Three Potential MLB Trade Deadline Deals

Jon Lucroy

Could Jonathan Lucroy be on the move? Credit to Jim McIsaac of Getty Images

The trade deadline is looming, and it gives MLB teams both the chance to reload for the playoff race or unload for the future. The MLB deadline is notorious for being a whirlwind of activity all day, with trades being announced all over social media and television. This article will outline some of the more obvious candidates to be moved as August 1st looms, along with some of the potential returns that could be gained by each team on both sides of the trade.

 
Jonathan Lucroy is an obvious candidate because he has bounced back from his injury plagued 2015 season to be a 2016 National League All Star for the Brewers. This season his average has been hovering around .300 all season coupled with 13 home runs and being near the top in a number of defensive categories, which displays him as one of the top all-around catchers in the game.
The Brewers are sitting 16.5 games back in the division and are looking to quickly rebuild their team, so Lucroy could be moved to a contender in exchange for prospects. Lucroy’s contract does not hinder a team, with him earning $4 million in 2016 and him having a team option for $5.25 million on his contract for 2017.
The cost would be heavy because he is not in a contract year and he is an elite catcher, so that limits the interested parties to teams that have a deep enough farm system for him. Ultimately, I think the Indians close the deal on him, especially with the troubles facing Yan Gomes all season. It would be a hefty price to pay, but I think the Indians get it done by starting a package around both Bradley Zimmer (Outfielder) and Justus Sheffield (Left-Handed Pitcher), both of whom are top 100 prospects according to mlb.com.
Despite the Brewers having a number of Outfielder prospects already, Zimmer would jump in front of all of them in terms of both getting to the MLB first and in the farm system rankings. Sheffield is a young pitcher who has the potential for three above average pitches by the time he reaches the majors. He has the floor of a mid-rotation guy but could develop into a front-line starter if his development remains strong. The Indians have, arguably, the best young rotation in baseball, so losing Sheffield will not hurt. Zimmer would hurt a little, but the Indians have enough outfield depth in their system that it only stings, especially since Zimmer has not been performing as well as the Indians’ other stud outfield prospect Clint Frazier.

 

Update: The latest news has the Rangers eyeing Lucroy as an alternative to paying for pitching. Lucroy is an excellent defensive backstop and would help strengthen the rotation from a different perspective. Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reported the Rangers interest first.
Source: http://sportsday.dallasnews.com/texas-rangers/rangers/2016/07/29/rangers-take-indirect-path-improve-pitching-rotation

 

Jay Bruce

Jay Bruce smiling at the idea of moving to a contender. Credit to Sam Greene for the photo.

Jay Bruce is another strong candidate to be moved before the deadline comes on the first of August. The right fielder has produced an all-star season for the Cincinnati Reds, hitting .271 and knocking in 79 RBI’s (runs batted in), leading the league at the time of writing. Bruce has always been known as a power left-handed bat, yet many Reds fans were worried about his power outage in the 2nd half of 2015 that maybe he was not the player that was a staple in their playoff lineups through the early 2010’s. All worries have been erased though, and with the Reds sitting comfortably in last place in the National League Central, the time appears ripe to make a deal.

 

Bruce, just like Lucroy, also has a team option for 2017, so Bruce would not be a rental for a team, but also a contributor for all of next season. His biggest knock is his defensive value this season, with him leading the league in errors in right field.

 

According to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN, Bruce still has at least 4 teams interested, including the Mariners, despite the defensive deficiencies. The Reds want at least one top prospect, it is just a matter of how valuable that one top prospect is when all is said and done.
The arms race may drive up the price for Bruce, but I think a deal will be struck between the Reds and the Rangers for a package headlined by Jurickson Profar. Profar was once a top prospect in baseball, before injuries and lack of playing time has diminished his reputation a tad. The Reds would use him in the infield, especially if Zack Cozart and/or Brandon Phillips are traded either at the deadline or in the offseason. Even without a middle infield trade for the Reds, Profar can slot into third base for a slumping Eugenio Suarez and will be expected to handle the middle of the diamond in the future.
The Rangers infield is set for the foreseeable future, especially with Adrian Beltre signing his extension through the 2018 season, so Profar’s loss would not hurt too badly. Bruce would fill the third slot in the outfield for the Rangers and bring some power to a team that is hurting in the outfield. Rookie Nomar Mazara started hot, but has been slumping as late, and the Rangers currently have Shin-Soo Choo on the disabled list.

Update: Latest rumors have the Dodgers circling Bruce still. Bruce was rumored to be involved in a 3 way trade with the Dodgers, Rays and Reds, but those talks have stalled according to Jayson Stark of ESPN. Other potential teams, as of now, include the Nationals, Mets, and Mariners.
Source: https://twitter.com/jaysonst/status/759390902813093888

Jeremy Hellickson

Jeremy Hellickson has been dealing all season, could he be moved as well? Photo from Gary Landers of the Associated Press.

