin to get hurt, as prospect Stone Garrett ended up on the DL with three stitches in his hand due to a knife prank gone bad by Greensboro Grasshopper teammate, Josh Naylor.

Giancarlo Stanton missed seven games, three this week, due to hip soreness and Yoenis Cespedes missed Saturday’s game with the same ailment. Meanwhile the Mets continue to play without first baseman Lucas Duda and third baseman David Wright. The Nats saw Bryce Harper take a Jeremy Hellickson pitch to the knee, causing him to miss the rest of Monday’s game, along with Tuesday and Wednesday. Needless to say, it was a pretty rough week injury-wise in the NL East, which could create some interesting changes in team dynamics as the season rolls on.

Now let’s take a closer look at each team in the NL East.

1. Washington Nationals (34-23)

The Nationals looked hot in Philadelphia, sweeping their divisional rivals to make some serious headway at the top of the division (and bury the Phils in an even deeper hole). Then everything came to a screeching halt in Cincinnati, where the Reds put the smackdown on Washington in games one and two of the series, and looked to be about to do the same in game three. Then the Nats offense exploded for ten runs and narrowly avoided a sweep in Cincy.

The Nationals and their fans got to see middle-infield prospect Trea Turner for time on Friday, when Ryan Zimmerman was placed on paternity leave, and he delivered a perfect 3-3 performance with a walk and a double: showing that the Nationals still could have even more young talent waiting to be called up. Zimmerman was reinstated earlier today, leaving Turner to be optioned back to triple-A, Syracuse. Zimmerman’s replacement at first base, Clint Robinson, had a tough go of things, hitting just .167 on the week.

As for the rest of the bats, Wilson Ramos and Daniel Murphy continue to be swinging the hottest sticks on the team right now, with Ramos hitting two homers and going .450 and Murphy hitting three homers and batting .360 last week (the crazy thing being that Murphy’s .360 week actually brought his batting average on the season down by 10 points). Bryce Harper took a pitch off the knee on Monday, causing him to miss Tuesday and Wednesday against the Phillies. The good news is, he was able to return to play for the series against the Reds, despite having a fairly quiet week at the plate. Another guy with a notable performance last week was Danny Espinosa, who recorded just three hits all of last week, but took all three to the yard in a three homer weekend. Espinosa has continued to struggle hitting for average this year, even moreso than in years prior, but has still been able to deliver on the big flies from time to time.

On the mound, Joe Ross continues to fly under the radar on the Nationals staff this year, turning in another quality seven innning start against the Phillies, only allowing one run on three hits. Max Scherzer continues to rack up the strikeouts, posting double-digits in the K column again with 11 in eight strong innings against the Phillies on Wednesday.

Another guy making noise in the strikeout department is Stephen Strasburg, who recorded his 1000th career strikeout before making an early exit to Saturday’s start. Strasburg is the Nationals’ career strikeout leader, and is also the second fastest pitcher to reach the 1000 K milestone, recording it in 855.1 innings. The fastest was Kerry Wood, who did it in 853.2 innings. Strasburg was also on pace to being the MLB’s first ten-win pitcher in 2016, bringing a 2-1 lead into the 6th inning before leaving the game with an apparent cramp.

Strasburg definitely had the strongest start against the Reds, with his teammates Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark both surrendering five runs to Cincy, with Gonzalez lasting six innings and Roark making it just half as far. Roark’s performance was saved, however, by the Nats offense and a strong relief effort by Sammy Solis on Sunday, who allowed just one hit in three innings of relief in the Nats’ only win of Dusty Baker’s homecoming series.

The Nationals face the White Sox for three games in Chicago before hosting the Phils over the weekend.

2. New York Mets (31-24) 2 GB

The Mets had to work with a slightly different lineup this week, with both of their corner infielders missing time due to injuries. Wilmer Flores took up the hot corner while James Loney held down the fort at first base last week. Both had solid performances at the plate, Flores hitting .353 and Loney .333, with Loney hitting a two-run homer on Friday against the Marlins. Aside from Loney, the Mets only had three other players hit home runs last week, an uncharacteristic low for a homer-happy Mets lineup. Neil Walker had two in back-to-back games against the White Sox, while Asdrubal Cabrera and Rene Rivera also recorded one each. Cabrera had a rough week otherwise, hitting just .200 and striking out eight times, while Michael Conforto’s hot streak came to a screeching halt with ten strikeouts and a sub-.100 week at the plate. The Mets offense continues to be hit-or-miss, varying greatly from game to game. They were able to grind out three wins, however, including a key two against division rival Miami over the weekend.

