Washington Nationals 2018

Washington Nationals team profile

After a successful regular season, the Nationals came up short in the postseason once again. The franchise still has not won a postseason series. This year looked to be their year, as their roster had few holes in it especially after bolstering their bullpen. However, Game 5 in the NLDS slipped through their fingers, and now Washington is in a state of perplexity. What can they possibly do at this point that they have not already done?

The managerial carousal

The Washington Nationals fired another manager at the end of 2017. This time, Dusty Baker was the victim despite winning 192 games in two seasons and winning the NL East both years. He is also the third manager to be fired in five years in Washington.

Washington Nationals 2018

Dusty Baker is the latest example of how Washington is insecure at the manager role (Photo from AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

What makes the situation interesting is that they have still won their division four times in seven years. Not only that, but two of the three managers (Davey Johnson and Matt Williams) have won the NL manager of the year during their tenure in Washington.

Is the management really the problem? It is understandable why the front office points to the skipper role as the issue with their teams. This is apparent in the fact that there are no glaring issues in the roster. The bullpen was by far the weakest aspect of the team at the beginning of the season, but were able to make it an asset through trades.

Replacing the manager will not fix the Nationals’ issues. Dave Martinez has accumulated a lot of experience under the wing of Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay and Chicago. However, he still has a lot to learn as a manager seeing as this is his first gig. What it is really going to come down to is the Nationals being able to execute in the postseason.

Washington found themselves down 2-1 in the NLDS against the Cubs. They were able to win Game 4 in order to force a fifth and final game, and the offense really showed up when it needed to. The only problem was that Matt Wieters fell apart when it mattered most, and his mistakes cost the Nationals three runs in what ended up being a one run game.

The players need to be held more accountable, rather than thinking that the manager is the problem.

Bryce Harper and free agency

2018 marks the final year on superstar Bryce Harper’s contract, and oh boy will teams be coming out for him this time next year. No matter where he signs, expect for him to surpass Giancarlo Stanton for the largest contract in the sports world.

What has Nationals fans worried is that Harper has been rather aloof when it comes to his status in Washington. Harper asked Washington for a $400 million extension, which the team of course was not able to meet.

This is purely speculative, but it seems Harper made a rather high asking price just to see if the Nationals would meet it. It is hard to think that he expected Washington to pay up that kind of dough. It is very tempting for Harper to test free agency, so why not see if you can get that much?

Harper had to be ecstatic when he heard of Stanton’s record contract. That is because most teams would value Harper over Stanton at this point in time, despite the 59 home runs Stanton hit this year. The precedent of Stanton’s contract may just boost Harper’s value through the roof.

One ridiculous move that will never happen is Washington possibly trading Harper this offseason. Harper has never said out loud that he would like to stay in Washington, so his future there looks murky. With the high possibility of him chasing the money in 2018, why not see what you can get for him this offseason? One season of Harper’s services for a contender could be worth some very valuable prospects in the long run, and Washington should have an eye past 2018. This is especially the case since their current formula can’t seem to get them past the NLDS.

What is in store in 2018 for the Nationals?

Don’t expect a whole lot different in 2018. The NL East is going to be controlled by Washington once again. Brandon Kintzler, Matt Albers and Jayson Werth are some notable names leaving, but the core is still in tact. On top of that, Adam Eaton will be returning from his devastating injury he sustained early in the season.

Washington Nationals 2018

Eaton’s return to Washington will have a large impact. (Photo from MLB.com)

The Nationals ought to target an arm or two in order to bolster their bullpen. Other than that and maybe adding an arm like Jaime Garcia to the rotation, they shouldn’t be too active at the winter meetings barring any big news.

Derek Jeter and the Marlins will be taking a step back next season as the front office has expressed a desire to tear things down and build back up. Miami finished second place in the East despite being 20 games back of the Nationals. The Mets may be making moves this offseason in order to get back into their World Series form from a few years ago, but they are still far behind the Nationals.

The main questions is, who will face Washington in the NLDS? Also, will Dave Martinez make the difference that the front office hopes he can make? Either way, all of the 2018 season is already riding on whether or not they will make it past the NLDS.

The ultimate goal is the World Series obviously. However, they first need to win their first playoff series in franchise history.

 

Featured image from Sports Illustrated

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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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Dusty Baker: Is He to Blame For Nationals’ Game 5 Loss?