Jeremy Hellickson is the final player that will be analyzed in this article. Hellickson broke through with the Rays before being traded to the Dbacks in 2015, and then the Phillies in his final year before he hits free agency. Since joining the Phillies, he has displayed ample skill that has led to a 3.65 ERA (Earned Run Average) and a WHIP (Walks+Hits per Innings Pitched) sitting at 1.12. His bounce-back this season has led to the Phillies shopping him around.
The Phillies are out of the playoff race and Hellickson remains their strongest chip to trade. The starting market is rather thin, as evidenced by the return the Padres got for a struggling Andrew Cashner this season. The only other strong rental starting pitcher, Rich Hill, has been hit with nagging injuries over the past couple weeks which has hurt his trade value. The Phillies also have three young starting pitchers that the team will focus on building around and as such, will not have a need for Hellickson in the future.
As previously mentioned, Hellickson will be on the last year of his contract before hitting free agency. A perk of trading for Hellickson is that the receiving team will be able to potentially get a draft pick for him if he signs the other team. Hellickson will be able to receive a qualifying offer from the team, which if turned down, will grant the team a draft pick at the end of the first round in the following amateur draft.
There are a number of teams that could be interested in adding to their rotation including the Rangers, Orioles, Blue Jays and Dodgers. After seeing the return for Andrew Cashner on 7/29, the Phillies will be in a prime position to get at least one stud prospect. I am going to go with the Blue Jays that make the trade for Hellickson, who would slot in to the back-end of the rotation and push Marcus Stroman into the bullpen for the playoff push. The Blue Jays have gotten solid seasons from castaway veterans Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ, along with an arguably Cy-Young season from their young stud Aaron Sanchez. Combined with the potent Blue Jays offense, Hellickson could be one of the final pieces to their playoff puzzle.
In exchange, the Phillies would receive a package centered around the pitcher Sean Reid-Foley, who has been dominant at both Low and High A minor league ball this season. The Phillies have a plethora of stud position player prospects in their farm system, but have graduated their handful of stud pitching prospects to the majors already this season. Reid-Foley has a four pitch arsenal, with his fastball, slider, and changeup all grading out to be above-average offerings. He could easily slot in to the middle of the rotation for the Phillies down the road.

NL East Weekly: 6/20-6/26

Remember that lead I said the Nationals could grow last week? That’s gone now, and the NL East is once again a tight race through the top three spots. Washington saw its divisional lead shrink to just three games over the course of last week, on the back of some light offensive production and mediocre pitching performances. It gets worse for Washington, too, as they saw one of their best arms in Stephen Strasburg end up on the DL for the first time in 2016.

Meanwhile the Mets and Marlins were able to take advantage of the Nats’ off week, with the Marlins taking three games out of four from the World Series favorite, the Cubs. The Marlins bats have been heating up at the right time, and I honestly they might be the contenders atop the NL East at the All-Star break.

Meanwhile the Braves continue to make the Mets’ life difficult, splitting the four game series vs. New York this week, making them 5-2 in their last seven meetings. Then there’s the Phillies, who continue to make their own life difficult, dropping two of three to the Twins, despite actually putting up a decent number of runs throughout the week.

This division just continues to get more difficult to predict as we near the home stretch of the first half of the 2016 season. Injuries, massive slumps, and Minor/Major League reassignments continue to play a factor in a division that struggles with consistency in the first place. Now we’ll take a closer look at the (once again) tight NL East.

1. Washington Nationals (44-32)

The Nationals had arguably their worst week of baseball last week, winning just one of their six games. As if this wasn’t hard enough for the Nats and their fans to swallow, throw in Stephen Strasburg ending up on the DL with an upper-back strain and you’ve got a living nightmare for Washington.

Last week the only guy who was giving Washington hope was Wilson Ramos, who continues to have a phenomenal year at the plate. Ramos hit .409, hitting a homer and driving in three RBIs. Ramos spilled the beans on his success a few weeks ago, telling ESPN that he had Lasik surgery in the offseason. I’m just saying, if Lasik can take a guy who hit .229 last year and turn him into a .342 hitter, I think Ramos should introduce the rest of his team to his surgeon, because some of them need it currently. The two that need it most are the current guys splitting time in center field, Michael Taylor and Ben Revere. Taylor hit .143 while Revere hit just .111 last week, with Taylor only coming around to score once (which was still more than Revere). When your two players who are supposed to be splitting time at the leadoff position are going a combined .125, your offense is going to struggle.

Even if Taylor and Revere were able to get on base, it’s hard to tell if the middle of this order could even bring them home. Daniel Murphy is by far the most consistent hitter here, but even he’s fallen from grace as of late, hitting .254 in his last 15 games, causing his average to drop from .376 to .349. He still leads the team in RBIs, driving in two more last week to give him a season total of 48. I’m sure Bryce Harper was wishing he could complain about his batting average “only” being .349 this year, as he continues to battle a mid-season slump. Harper did hit a solo homer last week, but otherwise hit just .214 on the week and is now batting .236 in his past 30 games.