He’s still got a long way to go, but Matt Harvey’s two starts this week were a step in the right direction. Photo courtesy of upi.com

The only game they were unable to win against the Marlins came with Matt Harvey on the mound. While this hasn’t been an unusual trend for the Mets this year, Harvey is certainly not at fault for the Mets’ 1-0 loss on Sunday. Harvey finally turned in back-to-back quality outings last week, surrendering just one run in the two starts combined. His strikeout numbers may not be there yet (only nine in those two starts combined), but at this point I think it’s good for him just to have the confidence of two very impressive outings behind him.

The rest of the Mets starters also stepped up with strong performances this week, with the exception of Steven Matz. Jacob deGrom and Bartolo Colon were both stiffed wins, despite tossing seven and five innings with one earned run respectively. DeGrom was another Mets starter who had admittedly been going through some feel issues on the mound. He looked much more crisp Wednesday, fanning ten batters over his seven innings, despite the Mets losing 2-1. Thor made two appearances this week, with one of them coming out of the bullpen on Tuesday against Chicago. With Tuesday being an off night for closer Jeurys Familia, Terry Collins had to move usual setup man, Hansel Robles into the closer spot. That led Collins to throw Syndergaard in the seventh inning of Tuesday’s game, and Syndergaard delivered as usual. That brief stint didn’t slow him down for Friday’s series opener against the Marlins either, in which he went seven innings of two run ball and fanned nine batters to pick up his sixth win on the year.

For the first time in seemingly forever (but actually only a little under two months) Steven Matz had an outing that didn’t last six innings. He made it just 5.2 against the White Sox on Tuesday and surrendered three runs, but didn’t factor in the decision. Matz has been producing on the same level as Syndergaard in 2016, making up for the slow starts of deGrom and Syndergaard. I don’t expect Matz to make a habit of turning in these mediocre performances, with this just being a blip on the radar.

The Mets play seven games on the road in the NL Central this week. They play three against the Pirates before heading to Milwaukee for four games against the Brew Crew.

3. Miami Marlins (30-27) 4 GB

After a scary 10-0 thrashing at the hands of the Pirates in game one of the series, the Marlins turned in a quality week, picking up four wins, including the remaining three games against Pittsburgh. The downside of that being that they blew a chance to contest the Mets for second place in the division, only winning Sunday’s game of the weekend series.

The offense wasn’t stellar this week, granted it rarely is for any team in this division, but some good pitching ensured it was enough to get the wins. After a rough first half of May, Christian Yelich seems to be back on top of things, posting a .407 batting average on the week and driving in four runs. Catcher J.T. Realmuto also turned in a solid week at the plate, driving in two men and bringing his season average up over .300. Six current Miami starters are hitting over .300, the trick continues to be finding ways to get runners off the bases and back home.

Ichiro is hitting .313 with five stolen bases this year. Photo courtesy of miamiherald.com

Ichiro Suzuki is another starter currently over .300 (albeit he didn’t start in the beginning of 2016) and is proving that he can still produce at the ripe, old age of 42. He continues to be a guy who won’t try to burn you with a deep ball, but will drop in singles and burn you on the basepath. Suzuki stole three bases last week, providing some much needed speed that the Marlins haven’t had since losing Dee Gordon to suspension in April.

The Marlins two biggest hitters struggled immensely at the plate this week. While Marcell Ozuna recorded his 11th homer on the season on Friday, that was his only hit on the week, posting a meager .048 on the week. Giancarlo Stanton continues to be in a funk, which could be due in part to the soreness in his hip that caused him to miss seven games. Stanton had just one hit in 14 ABs last week. The Marlins only other homer, aside from Ozuna’s, came from Martin Prado, who has also been slumping since a red hot April.

