2017 MLB Season

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Starting Pitchers

With the start of the 2017 MLB season still about three months away (85 days, six minutes, and 43 seconds, but who’s counting?), players and teams are beginning to gear up for the first pitch on April 2.

Let’s take a look at the top five starting pitchers for Opening Day 2017.

5. Justin Verlander- Detroit Tigers

2017 MLB Season

Justin Verlander will hope his 2016 success carries over to 2017. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

Verlander turned in a renaissance season for the Detroit Tigers in 2016. At age 33, he had his most innings pitched since 2012, posting a solid 227.2 innings. He coupled a full season with a return of his strikeout ability. Verlander struck out 254 batters and limited base runners with a WHIP of 1.00. The former Cy Young winner will look to continue his success into 2017.

4. Corey Kluber- Cleveland Indians

Corey Kluber bounced back in 2016 from a disappointing 2015 when he posted a record of 9-16. He matched his win-loss record from his Cy Young Award winning season in 2014 of 18-6. Kluber posted a solid ERA of 3.14 as well as striking out 227 batters over 215 innings pitched. He helped anchor a staff that would be a key component in the Indians run to the World Series. A surprise contender in 2016, the Indians won’t be sneaking up on anyone this season, led by staff ace Corey Kluber.

3. Madison Bumgarner- San Francisco Giants

Madison Bumgarner is coming off of a season in which he posted career highs in strike outs (251), innings pitched (226.2), and ERA (2.77). All of that was good enough for him to garner his fourth straight All-Star game appearance, as well as a fourth-place finish in the NL Cy Young Award voting. Bumgarner led San Francisco to the NL Division Series, but the Giants were beaten soundly 3-1 by the eventual World Series champion Chicago Cubs. Surrounded by a strong pitching staff, Bumgarner will anchor the Giants starting rotation for 2017.

2. Clayton Kershaw- Los Angeles Dodgers

Even the casual baseball fan knows of the legendary dominance of lefty Clayton Kershaw. The three-time Cy Young Award winner is only going to be 29 years old when the season starts, leaving his already stellar career all the more impressive. All this lauding may lead you to wonder why he is only second on this list. That is because of all the pitchers in contention for this list, Kershaw had by far the lowest number of innings pitched with only 149. He had his 2016 season cut short by injuries. Before he got hurt, he was on his way to posting an ERA below two (1.69) for the third time in four seasons! If it wasn’t for injuries, Kershaw would have been the runaway NL Cy Young winner as well as number one on this list. Kershaw is on track to to start Opening Day for the Dodgers.

1. Max Scherzer- Washington Nationals

2017 MLB Season

Max Scherzer will dominate the NL in 2017. (Brad Mills/USA Today)

Max Scherzer won the NL Cy Young Award in 2016, and it’s easy to see why. He posted an ERA of 2.96, but it was his peripheral numbers that vaulted him to the Cy Young Award. He struck out an astounding 284 batters over 228.1 innings pitched. Scherzer also got batters out with ground balls and fly outs, supported by his WHIP of .097. By limiting opponents to an average of less than one baserunner per inning, and striking out batters at an astronomical rate, Scherzer was able to claim the NL Cy Young Award in 2016. In his prime, he is poised to add to his trophy case in 2017.

As the 2017 season draws nearer, look for these top five starting pitchers to dominate in 2017. Also watch out for some other names that just missed the cut. Pitchers like Chris Sale, David Price, Jake Arrieta and Noah Syndergaard will all be looking to make the cut next season.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

And then there were Four: NLDS Preview

With the Giants defeating the Mets 3-0 on Wednesday night, the National League playoff picture is set to begin on Friday night. Each of the four teams comes into the playoffs with very different stories: the Giants are looking to solidify themselves as the even-year juggernaut, the Cubs are looking to end a 100 year drought, and we’ll finally get to see either the Dodgers or the Nationals get into the NLCS.

Cubs vs. Giants

The Giants come into the NLDS riding yet another stellar postseason performance by Madison Bumgarner, who might be one of the most clutch starters in MLB playoff history. He’s the first pitcher to record multiple shutouts in sudden-death postseason games, his third postseason shutout gives him the second most in MLB history (Christy Matthewson had four). But, Bumgarner won’t be the only guy pitching this series, and this Giants staff will be going against arguably the best team in baseball. The Cubs ranked third in total offense in the entire MLB, and ranked first in team ERA. While the Giants pitching staff should be able to match up, it’s their offense that looks very outmatched on paper. The Cubs have one of the most talented, young offensive units in the MLB, led by MVP candidate Kris Bryant.