Last week was not a good week to be a Nationals pitcher, because they were all getting hurt or suffering losses, with Tanner Roark being the sole arm with a W last week. Roark looked solid in both of his outings, giving up three runs in 7.1 innings against the Dodgers on Tuesday, before shutting out the Brewers through seven to secure Washington’s only victory on the week. Joe Ross turned in a quality 6.1 innings of two run ball against the Dodgers on Wednesday, but aside from that it was fairly ugly for the Nats’ staff. Max Scherzer and Gio Gonzalez both had rough times, with Scherzer allowing five runs in six innings against Milwaukee on Friday and Gonzalez lasting just three innings and surrendering six runs on Saturday. If Gonzalez keeps up this pace, he’s 0-4 in five starts this month, don’t be surprised to see him being optioned to Minor League ball to find his stuff again soon.

It wasn’t a much better time for the Nats bullpen. Yusmeiro Petit was moved up to fill in for Stephen Strasburg with a start against the Dodgers on Monday. It was a tall task for Petit, facing off against LA ace Clayton Kershaw, but he didn’t do poorly by any stretch of the mind, giving up three runs in six innings, but ultimately took the loss. Interim closer Shawn Kelly blew a save opportunity in game three of the Dodgers series and also took a loss because of it, but was able to convert his second opportunity of the week against Milwaukee on Sunday.

The Nationals start up another key three-game series against the Mets this week, looking to re-extend their now three game divisional lead. They then remain at home to play the Cincinnati Reds in a four game bout beginning Thursday.

2. New York Mets (40-34) 3 GB

The Mets started off the week well, sweeping their World Series rivals from 2015 two games to none. Then they headed to Atlanta, looking to exact revenge for the sweep dealt to them the weekend prior. They didn’t exactly do that, but they were able to at least take a couple of games this time around.

James Loney has quietly produced in the absence of Lucas Duda. Photo courtesy of nj.com

Yoenis Cespedes suffered some slight left wrist discomfort in the middle of the week. Mercifully for the Mets, this discomfort only cost him one start, but we’ll see if the issue persists throughout the year, or alters his plate approach. Cespedes went 3-for-13 in three games following Thursday’s missed start, driving in one RBI. He was 4-for-6 in the two games prior, against the Royals, hitting a solo homer in Tuesday’s win. James Loney remains a consistent bat in place of Lucas Duda, hitting .364 with a homer and four RBIs last week. Meanwhile Travis D’Arnaud, who returned from the DL on Tuesday, recorded just two hits last week, but still turned in quality ABs, notching three RBIs. Hopefully, D’Arnaud is able to turn his season around, as he was hitting just .196 before heading to the DL in April. The three RBIs are a good start, however, as he had just one before his injury.

The Mets also executed some high profile transactions last week, involving outfielder Michael Conforto, along with former (and now current) Met Jose Reyes. Conforto was optioned to triple-A Las Vegas on Saturday, recalling Brandon Nimmo, who went 0-for-4 in his debut on Sunday. Prior to Sunday, Nimmo had no previous MLB at-bats; but the Mets felt that Conforto, who was hitting .135 in his last 30 games, wasn’t producing at the level the Mets needed him to, and needed time to re-focus with Las Vegas. Meanwhile Reyes made his debut with the single-A Brooklyn Cyclones at third base on Sunday. Reyes has no significant experience at the position, but wouldn’t be the first shortstop to convert to the hot corner. Current third baseman, Wilmer Flores, is batting .240 with three homers, 12 RBIs, and a steal on the year. Reyes’ most valuable attribute would be his speed, as Sandy Alderson wants to use him as a leadoff man. This allows the Mets to move Curtis Granderson out of the top spot and put him somewhere where his power can drive in more runs. It also means the Mets should be able to manufacture more runs with speed; their current top base stealer is David Wright (the same on who has been on the DL for a month) with three steals this year.

On the mound, Steven Matz continues to struggle while Jacob deGrom continues to operate with little to no run support. Matz lasted just 4.1 innings and surrendered six runs against the Braves on Friday. He’s now 0-2 in June, with a 5.91 ERA; he was 4-0 with a 1.31 ERA last month. Let’s not forget that the Mets didn’t option starter Matt Harvey when he was struggling earlier this year, so they’ll handle Matz the same way, and let him work out his problems on his own. Meanwhile, deGrom turned in a gem with eight shutout innings against the Braves, but didn’t factor in the decision due to a lack of offense. DeGrom hasn’t looked horrible this year, but certainly appeared to be on a lower level than he was in 2015. Hopefully this start is a sign of good things to come from the Mets starter, who hasn’t won a start since April 30th. Closer Jeurys Familia continues to be a rock when given the opportunity, converting all four of his save opportunities this week. He now leads the MLB with 26 saves.

The Mets play some of their most critical games of the year before the All-Star break. They begin this stretch on Monday, with a three game series in Washington. They then host the Cubs for four games at Citi Field.

3. Miami Marlins (41-35) 3 GB

The Marlins are picking up speed in the division, splitting a two-game set with the Braves before taking a four game series against arguably the best team in baseball, the Chicago Cubs. This week finally saw the power trio of Ozuna, Stanton, and Bour all produce this week, and shows just how scary this lineup is when all three of them are on.