With the hitting going the way it is, the Marlins’ pitchers have begun stepping it up at just the right time. That isn’t to say they were fantastic all week, but they kept the games winnable (Monday being the exception) and were a big part in the 4-3 weekly record.  The man of the mound has to be Jose Fernandez right now, however, who appears to be in a league of his own. Fernandez finished up a perfect May against the Pirates on Tuesday before starting off June on an even better note, fanning 14 Mets in seven innings. Oh and by the way, he didn’t allow a run in any of the 14 innings he pitched, and has allowed just three in his last six starts. Fernandez was the only Marlins starter to pick up a win (or two in his case) last week, with the other two being picked up by Nick Wittgren, who tossed three scoreless from the bullpen, and David Phelps.

Adam Conley turned in a quality start against the Pirates, tossing six shutout innings on Wednesday to bounce back from an ugly start against the Braves. Justin Nicolino is continuing to struggle to find a rhythm as a starter: after going 2-0 in his first two starts, Nicolino is winless in his past six outings, but managed to hold the Mets to just two runs in 5.1 innings on Saturday.

The Marlins are on the road all week, with three games in Minnesota starting Tuesday; they then head to Arizona for three games over the weekend.

4. Philadelphia Phillies (28-29) 6 GB

The Phillies might finally be in the midst of the midseason collapse that everyone was so anxiously expecting, going just 2-5 against the Nats and Brewers last week. The Phillies offense continues to sputter, and the pitching hasn’t been what is was early on in the season. Cameron Rupp is still hitting well, sure, going .400 on the week with two solo homers, but one guy (especially a catcher, who isn’t going to be in the lineup every night) can’t make a huge difference for the entire season. Tommy Joseph continues to inspire hope for the future with a .318 week and another homer, but the Phillies as a whole just haven’t been able to get it going on offense.

Prior to the final three games against the Brewers, where they scored 17 runs, the Phils were on track to score below 500 runs this year.  They had been able to make up for this in weeks past with strong pitching, which fell off significantly halfway through May. At this pace, the Phillies will end up with 523 runs on the season. ESPN’s Jayson Stark put this into perspective, noting that the Phillies of 2009 scored 523 runs just a week after the all-star break.

Aaron Nola continues to provide strong outings, showing that the Phillies’ claims about having a strong farm and future are well founded, but the rest of their staff just hasn’t been able to sustain baseball’s biggest surprise any longer. Nola went 1-1 on the week, with a six inning, two run loss at the hands of Washington, followed by a six inning shutout win in which he struck out a career-high nine hitters. Jerad Eickhoff went 6.2 innings of two-run ball, but couldn’t get the offensive support needed to dodge a loss against the Brewers. Jeremy Hellickson didn’t factor in the decision in either of his starts, but did turn in seven innings of one-run ball against the Nats. Hector Neris had a tough week, going 0-2, including a blown save in a week that saw his ERA inflate from 1.29 to 2.27.

The Phillies don’t see things get any easier this week, playing three games against the Cubs before heading to Washington for the weekend.

5. Atlanta Braves (16-40) 17.5 GB

It’s hard to find good news if you’re a Braves fan right now, so I’ll try to find some. Most of it has to come from the young outfielder Mallex Smith, who is continuing to perform, driving in five runs and digging out two triples last week to lead the team at the plate. Nick Markakis finally had a quality week at the plate, amid recent struggles, hitting .304 and bringing in three runs. Chase D’Arnaud continues to show potential at the plate, as well.

That’s about it for the good news, unfortunately, as the Braves offense continued to struggle and the pitching didn’t look much better. Atlanta only had two homers, one of them coming from Freddie Freeman who leads the team with nine. Corey Seager alone had more homers in a single game against the Braves than the Braves did all week, slugging three solo homers Friday night. The Braves put up just 18 runs all week (six of the coming in a 12-6 loss Sunday night), which shows just how much work this team needs in the offense category as the trade deadline approaches.

On the mound, things didn’t look a whole lot better. Julio Teheran, who had been a gem in the rough of this Braves team in May, got roughed up in his first June outing. Teheran has allowed six runs over his last 11 innings (he allowed six in all 39 innings he pitched in May combined) after surrendering three to the Dodgers in 5.2 on Friday.