As Game 5 ended with heartbreak for Nationals fans, Baker moved into the media spotlight after throwing shade at Dave Roberts for overworking his ace Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw had pitched Game 4 on 3 day’s rest, but was then brought in to close out Game 5 and earn his first career save. Cubs fans will be quick to point out the hypocrisy in those words, as Baker is often criticized or overworking Cubs starters Kerry Wood and Mark Prior while managing there.

prior-and-wood

2 stud pitchers that both had injuries end promising careers. Dusty Baker is often who receives the criticism for their ruined careers for overworking their arms. Photo Courtesy of Sports Illustrated

The overworked pitchers is just one criticism of many that have plagued Dusty Baker throughout his managerial career. In Chicago, Dusty claimed that On Base Percentage is meaningless if you cannot knock in the runners. A true statement, if it just ended there. Baker went on to say, “Clogging up the bases isn’t that great to me.”. This concept was scoffed and laughed at by modern baseball analysts, especially when Baker brought in Corey Patterson and Willy Taveras to leadoff for the Cincinnati Reds, despite neither managing an OBP above .280 in their seasons in Cincinnati.

Baker is often criticized for never winning a World Series, despite only signing to manage teams that were at their peak or, in the Reds case, the farm was just starting to graduate to the MLB. His first management stint with the Giants saw him lead teams that included Barry Bonds in his prime, a Hall of Fame worthy player, until the perjury trial and steroid use dominated the media. The Cubs had studs like Sammy Sosa (who hit 40 hr’s that season despite being injured and suspended for his corked bat incident), Moises Alou, and the pitching triumvirate of Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, and Carlos Zambrano. The Reds may have been in the cellar when Baker started there, but players like Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Johnny Cueto, and Homer Bailey were just getting their first tastes of the MLB when he signed on there. The Reds would go on to make the playoffs three of his final four seasons with the team, never making it out of the NLDS.

It has been established that Baker is a very controversial manager, who uses old-school logic in a new era of baseball to ultimately fall short of playoff success. The problem with blaming the manager of any baseball team, however, is that hindsight is 20/20 and teams can overcome some manager deficiencies if the team executes when necessary.

werth-thrown-out-at-home

The play at the plate was not even close as all momentum was killed for Nationals after this. What went through third base coach Bob Henley’s head to send Werth here? Photo courtesy of MLB.com

The Nationals lost by one run in Game 5. The Nationals stranded 11 baserunners throughout the game. The Nationals best hitter, Daniel Murphy, went up against Clayton Kershaw, who had pitched almost 7 innings the game before, and could not convert with two men on base. Jayson Werth got thrown out at home in the 6th on a play that was nowhere near close (The full video in case you missed it). Had he been held, who knows what kind of inning that could have turned into against a rookie pitcher.

What can be blamed on Baker then? For starters, leaving in Scherzer too long with a one run lead. Terry Francona has been praised all week for his handling of the bullpen throughout the Indians sweep, bringing in Andrew Miller as early as the 5th inning to secure a lead through the middle of the games. Scherzer is one of the top pitchers in baseball, there is no denying that, but come playoff times, the manager has to be able to step up and make that decision. Scherzer was already at 90+ pitches going into the inning, it only makes sense to bring in a reliever, especially with the increase in home runs Scherzer has given up this year compared to past seasons.

Yet, when Dusty finally does bring in the bullpen shortly after, all they do is give up three more runs in the inning. Dusty goes on and uses five relievers just for that one inning, being a big fan of playing the splits (have lefties pitch to lefties is an example). Half of the bullpen utilized in one inning that amounts to three earned runs given up. The reliever choice and usage can only fall on Dusty’s shoulders.

The Nationals hired a controversial manager, who made a couple of questionable decisions in a playoff elimination game, that ultimately ended in a heartbreaking loss for his team. The truth of the matter is, Baker can share some of the blame, yet the Nationals players and assistant coaches execution throughout the game deserve most of the blame. The questionable send of Jayson Werth killed the momentum that had been brewing in the 6th for the Nationals, Harper getting picked off in the 5th amidst cries of a balk left a sour taste in fan’s mouths, and Kershaw getting out of the 9th inning jam to earn his first save are all moments that could have helped the game play out in the Nationals favor had those plays been executed differently. It is fun and easy to blame Dusty, especially with the history of postseason failure that looms over his head, but this time around, there are actually valid excuses that can be made to defend his performance this Game 5.