Justin Bour cranked three homers and drove in nine runs last week. Photo courtesy of foxsports.com

Marcell Ozuna has been the most consistent of Miami’s big three this year. Ozuna hit .333 and belted three solo homers last week. Justin Bour also had a killer week at the plate, also smoking three home runs en route to a nine RBI week. Bour has really begun to turn it on in the past couple of weeks, batting .372 with five homers and recording 17 RBIs. Giancarlo Stanton has had the roughest 2016 out of Miami’s big three, but looked to get things back on track last week. He hit his first two homers of the month last week, and drove in six RBIs.

Adam Conley had another good outing on the mound last week, this time looking much more in control of his pitches. Conley, who had five walks in 5.2 innings against the Rockies a couple of weeks ago, walked just one man, and shut the Braves out through eight innings of work on Wednesday. Conley has been the best starter not named Jose Fernandez for the Marlins this year, and if he’s able to continue developing and maintaining control of his pitches on the mound, the Marlins staff may not look like as much of a hindrance as it did in the first two months of the season.

Speaking of Jose Fernandez: he had not one, but two masterful outings, despite only picking up one win last week. He went seven innings in starts against both the Braves and the Cubs. He allowed one hit and no runs against Atlanta, then struck out 13 and allowed just one run against the Cubs on Sunday.

Starter Paul Clemens, who replaced Justin Nicolino in the rotation this week, made his first two appearances of 2016 last week. While neither performance was jaw-dropping, he was able to pick up the win on Saturday against the Cubs. The offense won’t be able to bail him out of every start, however, as his 6.30 ERA last week was offset by Miami’s average of nine runs per game in his starts. Still, as a whole this rotation seems to be getting better, and if the Marlins are able to snag a quality starter before the trade deadline, they could make some serious noise in the playoff picture this year.

The Marlins play two games in Detroit beginning Tuesday before heading to Atlanta for four games.

4. Philadelphia Phillies (32-45) 12.5 GB

The Phillies actually saw their bats come together and create some runs last week, after an abysmal showing in weeks prior. Unfortunately, the Phils arms continue to struggle, causing Philadelphia to pick up just a couple of wins last week.

Freddy Galvis led the way in the RBI category, notching seven last week. Galvis is looking to get back on the right foot, hitting .280 last week after hitting just .083 the week prior. Tommy Joseph also had a rough go of things a couple weeks ago, but was able to knock a homer and bring in three RBIs last week. Cameron Rupp slugged three home runs last week and had four RBIs.

Peter Bourjos and Cody Asche had the most consistent weeks at the plate last week, both hitting above .400. Bourjos hit .478 with a homer and four RBIs, while Asche hit .400 with a pair of runs driven in. The Phillies had an uncharacteristically good week at the plate overall, but just haven’t been able to put the offense and pitching together most nights, causing them to drop more and more games.

The pitching has been the primary concern as of late in Philly. After carrying the team through the first 41 games, the last 36 have been rough. Aaron Nola continues to slump on the mound, allowing 13 runs in his two starts last week. Seven of those runs came in three innings against the Twins, handing Nola his seventh loss of 2016. Nola has had a disastrous June, going 1-3 with a 10.42 ERA in contrast to a 3-2 May with a 2.31 ERA.

Jeremy Hellickson also had two starts last week, but neither were quite as bad as Nola’s. Hellickson picked up his first win of June on Saturday against the Giants, but also took the loss in Monday’s start against the D-Backs after allowing three runs in seven innings of work.

Jerad Eickhoff remains the one bastion of hope in this current Phils rotation, getting the win after tossing six innings of two-run ball against the Twins on Thursday. Eickhoff is 3-2 in June, with a 2.01 ERA and hasn’t allowed more than three runs in a start since May 28th.

The Phillies play three games in Arizona before returning home for a three game series against the Royals over the weekend.

5. Atlanta Braves (26-49) 17.5 GB

This season hasn’t been great for the Braves and their fans, but honestly, they’ve looked a lot better in June than they did in May or April. The Braves have actually looked competitive the past couple of weeks, splitting both series last week against two of the top teams in the division.

Adonis Garcia only recorded three hits last week in 17 at-bats. But two of those hits were big home runs against the Mets, one of them being the game winner off of Addison Reed in the eighth inning on Thursday. It’s hard to see where exactly Garcia fits in this Braves team, he’s a decent bat with some good pop, but he isn’t one of the several young guys that the Braves are relying on to build the franchise over the next couple of years. Still, he remains to be a decent bat, and may continue to prove a valuable asset to Atlanta. Another older guy who has been getting things done at the plate recently is Nick Markakis. He hit .417 last week and came around to score four times, as well as notching his team-leading 40th RBI. He, like Garcia, is still proving to be a valuable asset, despite not being as young as the majority of this Braves roster.

Of course, Atlanta’ s most valuable asset continues to be Freddie Freeman, who hit his 13th homer of the year last week, and drove in two runs. Along with Freeman, Jace Peterson hit .308 with a homer and three RBIs last week. The Braves are starting to show a solid mix of older and younger guys both producing, as this offense continues to trend in the right direction, despite its poor start to the year.

On the mound, Julio Teheran continues to lead the way for these Braves arms. He tossed another scoreless gem through eight innings against the Mets on Saturday. Teheran’s June looked very similar to May: hosting a record that doesn’t reflect how good he’s pitched. He’s gone just 2-2 over his five starts this month, but has posted a 1.91 ERA, struck out 37 batters, and surrendered just eight runs in total. I still think Teheran has the biggest chance of ending up in another jersey this year, as the trade deadline approaches.