Mike Foltynewicz was the best starter this week, picking up a win behind six innings of one run ball against the Giants on Tuesday. Amid struggles in the starting rotation, namely Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair, the Braves gave Bud Norris another chance to start on Saturday against the Dodgers. While he did take the loss, it was not nearly as ugly as some of Norris’ other starts, surrendering one run in five innings. Wisler, who had displayed potential earlier on in the year, had another rough couple of outings, taking two more losses and posting an ERA of 9.00 on the week. Blair, making his second start back from being optioned to triple-A Gwinnett, lasted just four innings in his loss to the Giants.

The Braves season drudges on, as they head to San Diego to try and catch the Padres and shed the worst record in baseball. They then host the Cubs over the weekend.

NL East: Week 4 Recap

What a crazy week this was for the NL East. The Phillies of all teams went unbeaten, the Nationals got swept, there was almost a no-hitter, and Dee Gordon was suspended for PED usage. This division has seen the rift that the Nationals had formed just 2 weeks ago all but evaporate, as the Mets are looking to be in prime form. May is shaping up to be a lot more competitive than might have been predicted a month ago, and the Phillies may be more of a contender than some people (myself included) gave them credit for at the start of the year.

It’s hard to gauge what will happen as the season rolls on. The deeper teams go into the season, the more likely players (especially young pitchers) are to suffer critical injuries, players may begin to start slumping or streaking, and teams may begin to start making trades to fill vacancies that have become apparent.

I think the biggest surprise for me was the Phillies this week. They swept (record-wise), the best team in the National League on the road, and pitched two straight shutouts. The bullpen in particular stepped up for Philadelphia this week, and it will be interesting to see if they can continue to build on this momentum on their 10 game road streak, starting Monday in St. Louis.

On the other side of that sweep, I think the Nationals offense must have forgotten they had to come home before heading to St. Louis. They put up three runs in three games, all of them in game one. Luckily for them, they were able to rebound with a sweep of their own in St. Louis and keep the division lead, but they lost a lot of ground this week to both New York and Philly, raising the stakes for their first series of 2016 against the Mets later this month. Without further ado, let’s continue to break down these teams more in depth, continuing with Washington.

1. Washington Nationals (17-7) 

The Nationals bats were silent at home when the Phillies came to town to start the week. Bryce Harper’s bat was silent all week, hitting just .105 (but drawing 7 seven walks, giving him a .346 OBP). Danny Espinosa finally had a standout series in St. Louis, hitting two big home runs in two straight games against the Cards. Hopefully this leads to bigger things from his bat in May, as he hit just .188 through the month of April. Other than that, it was a plethora of Nationals stepping up to provide run support. Jayson Werth led the way with five on the week and he’s again showing that, despite his inconsistencies, he can provide at times when the Nats need him to.

The pitching was the real source of the wins this week. With the way their offense had been playing, the Nationals very easily could have gone undefeated this week. Despite going 0-3 in the Phillies series, the Nats arms held them to no more than four runs a game. All five of the starters had a sub-3.00 ERA on the week. Max Scherzer’s outing vs. the Phillies wasn’t what Nats fans were hoping for to break Scherzer out of his funk, but his seven innings of four hit ball against the Cardinals showed that he still has the potential to be as good as he was last season. Gio Gonzalez was the tough luck loser against the Phils, allowing just one earned run, but not getting any runs of support.

Joe Ross and Tanner Roark continue to impress. While Roark didn’t get the win, he didn’t allow any runs through seven innings in game three against the Phillies. Roark is just 2-2 on the season, but is sporting an ERA of just 2.03. Ross is even more impressive numerically, a 3-0 record and a 0.79 ERA. A lot of people mention the depth that the New York Mets have in their rotation, but I honestly think that this Nats rotation has the potential to go toe-to-toe with them.

The bullpen suffered two of the three losses against the Phillies, but the game can’t stay 0-0 forever, and the Nationals bats just couldn’t get it going in time that series. Overall on the week, however, they bounced back quite impressively against the Cardinals, sweeping them in St. Louis. They do need to be careful, as their once four-game lead has shrunk to just 1.5 games over two weeks.