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Cueto and Lester have both been great in 2016, and look to start off this series on the right foot. Image courtesy of ESPN.com

Even in their game against the Mets, the Giants offense was dormant until a clutch three-run homer from Conor Gillaspie broke the stalemate in the top of the ninth inning. This series could very well open with a similar pitching duel, with Johnny Cueto squaring off against Cy Young Candidate, Jon Lester. It will be up to Cueto, who posted a 5.40 ERA last year with the Royals on their postseason run, to set the tone for this series if the Giants want to have a shot. If San Fran wants to continue their even-year magic in the postseason, they’ll either have to step up their offensive game, or have their pitching bring the Cubs down a few pegs at the plate.

Realistically, the pitching scenario seems to be their best bet, so we’ll have to see if the rest of their rotation is up to the task. The Giants bullpen also offers some areas of concern, it didn’t see any action on Wednesday, so everybody should be fresh heading into the series; but they don’t have the same dominant staff that the Cubs have. The Giants blew 29 saves in the regular season, and they’ll have to avoid that level of inconsistency if they want to have a shot in this series.

I’ve picked against the Giants twice already this postseason, and been proven wrong both times. Maybe the third time, and a much stronger team, is the charm I need. I think the Cubs will take the series 3-1 because the Giants won’t be able to muster the same level of offense that the Cubs will when Cueto/Bumgarner aren’t on the mound.

Nationals vs. Dodgers

This matchup features two teams plagued by playoff failures in the past. The Dodgers haven’t made it past the NLDS since 2013, where they lost to the Cardinals in the NLCS. The Nationals have only been to the playoffs twice since moving to the nation’s capitol, losing in the Divisional Round both times. The franchise itself hasn’t made it to the NLCS since 1981, when they were still in Montreal, where they lost to (guess who?) the Dodgers 3-2. The Dodgers handled the Nationals in the regular season, winning five of the six games between the two teams.

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Kershaw and Scherzer have both had stellar seasons, all that matters now is how they perform in October. Image courtesy of newsreportcenter.com

This series starts off with a titanic pitching clash between Cy Young candidate, Max Scherzer, and Dodgers’ ace, Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw could have very easily been apart of the Cy Young talk in the National League if he hadn’t missed two months on the DL. This series appears much more even on paper than the SF vs. Chicago Cubs series. Both teams had top-five pitching staffs during the regular season, and both teams were in the top half of the NL in terms of offense. I think the Dodgers actually come in as the series favorite, despite being the lower seed (57% chance that the Dodgers make the NLCS according to fivethirtyeight.com).

I think the one X-factor for the Nationals coming into the playoffs has to be Daniel Murphy. He led the MLB in batting average for a significant portion of 2016, and put together one of the most clutch hitting performances throughout the 2015 playoffs with New York. Murphy has been the catalyst for the Nationals offense all season, with Bryce Harper slumping throughout the middle of the year. Both Murphy and Harper missed playing time late in September with injuries. Since Washington had secured its place in the playoffs, it wasn’t too surprising to see them get extra time off. While they are on the roster and appear to be fine, we’ll see if these injuries affects their performance at the plate.

I also think that the Dodgers have the edge in this series. While Scherzer is great on the mound, and can definitely go toe-to-toe with Kershaw, the rest of the Nationals rotation has been inconsistent throughout the year. Gio Gonzalez looked underwhelming throughout 2016, and while Tanner Roark isn’t facing the Marlins, he was just 2-3 in six starts from September to October 1. I think that it will be a very tight series, but in the end I think the Dodgers have looked stronger and more consistent in the second half, and that will carry over into their postseason play. LA wins, 3-2.

 

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NL Regular Season Award Predictions

With the regular season about to come to a close, it’s time to start talking about who deserves the individual awards in the National League for 2016. Sam Auricchio gave his take on the American League awards, as well.

MVP

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Kris Bryant has been incredible in his second year for the Cubs, leading the team on offense to their second straight division title. Photo courtesy of cbssports.com

Daniel Murphy was the strong candidate for the MVP in the eyes of many heading into the All-Star Break, when he was hitting a monstrous .387 to top the entire MLB. He certainly isn’t out of the running, still hitting .347 with 25 homers and 104 RBIs, but I don’t think he’s atop the list anymore. I think that the Cubs’ Kris Bryant has to be the favorite with the season he’s put together. He sits third in the NL with 39 home runs, sixth in the NL with 102 RBIs and fourth in the NL with a .558 slugging.

A guy who matches up with, and actually beats, Bryant on a number of fronts is Rockies third-baseman, Nolan Arenado, who has had a spectacular year at the plate. He leads the NL with 41 homers and 133 RBIs. There are two major factors at work against him in the MVP race, however. The first of which being he plays 81 games at Coors Field, a notoriously hitter-friendly environment. The second, and larger, difference is that Bryant has helped the Cubs to a 100+ win season and the first seed in the National League. Arenado and the Rockies will not be playing playoff baseball, whatsoever.