Aside from Teheran, this staff still needs some work. But Bud Norris has looked a lot better since returning from the bullpen earlier this month. He’s picked up a couple of wins and is 2-1 with a 2.08 ERA in six appearances, five of them starts, this month. Norris made two starts last week, including seven shutout innings vs. the Mets on Sunday.

The remaining young arms continue to struggle. Matt Wisler had some control issues on Thursday against the Mets, walking four men in 6.2 innings. John Gant didn’t walk a man in his 5.2 innings, but surrendered three runs in his loss against the Marlins on Wednesday. Aaron Blair failed to make it five innings against the Mets on Friday, giving up eight runs on seven hits through 4.1 innings of work. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Braves continued to ferry guys throughout the organization until they have a suitable fifth-slot starter. Gant and Wisler have shown some potential this year, but Blair may just need more time and confidence with triple-A Gwinnett.

The Braves play seven games at home this week, starting with three against the Marlins. They then host the red hot Indians for four games.

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NL East Weekly: 6/13-6/19

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

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

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

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

1. Washington Nationals (43-27)

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

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

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

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

2. Miami Marlins (37-32) 5.5 GB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Philadelphia Phillies (30-40) 13 GB

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

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

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

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

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

5. Atlanta Braves (23-46) 19.5 GB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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NL East Weekly: 5/30-6/4

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Washington Nationals (34-23)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Miami Marlins (30-27) 4 GB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Philadelphia Phillies (28-29) 6 GB

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

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

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

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

5. Atlanta Braves (16-40) 17.5 GB

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

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

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

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

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

NL East Weekly: 5/23-5/29

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

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

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

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

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

1. Washington Nationals (30-21)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Philadelphia Phillies (26-24) 3.5 GB

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

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

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

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

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

Miami Marlins (26-24) 3.5 GB

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Atlanta Braves (14-35) 15 GB

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

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

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

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

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

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

NL East: Week 2 Recap

Photo courtesy of cbssports.com

 

The second week of NL East play saw the Nats continue their winning ways en route to the current best record in baseball and franchise history at 9-2. The caveat there is that they have only played other teams in the NL East, and right now the rest of the division isn’t looking so hot. The Mets, who were predicted to go toe-to-toe with the Nats in the East, currently sit four games back of Washington, and have had their share of struggles getting guys on the field.

Really the only other team besides Washington that is at least meeting expectations is Philadelphia. The Phillies are  four games back of Washington with a 6-7 record. Don’t get me wrong, 6-7 is certainly not a record to aim for through 13 games; but the Phillies, with a young up and coming team, have had moments of brightness in what was predicted to be a weak year.

I don’t know what to say about Miami other than, wow. Year in and year out this team seems to look respectable on paper, it has a good mix of seasoned veterans with up-and-coming talent, it acquired Barry Bonds as a hitting coach (yes, the one with the most career home runs ever) and yet it got swept against what was arguably the weakest team in the MLB. It’s certainly too early to sound the warning sirens, but this team’s start doesn’t bode well for the rest of the year.

Speaking of that supposed weakest team, the Braves trip to Miami ended up yielding more than a chance to experience Florida’s lovely weather. While this doesn’t mean I expect the Braves to suddenly make any dramatic moves in the standings, it’s good to see them break open that egg. Hopefully it also means I’ll hear less Atlanta fans grumbling about Fredi Gonzalez needing to go. Your front office is sticking to its, “this is a rebuilding season” front for a reason. It may not be the most fun, thing to experience as a fan, but given a few years (and a brand spanking new stadium) and Atlanta will be right back in the playoff races.

So now that I’ve gotten my rant over fans who expect World Series titles every year out of the way, let’s go a bit more in depth with what happened in week two of MLB East baseball.

1. Washington Nationals (9-2)

There was a lot of good news in Washington this week, so it’ll be a lot faster if I just start off with the bad news. They didn’t go 7-0. There, now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at all of the things Washington can be happy with early in the season. Bryce Harper continues to be an absolute force at the plate. His 100th career home run came on his first career grand slam. Oh, and he also had three more homers last week, bringing his season total to 6, one behind the NL leading Trevor Story. Harper also had 12 RBIs over those 7 games, bringing his season total to a team best, 15.

But this isn’t the NBA, it takes more than one guy to win games in the MLB. The rest of the Nats aren’t slouching, either. Daniel Murphy is leading the entire MLB in batting average by almost 40 points at .432. Wilson Ramos hit .526 with 4 RBIs last week and Jayson Werth had a heck of a game on Friday, driving in 3 runs against the Phils.

The crazy thing is, it isn’t just the hitting that’s been producing for Washington. The arms, particularly the starters, have been fantastic. Nats starters have the best ERA in baseball with a 1.87. That’s over half a run better than the next closest team’s rotation. Tanner Roark, the only starter to suffer a loss in week 1, twirled a 7 inning scoreless gem on Wednesday vs. Atlanta. His friend at the back of the rotation, Joe Ross, did him one better, throwing 7.2 scoreless against the Phillies on Friday. Gio Gonzalez had arguably the best week of any Nats starter, and was the only one without a win. In his two outings he went 13 innings, struck out 12 batters, and allowed just 1 run. Scherzer and Strasburg also showed why they have the 1 and 2 spots in this rotation with great outings on the week.

