Fantasy Baseball 2017

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Free Agent Frenzy

In fantasy baseball, it is general knowledge that your league championship isn’t won on draft day. One major key to success is staying active on the waiver wire.

As we are a month into the season, the easiest way to acquire talent is by adding free agents. Below, are four players who are under ten percent owned on ESPN.com, but should be rostered in the majority of formats.

 

Delino DeShields, Outfielder, Texas Rangers, (Seven Percent)

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Delino DeShields will look to make the most of his opportunities in 2017. (Photo by: Rotoprofessor.com)

With Adrian Beltre injured, and Joey Gallo manning third base, DeShields has earned himself the everyday roll in left field. He was a former first-round pick in 2010, and has bounced between the major and minor-league levels since 2015. The 24-year-old has plenty of fantasy potential, as he is currently batting leadoff, is an elite base stealing threat, and is versatile.

DeShields can be an elite producer of runs and steals as long as he remains atop the lineup. Once Beltre returns, it will be interesting to see what the Rangers do with Gallo and DeShields, although their versatility will presumably allow them to continue to see regular playing time.

 

 

 

Michael Taylor, Outfielder, Washington Nationals, (Three Percent)

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Michael A. Taylor will replace Adam Eaton for the remainder of the 2017 season. (Photo by: Gene J. Puskar)

The Washington Nationals lost their starting center fielder, Adam Eaton, to a torn AC, which moves Michael Taylor into an everyday role. Taylor is a career .259 hitter in the minors, with 52 home runs and 140 stolen bases in 560 games played. The 26-year-old’s numbers aren’t overwhelming, although his opportunity to be productive with the Nationals is immense. Taylor will primarily bat seventh, which puts him behind some of the best hitters in the league, including Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon, which increases his opportunity to produce RBI. Also, if veteran Jayson Werth were to struggle, Taylor could sneak up to the two hole, and be an elite run producer and stolen base threat.

 

Amed Rosario, Shortstop, New York Mets, (Three Percent)

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Amed Rosario is sure to see a call to the majors sooner rather than later. (Photo by: New York Post)

The 21-year-old is currently batting .402, with one home run, 16 runs scored, 14 RBI, and seven stolen bases at the AAA level. He is in line to be the shortstop of the future for New York, although it looks like he will be called up in 2017. His major-league counter parts, Jose Reyes and Asdrubal Cabrera, are playing very poorly, as both are batting under .250, giving Rosario a possible opening to major-league at-bats.

The Mets need a spark, as they have lost many core players to injuries, such as Yoenis Cespedes, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Mats to name a few. Keep an eye out for Rosario, as he is exactly what the Mets need, and should see a call-up sooner than later.

 

Kennys Vargas, First Baseman, Minnesota Twins, (One Percent)

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Kennys Vargas will make an impact in 2017. (Photo by: Getty Images)

Vargas was called-up to the Twins in late-April, and has batted .364 with two home runs, eight runs scored and six RBI in six games played. He can hit for contact and power, as he is a career .277 hitter in the minors with 89 home runs, so as long as he continues to bat in the heart of the order, he will have the opportunity to be an elite fantasy producer.

The 26-year-old has taken over for Joe Mauer twice at first base, but is playing majorly designated hitter this season. The Twins have plenty of flexibility with their bats, as they can move Vargas or Sano to a corner outfield spot to ensure they continue to get at-bats.

 

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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 Opening Week Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Washington Nationals (3-1)

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

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

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

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

2. New York Mets (2-3)

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

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

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

3. Philadelphia Phillies (2-4)

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

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

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

4. Miami Marlins (1-3)

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

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

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

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

5. Atlanta Braves (0-5)

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

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

Nats Primed for Hot Start in April

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016 National League East Preview

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

1. Washington Nationals

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. New York Mets

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Miami Marlins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Philadelphia Phillies

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Atlanta Braves

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

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

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

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

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

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

NL East Roundup: Washington Nationals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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