 

 

Cy Young

In the eyes of most analysts, the NL Cy Young has narrowed down into a two pitcher race. Clayton Kershaw was certainly very high up on the list before his unfortunate injury prevented him from pitching for most of the second half. The two remaining pitchers are Jon Lester and Max Scherzer.

Lester is the current favorite, according to ESPN’s Cy Young Predictor. Both pitchers lead the National League with 19 wins, but Lester has just four losses opposed to Scherzer’s seven. Lester’s ERA also sits at just 2.28, over half a point lower than Scherzer’s 2.82.

Scherzer is certainly hot on Lester’s tail. Scherzer has 86 more strikeouts than Lester in 2016 in 25.2 more innings pitched in 2016. Opponents hit just .193 off of Scherzer, opposed to .208 off of Lester. Both pitchers’ teams won their division, another factor considered in the Cy Young vote, so neither will gain an edge there. Honestly this could go either way, but I think Scherzer’s slow start (he was 5-4 through May, 14-3 since) may ultimately prove to be the difference here.

Rookie of the Year

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Corey Seager is not only looking like the best rookie in the NL, he’s looking like one of the best shortstops in the MLB. Photo courtesy of cbssports.com

I think the race for NL Rookie of the Year is looking very one-sided at this point. Corey Seager has been the far-and-away the best rookie in the League. He leads the Dodgers with a .311 batting average, and has 26 homers, just one behind team leader, Justin Turner. Seager has been an absolutely critical piece in the Dodgers’ run to retake the NL West from the Giants in the second half of this year. Perhaps if Nationals’ rookie Trea Turner had played more games this year (Seager has played 155, Turner just 71) he could have competed with Seager in the race. As it stands, however, I think Seager is far-and-away the favorite.

A couple of other honorable mentions for the award would be: Seager’s teammate, Kenta Maeda, who became the Dodgers’ ace with Clayton Kershaw out with an injury for most of the second half of 2016. Cardinals’ shortstop, Aledmys Diaz, could have been in the running if he hadn’t sustained a thumb injury that put him on the DL from the end of July to September 12.

Mariano Rivera/Rolaids Relief Reward

The NL chase isn’t quite as one-sided as Sam Auricchio sees the AL Race being. Jeurys Familia certainly has to be near the top, if not at the top, for his performances in 2016. He’s the only closer in the MLB who has 50 saves in 55 attempts on the year, perhaps in part due to the Mets averaging just over four runs-per-game.

Familia’s biggest opponent is Dodgers’ closer, Kanley Jansen, who has 47 saves this year in 53 attempts. Jansen held opponents to just a .148 batting average over 67.2 innings, and is tied for the lead among NL closers with 102 strikeouts in that time.

Manager of the Year
This race is between two managers. The obvious one is the Cubs’ Joe Maddon, who has led this talented Cubs team to the MLB’s best record, currently at 102-57, en route to their second straight NL Central title. Expect to see Maddon a lot atop this list a lot in the coming years, as the Cubs show no sign of slowing down with the amount of youth on this team.

The other manager worthy of recognition in this category is the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts. Los Angeles was eight games out of first place on June 26. Clayton Kershaw, who was 11-2 at the time and the obvious ace of this Dodgers staff, ended up on the DL four days later. Despite that, this Dodgers club has gone 41-29 in the second half of the season, and secured the division earlier this month. The Dodgers may not have the best record in the National League, but they have posted the best record in the second half of the year without their Cy Young favorite coming into July. I don’t think Roberts will win the award, but he’s certainly a worthy second place in my book.

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Joe Maddon has led the Cubs to the best record in the MLB. Well-deserving of the Manager of the Year in the NL, if not the whole MLB. Photo courtesy of nbcchicago.com

NL Playoffs: Priority Players Entering September

As the MLB regular season nears its conclusion, injuries become more frequent and more costly for teams looking to make a postseason run. Here, I’ll identify players that teams simply cannot afford to lose as they make the race to October. I’ll start with the division leaders and then go by wildcard standings.

Chicago Cubs – Kris Bryant

The Cubs don’t really have one guy that will sink the team if he’s lost. They have so much depth and talent that it’s actually not fair. If I had to pick just one guy, I would say Kris Bryant. Even though Anthony Rizzo leads the team with 93 RBIs, Bryant is right behind him with 91 and leads the team in every other major hitting category. He’s tied for second in the MLB with 36 home runs, and his 91 RBIs are fourth in the NL. Losing any guy in the heart of your lineup can be a huge detriment, but Bryant has been a catalyst for the Cubs, and losing him could do some serious damage to their power game.