For the second week, the bullpen is probably the biggest concern, and they weren’t even bad. Unfortunately, Jonathan Papelbon, took the loss on Sunday after blowing his first save of the year in Philadelphia. He converted his other two save opportunities, however, and is currently tied for the MLB lead with 5 saves. Felipe Rivera saw the most action out of the Nats bullpen, making 4 appearances over the 7 game span, and not allowing a run in any of them. Rivera also snagged himself his third career save Tuesday night vs. Atlanta. I feel bad to keep picking on the bullpen, 7 guys made appearances over the week and only 3 of them surrendered any runs. The rest of this team is just so good that they end up being the weak link by default.

Washington continues with a relatively week schedule this week: the go to Miami for four games before coming home and hosting the 3-9 Twins in an interleague bout. Expect the Nats record to remain sky high.

2. Philadelphia Phillies (6-7) 4 GB

The Phillies ended up with a positive record on the week, taking 3 of 4 at home against San Diego and snapping Washington’s 7 game win streak on Sunday. Ryan Howard hit 2 more home runs, bringing his season total to 4 on the year. The problem with Howard is that he only recorded 1 hit in the remaining 18 at-bats, and struck out in another 6 of them. Howard continues to be a guy who can hit for power, but isn’t very good at small ball. The rest of the Phillies bats were able to fill in the small ball gaps that Howard left. The team never scored more than 3 runs in a game, but was able to get those runs across when it most mattered.

Vince Velazquez had 16 Ks in a complete game shutout vs. San Diego. Photo courtesy of thegoodphight.com

The Phillies were able to win 4 games despite the low runs per game totals due to their pitching staff. The most notable performance of the week had to belong to Vince Velazquez, who became the fifth-youngest starter to have at least 14 strikeouts and no walks in an outing; he fanned 16 while allowing just 3 hits in a complete game shutout of the Padres. Charlie Morton also had a heck of a week, allowing just 1 run in 12.2 innings of work over two starts.

There were also a couple of Phils starters who got shelled, though, both of them at the top of the rotation. Aaron Nola suffered 2 losses and allowed 11 runs in his two starts last week. His outing against the Padres wasn’t horrible, but the Phillies magic number of offense was a measly 3, so Nola’s 4 runs proved too much to salvage. While Nola had a rough 5 innings against Washington, his teammate Jeremy Hellickson fared even worse. Hellickson lasted just 3 innings while surrendering 6 runs.

While the Phillies offense has remained consistently weak through two weeks of play, their pitchers have been hard to predict. Charlie Morton had a great second week after a forgettable first week, while Jeremy Hellickson had the opposite. The pitching will have to become more consistent or the offense will have to find a way to produce more runs if the Phillies want to play dark horse in the East this year.

This week, Philadelphia hosts the Mets for 3 games before heading to Milwaukee for another 3 game set.

3. New York Mets (5-6) 4 GB

The Mets haven’t had the start they were hoping for in 2016. They started last week off dropping 2 of 3 to an apparently abysmal Marlins team before taking 2 of 3 from the Indians in Cleveland. The bats did look better, particularly Yoenis Cespedes, who hit 2 home runs and brought in 7 RBIs over the past 7 games. Neil Walker also continued to prove himself an asset at the plate, matching Cespedes’ 2 dingers. Kevin Plawecki has hit well filling in for an injured Travis D’Arnaud, going .500 over 3 games with a couple of RBIs. D’Arnaud is currently battling elbow soreness, but manager Terry Collins seems confident that he should return by Tuesday’s game against the Phillies.

D’Arnaud isn’t the only guy who has missed playing time, however, as Jacob deGrom continues to be on paternal leave. Fortunately, his son’s health has improved and he is slated to throw a simulated game tomorrow night. Manager Collins will then make the decision on whether to pitch him at the ensuing series in Atlanta, or wait for the Mets to return home.

While the Mets certainly miss deGrom in the rotation, they also have to be missing last year’s Matt Harvey. Harvey again was hit well in Cleveland, suffering his third loss in as many starts in 2016. The bright spot is that Harvey retired the first 13 batters he faced that game, only to have things unravel in the 5th inning. Noah Syndergaard had a strong second outing of the season, allowing just 1 run in 7 innings of work but was stiffed a decision against the Marlins. Logan Verrett, making his first start standing in the rotation for Jacob deGrom, delivered a quality 6 innings of shutout baseball but was unable to factor into the decision against Miami.

The Mets offense seems to be on the upswing, they hit four homers on Friday in Cleveland to help Bartolo Colon get his first win of the year. Now it just becomes a matter of helping Matt Harvey return to form and ensure Jacob deGrom can be seamlessly returned to the rotation when the time comes. Syndergaard has looked great in his first two outings and Steven Matz has shown that he can deliver strong performances on the mound.