 

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: Week 5 Recap

Four teams are within three games of the owning top spot in NL East after the first week in May. It may not have been exactly what a lot of people were expecting to happen, but this division is looking more exciting by the week. The East has gone from a team with four teams below .500 to four teams now being over .500.

Despite these successes in the win column, the East still has four of the bottom six teams in the National League in regards to run production. That just shows how crucial the pitching is for the top four teams in this division.

The Atlanta Braves notwithstanding, the Nationals are probably the team in the biggest slump right now. This is the first time since the season started that they haven’t been atop the division. They just suffered a four-game sweep at the hands of the Cubs despite winning the series against the reigning World Series champions. Ryan Zimmerman is really in the doghouse after a very rough game on Sunday, stranding 14 guys on base batting after Harper, who got seven free passes.

While the Mets, who led the division with four wins last week, may still be around the bottom in the runs scored column in the NL, they actually lead the entire MLB in home runs. They continued their power surge, even getting some help from, in my opinion, one of the most entertaining guys to watch in the MLB when Bartolo Colon hit his first career home run at age 42.

The Marlins also won four games last week, and they’re also succeeding in the offensive category, at least everywhere except the scoring department. The Marlins are third in the MLB in batting average, with a .277 average. The trick for Miami is finding a way to get those runners home once they find their way on base.

Now, let’s take a closer look at each of the teams in the East.

1. New York Mets (19-11)

The Mets have settled in quite nicely after looking a little shaky in early April. They find themselves atop the East for the first time in 2016, and it’s looking like the rest of the division will be hard-pressed to find a slip up in New York to take advantage of. As I already said, the Mets lead the MLB in home runs, and Yoenis Cespedes hit four more home runs, and now has surpassed Neil Walker as the team’s homer leader on the year. Cespedes is also producing hits for average as well, hitting .320 over the past week. Lucas Duda also provided three homers, all of them solo shots, in the past week. Duda is hitting just .240 on the year, but the Mets haven’t needed him to be a contact hitter throughout his time in New York. Asdrubal Cabrera has been that average guy, bringing in four RBI last week and leading the team with a .306 average so far this year.

Bartolo Colon hit his first ever home run at age 42 against the Padres over the weekend. Photo courtesy of news-herald.com

The starter of the week in New York had to be Bartolo Colon. He went 2-0, allowing just three runs in his two starts and striking out 12 batters to just one walk in that time. On top of that, Colon broke the internet with his first career home run on Sunday. Colon continues to be a consistent pitcher in the five-hole in the rotation. He’s not a guy who is going to blow hitters away with his stuff, but he’ll provide workable starts and let the Mets offense do their job.

Noah Syndergaard suffered another loss and seemed to be in a minor slump, but it’s nothing to worry about. Matt Harvey continues to work himself out his own slump, with a win and a loss. The loss wasn’t bad by any stretch of the mind, but the Mets offense ended up being shut out by the Braves pitching staff. Steven Matz turned in another gem and continued to look sharp as well. With the majority of this Mets squad seeming to be on the up and up, this team could be tough to surpass in the upcoming weeks.

The Mets are on the road this week, with four games in Los Angeles against the Dodgers before going to Colorado for three games against the Rockies.

2. Washington Nationals (19-12) 0.5 GB

Bryce Harper didn’t get a lot of swings like this in on Sunday, walking six times. Harper walked more Sunday than MLB batting leader Martin Prado has all season. Photo courtesy of nbcwashington.com

The Nationals continue to be trending in the wrong direction with another sub-.500 week. They started off with two wins in a three-game stretch against the returning World Series champs, but the Cubbies then swept the Nats in a four-game series. The Cubs also seem to have figured out a plan for Bryce Harper. Harper was walked six times on Sunday, three times intentionally, along with a hit-by-pitch to not record an official at-bat for a record 12th straight plate appearance.

Ryan Zimmerman was the real victim of Chicago’s plan, stranding 14 men on base by himself, going one for seven on Sunday. There may need to be a reconstruction of the Nats batting order to put someone who has had more success at the plate, someone like Daniel Murphy, behind Harper to ensure opposition can’t just walk him to get to a “weaker” hitter.

The problem with this is, aside from Murphy, most of the Nats bats have been pretty inconsistent at the plate. Jayson Werth steps from time to time at the plate, leading the team with six RBI for the week, but he also hit less than .200 over that time. Wilson Ramos is looking better at the plate, now at .358 on the year, so he’s another potential candidate. But catchers often don’t see themselves playing as frequently as other position players, meaning Ramos may not always be in the lineup to back up Harper if that route is taken.