The Nationals play a very tough schedule this week, with three games in Kansas City before playing four games in Chicago against the Cubbies.

2. New York Mets (15-8) 1.5 GB

The Mets are now 13-3 after opening the 2016 season off with a 2-5 record. They had a near-perfect week yet again, with a hiccup against the Giants on Sunday being the only blemish. Yoenis Cespedes led the team with nine RBI, three of them on a game-tying, three-run, pinch hit homer in the 7th inning of game two against the Reds. The Mets offense continues to churn out runs, which has proven invaluable for an ace still trying to find his footing in Matt Harvey. Three different Mets had multi-homer weeks, as left fielder Michael Conforto and second baseman Neil Walker continue to produce at the plate, along with Cespedes. Conforto, Cespedes, and Walker combined for 24 RBI over the past week, the rest of the team had just nine. With those three producing the way they are, and Curtis Granderson getting on base more often (he’s hitting .316 in his last 15 games after going .097 in his first eight) this Mets offense is looking very good.

The pitching is also looking better. Jacob deGrom seems to be pitching just fine now that he’s back on a regular rotation, posting a big fat goose egg in 6 innings against the Giants. Steven Matz has now turned in three straight quality starts after also going six scoreless against the Giants. Matz allowed seven runs in his season opener against the Marlins; he’s allowed just two in his three starts since then. Matt Harvey continues to trend in the right direction with a quality start against the Reds along with seven Ks: he now has two wins in his last two starts. It was Thor who proved mortal this week, as Bruce Bochy turned on the green light for base runners against Noah Syndergaard this week. Brandon Crawford stole second once, while Matt Duffy took it twice. Syndergaard’s biggest weakness thus far has been holding runners, who are 12 for 13 stealing on him so far. The outing itself isn’t anything to be concerned with, nobody is going to go unbeaten on the mound, and the Giants just got the better of Syndergaard that night.

The Mets host the Braves for three games before heading to San Diego for a four-game series against the Padres, so the Mets have a real shot to be atop the NL East by the end of next week.

3. Philadelphia Phillies (15-10) 2.5 GB

Jeanmar Gomez was one of many in the Phillies bullpen to not surrender a run this week. He also had 4 saves. Photo courtesy of csnphilly.com

The Phillies offense is bottom five in the MLB in runs scored. Yet they’ve been one of the biggest surprises in all of the MLB this year with a 15-10 record after a month of play. The Phillies went 6-0 last week, sweeping the Nationals and the Indians behind some great stuff from the starters and the bullpen. Only four guys on the staff allowed a run this week, and three of them were starters (one of those being Vince Velazquez, who still went 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA). The bullpen posted a 0.47 ERA in 19 innings of work this week and opponents his just .160 off of them. That’s remarkable, and a huge part in why this team went unbeaten despite some lackluster performances offensively. Jeanmar Gomez recorded four saves on the week, and David Hernandez picked up one win while throwing five innings over three games and allowing just two hits.

While I don’t believe a “fluke” is the right term for what is happening in Philly, (they’ve certainly played good baseball and earned every single one of those wins) I do think that it won’t continue unless the Phillies’ offense gets things sorted out. They remain one of the weakest offenses in the game with just 82 runs scored so far. They’re in the top third of the league when it comes to strikeouts (top meaning most strikeouts) and bottom third when it comes to walks, so their approaches at the plate just aren’t what they need to be. It probably isn’t the best influence for the young guys when your team’s most experienced hitter, Ryan Howard, is hitting below the Mendoza line, but this team needs to take better approaches at the plate (averaging just 2.64 walks a game as well).

With all of that said, this team still deserves kudos for going undefeated in week four, especially sweeping one of the top teams in the National League and holding their offense to basically nothing. Some of the young hitters had good weeks, Odubel Herrera now has a batting average of over .300, and Freddy Galvis drove in another four RBI this week. I think it would be great if this team can keep shocking people and playing good baseball. The pitching very strong, and if the offense can find its stride, they could surprise some people this year.

The Phillies play four games at St. Louis before a three-game set in Miami.