The Mets are on the road this week, with 3 games in Philly followed by 3 games in Atlanta. While it is still early in the season, they will want to snag as many of these wins against should-be lesser opponents now in order to avoid falling too far behind a streaking Nats in the East.

4. Miami Marlins (3-7) 5.5 GB

The Marlins week seemed to start off so well. They were able to explode for 10 runs against Steven Matz and the Mets on Tuesday and then take the series with a 2-1 win behind 4 scoreless innings of bullpen work. The game 3 drop was unfortunate, but you can’t win every close game, and Chris Conley going 6 scoreless innings was nothing to be upset about. Then they came home for what looked like a cake series against a winless Braves club.

It ended up being the Braves who took that cake, scoring 6 runs in each game against the Marlins, and Miami only mustered a max of 5 in game 3. To be fair, the Braves aren’t as bad as their record suggested at the beginning of the series, but still, being swept at home is never something a team wants to do.

Wei-Yin Chen had the best outing of any starter in his return from elbow injury, not allowing a run in his first 6 innings of work. Tom Koehler had a rough day at the office, allowing 5 runs across in just 3.2 innings and Jared Cosart continued to issue too many free passes, with another 6 against the Braves (he now has a 7/9 BB/K ratio). Ace Jose Fernandez and rookie Adam Conley both had strong outings against the Mets: Conley shut out New York for 6 innings with 9 strikeouts. Fernandez did not have a particularly lengthy outing, but his bullpen stepped up behind him with 4 scoreless innings.

The offensive run producers were Adeiny Hechavarria, Giancarlo Stanton, and Justin Bour. Bour and Stanton both had a homer and 4 RBIs on the week, while Hechavarria had a big fly of his own and 5 RBIs. Dee Gordon also showed off his speed with 3 swiped bags on the week.

The Marlins won’t have an easy time righting the ship this week, with 4 games vs. Washington followed by 3 games at San Francisco. It will be interesting to see if the offense is able to step up this week against some very good arms.

5. Atlanta Braves (3-9) 6.5 GB

Adonis Garcia had 3 RBIs en route to a 6-3 Braves win against the Marlins on Friday. Photo courtesy of zimbio.com

Look at it this way, the Braves are now 3-3 when playing teams that aren’t from Washington. Nick Markakis continues to be the driving force for the team at the plate while Freddie Freeman continues to battle his way through an early season slump. Markakis has 8 RBIs and hit .360 on the week and was a key player in making sure the Braves had just enough runs to sweep Miami. Gordon Beckham, Adonis Garcia, and Jace Peterson also receive honorable mentions for having 3 RBIs each last week, Garcia drove in all 3 of his in the Braves first win of 2016.

Jhoulys Chacin had 2 respectable outings, surrendering just 3 runs combined. Bud Norris is the only Braves starter who currently has a win despite a couple of ugly starts. The Braves bullpen looked pretty good, with Alexei Ogando and Jason Grilli both picking up wins in Miami. Grilli allowed 1 run in 3 appearances. That 1 run unfortunately blew a save, but his offense was able to gift him a win instead. Ogando surrendered just 1 run in 4 innings over 3 appearances as well. The MVP of the Braves bullpen had to be Chris Withrow. Withrow did not allow a hit in 4 appearances and 3.1 innings last week.

The Braves continue a difficult April schedule, but will at least be at home this week. They host the Dodgers for 3 games starting Tuesday before the Mets come to town Friday for a 3 game set.

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.

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.

Biggest Surprise of Spring Training: Phillies

Coming into the 2016 season, the Phillies weren’t expected to have a lot going for them. Yes, they have the first pick in this year’s draft, but they’re still a team that lacks experience in their current roster. They’ve done surprisingly well in Spring Training thus far; going 13-5 in their first 18 games and sitting in third place in the Grapefruit League. While this is Spring Training, and, therefore, shouldn’t be taken too seriously, the Phils are still playing much better than anyone would have guessed coming into the year. Here’s why:

Here’s why:

The Phillies currently have a plus (+) 28 run differential through 18 games; scoring 122 and allowing 94. While the 94 runs allowed is not the most glamorous stat, putting Philadelphia in the bottom five of that category in the Grapefruit League, their 122 runs scored is second in the league, only behind the Tigers (131).

Maikel Franco has been the bright spot in the Phillies lineup this Spring Training. Franco has belted seven homers in 18 games thus far, and given manager Charlie Mackanin reason to worry where he parks at the ballpark. Photo courtest of sonsofpenn.com.

Thus far a genuine stud of the Phillies offense has to be their third baseman, Maikel Franco. Franco has hit a Grapefruit League-leading seven home runs through the Phillies first 18 games, and he shows no signs of slowing down. Franco played just 80 games in 2015; however, he was able to provide 14 home runs over that span while batting .280. If Franco continues to play like this, it would be no surprise to see him at the starting third base spot for two weeks when the regular season begins. It will be interesting to see where manager Pete Mackanin places the young slugger in the line up. While Ryan Howard has not played his best baseball in the past couple years, he has still predominantly occupied the four-hole of the Phillies order. I don’t see any reason for that to change, but I would be very surprised to see Franco hitting somewhere outside the heart of the order (the three-through-six holes).