Washington Nationals – Max Scherzer

It was a really tough pick between Scherzer and Murphy for Washington, but I decided that pitching ultimately wins out on a team that’s already lost Stephen Strasburg. Scherzer has made a strong case for the NL Cy Young this year, posting a 15-7 record with a 2.89 ERA and an MLB leading 238 strikeouts. He’s really turned it on since the All-Star Break, going 6-2 with 90 strikeouts in 11 starts. With Stephen Strasburg ending up on the DL on August 22, the Nats now have two of five Opening Day rotation members on the DL. Tanner Roark has had moments of brilliance on the mound this year, but it will ultimately be up to Scherzer’s consistency to guide this ailing Nats pitching staff to the playoffs.

Los Angeles Dodgers – Corey Seager

The Dodgers lost the obvious bid for this pick, Clayton Kershaw, at the end of June. Despite that, the pitching staff has still done remarkably well, with Kenta Maeda stepping up big time in his absence. The Dodgers have struggled more on the offensive side of things this year, and Corey Seager has been a big part of this team’s offensive production. He’s having a standout first full season in the MLB, posting a .315 average and a .375 OBP. His consistency in getting on base has allowed the Dodgers to get ahead and let their pitchers work. While he may not be the most experienced player in October, losing him would certainly affect the team’s ability to manufacture runs.

San Francisco Giants – Madison Bumgarner/Johnny Cueto

The Giants don’t have a supercharged offense coming into September. The Giants are often a small ball team that relies heavily on their pitchers to keep games close while they produce runs. Both Johnny Cueto and Madison Bumgarner have been stellar on the mound for San Fran this year, and losing either of them would put a significant damper on their ability to compete in September. The Giants made it very clear they’re a pitching-oriented team with their moves at the end of July, shoring up the back of the rotation with Matt Moore. With Brandon Belt leading the team with just 14 homers this year, I think it’s safe to assume that this dynamic won’t dramatically change in September, and that any disruption of it could be disastrous for the Giants.

St. Louis Cardinals – Stephen Piscotty

The DL in St. Louis is already looking pretty long, so any injury to this Cards team would be a tough loss. Piscotty has been a breath of fresh air on a Cards team that consists of a lot of older veterans. He leads the team with 73 RBIs and has played a big part in the Cardinals offensive success this year. That offense will have to step it up even more with the addition of two rookies into the Cardinal rotation, Luke Weaver and Alex Reyes. While both of these guys look like stud prospects, Weaver showed that he can be rattled on the mound, and strong run support could do wonders for his composure on the mound, especially in these high pressure games.

New York Mets – Yoenis Cespedes

It’s hard to pick any one Met, since basically every guy on the team seems to have an injury of some sort. The offense has been the problem for the Mets all year, and Cespedes has been the guy to try and lead this team at the plate. With Jay Bruce underperforming, whether due to his injured calf or otherwise, the pressure on Cespedes’ shoulders is even greater than ever. His quad injury from July seems to still be bothering him, however, so the Mets will have to be sure to use him with caution as they continue to hang on in the wildcard race.

Pittsburgh Pirates – Starling Marte

The Pirates continue to hang around in the NL wildcard race, and Marte’s offense is a big reason why. He leads the team with a .306 batting average and a .360 OBP, along with 46 stolen bases on the year, which ranks third in the MLB. Marte is a big part of the heart of Pittsburgh’s lineup, and losing either him, Gregory Polanco or Andrew McCutchen could severely hamper Pittsburgh’s run production.

Miami Marlins – Christian Yelich

You thought I was going to say Jose Fernandez, didn’t you? While it would be catastrophic to lose Fernandez, the Marlins are in desperate need of bats with Giancarlo Stanton out for the remainder of the year. Yelich had been the most consistent of the trio of Ozuna, Yelich and Stanton, but Marcell Ozuna has struggled mightily since the All-Star Break (and left Wednesday’s game with a wrist injury himself), leaving a lot of the weight on Yelich’s shoulders. He delivered with a homer against the Mets last night, and while he probably won’t put up Stanton-like power numbers, we saw back in April that he can be a menace to face at the plate.

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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: 6/6-6/12

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

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

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

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

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

1. Washington Nationals (39-24) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Miami Marlins (32-31) 7 GB

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

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

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

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

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

4. Philadelphia Phillies (29-34) 10 GB

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Atlanta Braves (18-44) 20.5 GB

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

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

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

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

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NL East Weekly: 5/30-6/4

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Washington Nationals (34-23)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Miami Marlins (30-27) 4 GB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Philadelphia Phillies (28-29) 6 GB

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

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

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

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

5. Atlanta Braves (16-40) 17.5 GB

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

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

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

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

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

NL East 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.

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