4. Miami Marlins (12-12) 5 GB

Despite Dee Gordon’s suspension hanging casting a shadow over the Marlins right now, they had a heck of a week. They swept the Dodgers on the road before taking two of three in Milwaukee to turn in a 5-1 performance. Martin Prado is one guy I haven’t given nearly enough kudos to this year. He hit .536 this week and his batting average is sitting at a whopping .410 right now. Prado has never been a guy who is going to blow people away with his power, but baseball isn’t all about the long ball. Having a guy hitting .410 at the top half of your lineup sets your offense up for success when you have guys hitting as well as Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich behind him. Stanton crushed four homers last week and now has five (as in, the amount that the Braves have hit all year) in his last seven games. This entire Marlins club hit very well in the month of April, sitting at 3rd in the MLB with a .277 team average. The trick for them has been finding ways to get guys home, but they did a much better job of that last week.

Adam Conley had a no-hitter through 7.2 innings before being taken out of the game on Friday. Photo courtesy of fishstripes.com

The pitching has also been a tricky spot for the Marlins. I said this weekend series could be a confidence builder for some of these Marlins starters who were struggling. I was halfway correct there. Adam Conley threw a no-hitter in his 7.2 innings against the Brewers, but I guess manager Don Mattingly saw that ESPN’s social media mentioned it, so he pulled him before he could get jinxed. In all seriousness, Conley was the guy at the back of this Marlins rotation who had really impressed me up to this point in the season, and that outing just showed why. While he did tie a season high four walks, he also struck out seven Brewers in 7.2 innings. Tom Koehler didn’t have such a smooth go of things on Sunday, getting shelled for eight runs in just 2.1 innings. He had a much better outing against the Dodgers earlier in the week, though, so consistency remains the name of the game for the back of this Marlins rotation. Justin Nicolino made his first start of 2016, replacing Jared Cosart in the rotation, and he looked stellar against the Dodgers, giving up two hits and no runs in 7.1 innings against the Dodgers.
Also, if you’re looking for a guy to replace Dee Gordon with at second base, look no further than Derek Dietrich (and yes, as a Georgia Tech student, this is a completely biased choice). But in all seriousness, Dietrich is hitting .325 on the year and has en route to what could very easily be his best year statistically. While he doesn’t have the same type of speed that Dee Gordon had (to be fair, very few in all the MLB do) he’s been just as consistent at the plate so far.

The Marlins are at home all week, with a three-game set against the D-Backs before hosting the Phillies over the weekend for three games.

5. Atlanta Braves (6-18) 11 GB

Well, at least Saturday’s game against the Cubs got postponed so Braves fans can say that didn’t lose the series over the weekend. Other than that it was more of the same from Atlanta, losses. They managed to scrape game four from the Red Sox and game two from the Cubs to go 2-4 on the week. It’s a wonder I’m able to type this article up with the apparent power outage still going on in Atlanta, hitting just five homers in the month of April. On the bright side, Freddie Freeman turned in his best week by far, hitting two homers and batting .455. Malex Smith was six for 10 on the week with three doubles, and is showing that there are some potential stars in Atlanta if they’re given some time to develop. Smith was off to a slow start, but is now hitting .389 in his last seven games. Other than that, it was more of the same from Nick Markakis, who continues to rack up the RBI. He is 6th in the NL with 20 on the season. Markakis is really the only source of RBI this season for the Braves, unfortunately, his 20 almost outscores the next three combined (Freeman, Garcia, and Smith combine for 21).

Unlike the Phillies, the Braves don’t have the pitching to salvage an under-performing offense. Julio Teheran turned in, arguably, his best two outings of the year, however, allowing one run in seven innings against Boston (but taking the hard-luck loss) and shutting out an explosive Cubs offense through seven innings (no decision). Aaron Blair made his second career start against the Cubs this weekend, and turned in a strong six innings of one-run ball. Blair is just one of the plethora of young arms the Braves have available to them, and will begin to groom over the next few seasons. Bud Norris continues to be a liability on the mound (putting it mildly), giving up six runs in 1.1 innings in Boston. His season ERA now sits at a whopping 8.74 on the year. Don’t be surprised if Norris gets bumped down to the bullpen soon and another young guy comes up for some big league action.

The Braves play three games in New York against the Mets and then host the Diamondbacks for a three-game series.