Backup first baseman, Darin Ruf has also done a respectable job at the plate up to this point. Ruf is hitting .294 and has three home runs in his appearances this spring. While the numbers are not the gaudiest, Ryan Howard only has two homers up to this point.

Jeremy Hellickson will be pitching in a Phillies uniform for the first season of his career. Hellickson went five hitless innings against the Astros in his last start. Photo courtesy of milb.com.

On the mound for the Phils, it’s been an interesting turn of events. Jeremy Hellickson and Aaron Nola both had their strongest outings of Spring Training in their last starts. Hellickson went five hitless innings against a very strong Astros offense while Nola went 4.2 innings of two-run ball against the Rays. Charlie Morton has also been precisely what was expected of him thus far, providing solid innings of work without the flashy numbers.

These figures do need to be taken with a grain of salt, a lot can happen between now and the regular season, and strong preseasons don’t always transfer into strong regular seasons. But, the Phillies are showing that their offense is capable of providing run support, which will be very critical in a league with such strong pitching. Hopefully, this offensive production will continue to carry these Phillies arms until they are acclimated and up to their full potential.

The Phillies are currently second place among their NL East rivals in the Grapefruit League, just a game back of Washington. This result should be looked at with some hesitation, however, as the Mets have gone through the majority of this preseason battling injuries on key players (Yoenis Cespedes, David Wright). But overall, the Phillies are showing the potential to make like difficult for these projected top NL East teams. Only time will tell if Philadelphia can keep this sort of offensive production up in the regular season, but at the very least it shows that the talent will be there a couple of seasons down the road.

NL East Roundup: Philadelphia Phillies

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Aaron Nola might be one of the few bright spots in Philly this season. Photo: Getty Images

Over the next few weeks I’ll be looking at the NL East, diagnosing team offseason moves, and predicting how the team will perform in the division.  I’ll be starting at the bottom of the division last season and work up from there, so we start today with the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Phillies past few offseasons had been fairly quiet, which was not an auspicious look for the ever-aging team. There was a lot of house-cleaning during the 2015 season, however, trading away many staple Phillies like Chase Utley to the Dodgers, Ben Revere to the Blue Jays, and Cole Hamels to the Rangers.  These transactions have brought much-needed new blood to the team, and the 99 loss season did secure them the #1 pick in the 2016 Draft, so the future is looking brighter a few years down the road in Philly.

This season, though, will be another lame duck year for the Phillies, with a lot of offensive players only a few years into their pro careers.  One player worth keeping tabs on this season is left fielder Odubel Herrera, who led the team in his rookie season with a .297 batting average and .344 on-base percentage.

What the team is missing right now is a young guy who offers some power at the plate.  Ryan Howard definitely provides the veteran presence needed to help out a young and developing team, but he struggled immensely at the plate last year, posting just a .229 average and 23 home runs (the 23 HRs still led the team, which shows how little power the Phillies had at the plate last season).

The top of the Phillies batting order shows some promise with the likes of Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis showing marked improvement in their BAs and OBPs from the 2014 to 2015 season.  If they can continue their improvement, Herrera may be able to find more RBIs in the 3-hole this season.  If the team can find some power in the lineup, or Ryan Howard can return to his monstrous mid-2000s season numbers, the Phillies could be set up with a solid lineup down the road.

The Phillies unfortunately do not have a much better story on the mound, with no clear ace in the rotation. Currently, second year pitcher Aaron Nola is slated in the #1 hole of the rotation this year.  Nola posted a respectable 3.59 ERA through 13 starts and 77.2 IP.  Being in the 1-slot means you will have to face the opponent’s ace pitcher frequently, though, and in a division sporting the likes of Jacob DeGrom and Max Scherzer, Nola may find himself outclassed on the mound.

A couple of other notables on the Phillies’ roster include Jeremy Hellickson and long-time Pirate Charlie Morton.

Hellickson generated a lot of buzz upon his arrival into the League back in 2010, and posted an impressive 2.95 ERA in his first full season with the Rays on his way to a Rookie of the Year season.

The past three seasons, two with the Rays and last with the Diamondbacks have all seen ERAs of 4.5 or higher. Hellickson provides some veteran experience and I still believe he still has the chance to return to form.

Morton may not have the most glamorous career numbers, but he is a consistent arm to have in the middle of the rotation, which is never a bad thing to have for a team in rebuilding.

The Phillies aren’t slated to be making any miracle runs into the postseason.  They are in the midst of the rebuilding process and they and their fans should realize this when coming into the season.  This season they should look for continued improvement in several young players and maybe hope for Ryan Howard and Jeremy Hellickson to return to past forms.

Realistically, I think ending the season under 90 wins would be a solid finish for the team.  While it may not be the most glamorous of seasons, when you have a team that is in the midst of rebuilding with players only a few years into the scene, the goal is to get those players more comfortable in their roles, or potentially increase their trade stock in hopes of getting more established players.

It will also be interesting to see what Philadelphia does with their draft pick.  While they have declared interest in a pitching prospect, most likely AJ Puk or Alec Hansen, I think if they were able to find a big bat, they definitely shouldn’t overlook it.