The Nationals arms didn’t have the best week. Max Scherzer got roughed up again and is having a hard time getting into a groove here in 2016. Joe Ross suffered his first loss of the year, but it wasn’t a bad start by any measure, two runs in 6.2 innings. A lot of the struggles came from the bullpen this week, like Jonathan Papelbon, Blake Treinen, and Sammy Solis all suffered losses. A lot of games were in rough spots when they were handed off to the bullpen, but the pen didn’t do the best job of keeping those games in winnable positions, so Nats fans have to be hoping that the arms can pick up the slack in the next week, and the offense can find a way to stop teams from pitching around Bryce Harper.

The Nationals host the Tigers for three games before playing host to the Marlins for four more games.

3. Philadelphia Phillies (18-14) 2 GB

The Phillies had a rough series against a struggling Cardinals before rebounding against the Marlins. The offense continued to be the difference in the games. It struck late in the last two games of the Marlins to secure the series against the Marlins. In other games, however, it proved lackluster. The Phillies put up just eight runs in the four-game series against St. Louis.

The usual suspects continued to be at work for the Phils this week. Ryan Howard, Maikel Franco, and Freddy Galvis were top three in RBI on the week but continue to struggle in the batting average category. Odubel Herrera continues to step it up in that category, hitting .393 on the week and bringing his season average up to .324. The good news for the Phillies offense is that it looked better in the Marlins series, topping its season average of a little more than 3 runs per game in 2 of the three games. The offense can take advantage of some of the struggling and weaker pitching as the Marlins bullpen proved to be in the series.

The Phillies pitching had a rougher week but still saw a solid outing from Aaron Nola. Nola seems to be settling in as the season rolls on, which is good to see for Phillies fans. The bullpen, after dominating in week 4, had a tough go of things in week 5. Jeanmar Gomez blew his first save of the season (but also picked up another 3) while Andrew Bailey and Brett Oberholtzer had trouble getting outs in their appearances on the week. The Phils offense saw a step in the right direction this week, which helped make up for the pitching’s step down (being fair to them it’s hard to go much higher than they were). If Philly can find a happy medium, then it could continue to lurk around in the division.

The Phillies play three games in Atlanta before coming home for a three game set against the Reds.

4. Miami Marlins (16-14) 3 GB

The Marlins were a couple of bad bullpen outings from a perfect 6-0 on the week and sitting just a game back of New York. That said, a four-win week still helps the Marlins a good bit in the division, as three games back in May is nothing to worry about.

The Marlins saw Christian Yelich hit three homers last week after having just 1 in the previous 4. Yelich had been quiet after getting off to the hot start, but he’s still producing very efficiently in the middle of the lineup, and with Giancarlo Stanton continuing to hit homers, now at 10 on the year, the Marlins offense could continue to see better production. Marcell Ozuna also had two homers, along with hitting .417. Ozuna had a very impressive week and is a testament to the strong young hitters the Marlins have in their organization.

The pitching was the opposite of what was expected this week, with the bottom of the rotation turning in strong starts, and the first two in the rotation having a rough time. Adam Conley had a heck of an outing for the second straight time and is solidifying himself as a solid arm at the bottom of the rotation. Tom Koehler was snuffed a win despite pitching seven innings of 1 run ball. The real problem for the Marlins arms this week was the bullpen, which surrendered six runs and took two losses on Saturday and Sunday against the Phillies.

The Marlins play three games at home against the Brewers before going to Washington for a three-game series.

Atlanta Braves (7-23) 12 GB

The Braves only grabbed one win on the week. Freddie Freeman continues to work out of his slump, but the rest of the team is unable to produce any runs. Freeman hit another homer, along with young outfielder Malex Smith. At this point the Braves are just looking to find more guys like Smith who will be able to provide a base for this team in a few seasons.

Matt Wisler was the only Braves arm to stand out, throwing eight innings of 1-hit shutout ball against the Mets. Other than that is was a pretty dismal week for Braves arms. Jhoulys Chacin gave up four homers in his start, and Jim Johnson lasted just 2.1 innings in his. I guess the other small victory was Julio Teheran. Teheran gave up just one run through 5 innings in a no-decision effort against the D-Backs.

The Braves play three at home against the Phils before three games in Kansas City against the Royals.

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.

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.