NL East Roundup: Washington Nationals

Here I’ll be continuing my NL East review with the Washington Nationals.  You can also see my thoughts on the Phillies, Braves, and Marlins.

The Nationals, despite ending with a winning record, were perhaps one of the more disappointing teams last season.  For the second straight year they came in as the preseason favorite to win the National League and failed to deliver, missing the playoffs entirely in 2015.  The team started off strong, but began faltering in the second half of the season, and ended up collapsing by the end.

The Nats, however, look to shrug off last season’s blunders and make a statement this season.  They are in a strong position to do so, with new manager Dusty Baker, along with last year’s unanimous NL MVP Bryce Harper and pitching ace Max Scherzer.  Baker provides a much needed mix up in the dugout, as previous manager Matt Williams certainly had his fair share of questionable decisions last year, especially during the Nationals second half slump.

Michael Taylor will look to earn the starting spot in center field for the Nationals. Taylor hit 14 home runs and stole 16 bases in 19 attempts in 2015. Photo courtesy of Washington Post

The Nationals return a majority of an offense that was top 3 in the National League in both runs and home runs in 2015.  The team brings a lot of experienced hitters to the plate, along with a couple of seasoned veterans in Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth.  Honestly with Spring Training starting March 2nd for the Nationals, I still think there is a fair bit of malleability in who makes the starting 9 for Opening Day.

I think the battle for center field between Ben Revere and Michael Taylor is probably the highlight as we head into Spring Training.  With the loss of Denard Span, the Nationals are going to want a consistent bat and speedy baserunner out of his replacement. Of the two, Revere is definitely the safer option at the start of the year, as he has more professional experience and has proven his ability to hit for average. With that in mind, I think Taylor has the higher potential of the two. While he does need to work on cutting down the strikeouts, he is absolutely lights out on the bases, and has shown that he is the superior of the two when it comes to power (Revere has 4 homers in his 6 year career, Taylor had 14 last year).  I think both players will be given ample opportunities to prove themselves in both center and left field, as current starter Jayson Werth’s endurance is beginning to fade after 13 years of playing.

The rest of the batting order looks very strong as well.  The acquisition of Daniel Murphy from the Mets in the offseason looks to be the most fruitful acquisition for Washington.  Murphy absolutely exploded in the postseason series against the Dodgers and the Cubs, homering in 7 of 8 games and being named NLCS MVP.  Fans are certainly hoping Murphy will continue to swing that hot of a bat come April.

On the other side of second base, it will be interesting to see how Danny Espinosa does in the field. Longtime shortstop Ian Desmond seemed to be somewhat of a liability there, so it can only be hoped that this offseason provided him with enough time to acclimate himself.  I think that regardless of who the Nationals choose for their starting 9, there will be plenty of talent at the plate.

For Jonathan Papelbon, strangling the National League MVP may not have made the best first impression with Nats fans. Photo courtesy of: http://sports.cbsimg.net/images/visual/whatshot/414papgrabsharpbyneck.jpg

The real concern for the Nationals pitching-wise doesn’t come from their rotation. If Strasburg can stay healthy and Scherzer can have even half the season he did last year, I think they should be in good shape.

The real concern comes from the bullpen. The Nats had the 5th lowest save percentage in the NL, converting just over 64% in 64 opportunities.  Jonathan Papelbon seems to be the undisputed closer now, with Drew Storen moving to Toronto. While Papelbon did have issues meshing with the team originally, (including one altercation where Papelbon seemed to strangle Bryce Harper) the players seem willing to move past them.

With a lot of firepower on offense, and arm in every slot in the rotation, the Nationals are primed for another great season. Hopefully the team chemistry will continue to increase throughout Spring Training, and some veteran ex-starters (Oliver Perez and Yusmeiro Petit) will be able to adapt to their new bullpen roles with some of the younger talent. The offense should be consistent throughout the year, so the Nats success will hinge a lot on Stephen Strasburg remaining healthy in the rotation, along with Tanner Roark and Joe Ross continuing to improve as young starting pitchers.  If these three can live up to their potential, it will then be up to the bullpen to ensure that their efforts are converted into curly W’s.