NL East Opening Week Recap

Baseball is finally back and in full swing with the start of April. I’ll be covering the National League East over the course of the year. If you’re new to the division, feel free to check out my preview of the division, to see how the teams should fare over the course of 2016. Unfortunately, the end of Spring Training means some of the teams will have to return to their chillier homesteads and dream of the days where they get to make their trips down to Miami and Atlanta.

The Nationals are looking to pick up right where they left off in Spring Training, with a hot 3-1 start to sit atop the division. But that’s a pretty trivial matter in the minds of Nats fans compared to Herbert Hoover adding a new face in the President’s Race at Nationals Park. While I’m guessing Hoover was chosen more for his love of baseball than his time in office, it’s still always nice to see the Nats continuing to grow the spectacle; although why Hoover’s eyes are yellow remains a valid question.

But having mascots race on the warning track isn’t all a team needs to win games, apparently. The Braves have less wins in 2016 than Two-Bit the Drill has in his career (one). On the bright side, manager Fredi Gonzalez has the best hugger in the league in Freddie Freeman to console him until they can break the goose egg.

The rest of the East hasn’t been so hot out of the gate either. The Mets are 2-3, the Phillies are 2-4 and the Marlins are 1-3.

The biggest surprise out of these three has to be the Mets. It’s certainly far too early to start panicking, but Matt Harvey is already 0-2 to begin the year and has recorded less than 3 Ks in back-to-back outings for the first time in his career. The Mets had decent pitching outings, but the offense has been predictably quiet and will continue to pose a question for the team.

The Phillies are producing very well on offense, but their pitching has been an issue for them, just as many feared it would be. The Phils have scored the most runs in the division with 18, but have allowed 28 through 6 games. If the Phillies can shore up this offense/defense imbalance, they could find this year to be very constructive in the rebuilding process.

Marlins pitchers are throwing about as accurately as the real thing would on the mound. The staff has 16 walks through 29 innings of work which has helped play a part in their 1-3 start. It doesn’t help that they started their season off against a reinvigorated Detroit Tigers team and a smoking hot Nationals team either. With that said, their offense is tied with Philadelphia at the top of the East with 18 runs scored. If Miami can shore things up on the mound and provide less free passes, some of the narrow losses, like the one suffered Sunday in Washington, could turn into victories.

Through the week, the division between predicted top two and bottom three of this league can be very easily seen in the runs allowed category. The five teams all sit at the bottom of the NL offensively in runs, but the Nationals and Mets have just 12 runs allowed each (the best in the NL). The Marlins have allowed 23, the Phillies 28, and the Braves are at 38. Now, let’s take a more in depth look at the teams in the NL East working from the top down.

1. Washington Nationals (3-1)

The first week of play only confirmed a lot of suspicions about the Nationals coming into the season. The first being that Bryce Harper is still really good at baseball. He belted his first homer of the year in his first at-bat of the year in Atlanta, and sits at two through just four games. Daniel Murphy is also producing at the plate, leading the team with 5 RBI and also homering on Opening Day. The starting rotation has looked good in their 2016 debuts, with three of the four delivering quality starts and allowing a combined 4 runs between them.

Matt den Dekker got the call up from Las Vegas when Ben Revere went on the DL. Photo courtesy of foxsports.com

The two worries for Washington continue to be their bullpen and injuries. Jonathan Papelbon is 3 for 3 in save opportunities so far, but getting it over to him with the game intact has not always been easy for the middle arms. Ben Revere was not on the injury-watch list coming into the year; there were some worries about older players like Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth, but nobody suspected Revere would go down with an oblique strain on Opening Day. The good news is that his replacements Michael Taylor and Matt den Dekker have already displayed that they can produce in Revere’s absence. Taylor drove in the game-tying RBI in the top of the 9th on Opening Day, and den Dekker drove in 2 runs in the Nats’ 3-1 win in game 2 against the Braves.

Washington starts this week at home for a four-game bout with the Braves before going to Philadelphia for a three-game series. Their schedule remains fairly light throughout the majority of April, especially if their starting pitching can continue to hold down the fort.

2. New York Mets (2-3)

The Mets split their two-game World Series rematch versus the Royals to open up the year and dropped two of three at home against NL East rival Philadelphia. Matt Harvey hasn’t looked like himself in his initial two starts, giving up 7 runs over 11.2 innings and only striking out 5 batters. The rest of the staff has looked very good, however. Noah Syndergaard delivered a scoreless outing against the reigning World Series champs and Bartolo Colon shows he can still make plays at 42 years old (and deliver a quality start in the process).

Unfortunately for Colon and the rest of this Mets rotation, the offense has been quiet to start 2016. The Mets would end up shouldering Colon with a loss 1-0 in that game despite a strong 7.1 innings of work. The top average on the team is already below .300 with David Wright hitting .267 through 5 games. Neil Walker is producing runs at the plate, leading the team with 5 RBI, but other than that the Mets bats have been very quiet. Yoenis Cespedes, definitely seen as the potential spark offensively for this team is hitting just .200 and leads the team with 7 strikeouts.

Mets fans came into the season knowing that their offense would just have to provide enough run support for a stellar rotation. But with Matt Harvey in an early slump and Jacob deGrom potentially going on paternity leave, they may have to step it up and provide more at the plate. New York hosts Miami for three games before heading to Cleveland for a three-game series.

3. Philadelphia Phillies (2-4)

Philadelphia’s offense is tied for the best in the NL East with the Marlins. Sadly, this still puts them in 11th in the NL in run production. Ryan Howard is showing that he still can provide the big bat, knocking 2 homers through 6 games. A couple of young guys, Maikel Franco and Cesar Hernandez, are hitting above .400 to start off the year as well. The Phillies are showing that they have the components to build a contending team some years down the road, they just lack experience.

The pitching continues to be somewhat troublesome for the Phillies. While they are a far cry from the worst in the NL (almost half as many runs allowed as Colorado), they still are getting shelled in the bottom three-fifths of the rotation. Jeremy Hellickson has looked very good in two starts. He was just one-third of an inning shy of opening up the season with two quality starts. He held the Mets to 2 runs on just 3 hits in 7 innings of work, and has 11 strikeouts so far this year. Aaron Nola went 7 innings in his initial outing against the Reds, striking out 8 and giving up just 1 run. Vince Velazquez also had an auspicious first start in a Phillies uniform, going 6 scoreless and fanning 9 Mets.

The Phillies start a 10-game homestead with a four-game series against San Diego. They finish out the week in a three-game bout vs. Washington.

4. Miami Marlins (1-3)

Christian Yelich is looking for another. 300+ season in 2016. He and Giancarlo Stanton both have home runs for the Marlins through 4 games. Photo courtesy of cbssports.com

Who says that fish can’t walk? Miami arms have walked 16 batters in their initial 29 innings of work. Administering so many free passes puts undue stress on these young pitchers who are already under pressure acclimating themselves to the Bigs. Wei-Yin Chen and Jose Fernandez both suffered rough outings at the hands of the Detroit Tigers to open the year. Chris Conley only went 1 inning in his start against Washington, and ended up ceding 3 runs on just 2 hits in that time.

Dee Gordon is looking good in the leadoff spot, as usual, hitting .421 thus far. Giancarlo Stanton is off to a respectable start, with a .294 average and 1 home run so far. Christian Yelich is also off to a strong start, hitting .321 with Miami’s only other dinger. Yelich has proven his offensive worth over the first two full seasons with the Marlins, and could be a strong asset as the year progresses.

Miami travels to New York for a three-game series before coming home to host the Atlanta Braves this week.

5. Atlanta Braves (0-5)

The Braves are using 2016 as a year to rebuild. Ask them, ask me, ask a vast majority of people in baseball and they’ll all tell you that. All the same, it’s got to hurt to be a Braves fan this year. Nick Swisher and Adonis Garcia are the leading players for the Braves at the plate so far. Swisher is hitting .300 with 4 doubles in 20 at-bats, and Garcia has one of the team’s 3 homers so far. One of the other guys with a home run, Freddie Freeman, is off to a surprisingly rocky start. Freeman has just one hit besides his first inning blast on Opening Day.

The pitching hasn’t looked very good stat-wise either. Only two guys on the team that have appeared on the mound haven’t surrendered a run yet. Julio Teheran has had a hard time on the hill as a starter, he’s gone just 10 IP in 2 games, with a 8/7 strikeout to walk ratio. There wasn’t a lot of pressure on the Braves to perform this year, so expect to hear that a lot when people discuss the Braves throughout the year. They’ll continue to take beatings on the mound as this year continues to trudge on in Atlanta.

Nats Primed for Hot Start in April

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016 National League East Preview

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

1. Washington Nationals

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. New York Mets

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Miami Marlins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Philadelphia Phillies

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Atlanta Braves

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

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

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

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

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

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