Century

Best MLB Franchises of the 21st century

Methodology

In order to figure out who truly deserves to be one of the best MLB teams of the century, I factored in several aspects to evaluate each team. I am including every game during the regular and postseason from the beginning of the 2000 season up until the 2017 All-Star break. I created a point system that is calculated as follows:

Win-Loss Differential- 1 point per game

Playoff Appearances- 10 points

Division Title- 10 points

League Champions- 30 points

World Series Champions- 50 points

Consistency- 20 points for every three consecutive playoff appearances + 10 bonus points for each consecutive year after that

Teams should get credit for being able to sustain success for an extended period of time, rather than having one year where they played exceptional followed by several bad years. It’s also important to distinguish playoff appearances from division titles.

For example, the Phillies should get more credit for winning their division with 102 wins in 2011 than the Cardinals winning the wild card with 90 wins. It’s also important to reward playoff success, therefore teams received a lot of credit for being able to win their league and/or winning the World Series.

It’s also pivotal to give teams credit for being successful during the regular season even if they have struggled in postseason play.

With the point system out of the way, here are the 10 best MLB teams of the 21st century thus far.

10. Texas Rangers

best mlb teams 21st century

Beltre, Hamilton and Young were at the heart of the Rangers lineup when they made their runs to the World Series (Zimbio)

Win-Loss: 1,439-1,404 (.506) = 35 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 5= 50 points

Division Titles: 4= 40 points

League Champions: 2= 60 points

World Series Champions: 0= 0 points

Consistency: 2010-2012 = 20 points

Total= 205 points

The Rangers did not start to show up until about a decade into the century. They might have had a World Series championship under their belt if they did not run into hot playoff teams like the Giants and Cardinals. If Nelson Cruz would have been a few steps back and didn’t let a ball go over his head then they would definitely have a championship.

It is somewhat surprising to find the Rangers this high on the list. They did not crack 90 wins or make the playoffs in the 21st century until 2010. They did have playoff success starting that year and that is what gets them to No. 10.

9. Philadelphia Phillies

Win-Loss: 1,439-1,401 (.506) = 38 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 5= 50 points

Division Titles: 5= 50 points

League Champions: 2= 60 points

World Series Champions: 1= 50 points

Consistency: 2007-2011= 40 points

Total= 288 points

best mlb teams 21st century

The Phillies rotation was advertised to be unstoppable in 2011 (USA Today)

The Phillies seemed to be a juggernaut around the same time the Rangers were taking off. They have had some of the most talented players in the past 20 years like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. On top of that, they had what was thought to be the best pitching rotation in a generation.

When Philadelphia signed Cliff Lee in 2011, they were described as the best rotation in baseball hands down. This was after they had been to two consecutive World Series in 2008 and 2009.

The Lee signing made the top four in their rotation Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. Especially with their core hitters still intact, it was hard to imagine anyone stopping them given they had an ace pitching almost every game.

Even with 102 wins in 2011, the Phillies were expecting to win more games in that season.

They ended up getting knocked out by St. Louis in the divisional round of the playoffs in 2011. They have yet to reach the playoffs again since that year largely because of their aging core. Philadelphia appeared to be close to having an uptick with some of their young prospects recently, but they have backslid as they are the worst team in baseball in 2017.

8. Oakland Athletics

Win-Loss: 1,499-1,342 (.542) = 157 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 8= 80 points

Division Titles: 6= 60 points

League Champions= 0= 0 points

World Series Champions: 0= 0 points

Consistency: 2000-2003, 2012-2014= 50 points

Total= 347 points

Thanks to Billy Beane, the Athletics were dominating baseball for the first few years of the 21st century. He found a way to revolutionize the game using “moneyball”. Through his sabermetrics and smaller salary cap, he built a rotation that rivals the Phillies one I mentioned earlier.

Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito made up a powerful rotation that led the team to 392 wins in the four-year stretch that they made the playoffs from 2000-03. They have been a great regular season team most seasons since 2000, but they have yet to translate that to playoff success. They have not made it to the World Series since 1990.

While they showed promise of possibly making a run a few years ago, they have regressed once again. It looks like it may be a while before the Athletics return to the postseason especially considering the juggernaut that is rising in Houston.

7. Atlanta Braves

Win-Loss: 1,518-1,320 (.534) = 198 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 9= 90 points

Division Titles: 7= 70 points

League Champions: 0= 0 points

World Series Champions: 0= 0 points

Consistency: 2000-2005= 50 points

Total= 408 points

best mlb teams 21st century

Freeman has taken the reigns from Jones in Atlanta (MLB)

If we included the 1990s, the Braves would shoot up this list in a hurry. Atlanta went to the playoffs 10 consecutive years that included three National League championships and one World Series championship. However, half of those seasons are not going to count towards this list. Despite that, many of their successful players carried over into the 21st century and still dominated.

While the Braves have yet to make a World Series since 2000, they still have had a good run of making the postseason and doing well in the East. Their nine playoff appearances are second most in the National League behind the Cardinals.

Bobby Cox led the club until 2010 with the likes of Chipper Jones, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Andruw Jones and John Smoltz. These players made up a Braves core that rivaled the best.

Their lack of postseason success is what keeps them from moving up the rankings. However, they are showing signs of improving as they have proven to be a team that will fight with the best of them.

6. Los Angeles Dodgers

Win-Loss: 1,540-1,303 (.541)= 237 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 8= 80 points

Division Titles: 8= 80 points

League Champions: 0= 0 points

World Series Champions: 0= 0 points

Consistency: 2013-2016= 30 points

Total= 427 points

best mlb teams 21st century

Kershaw is making a case to be one of the greatest pitchers of all-time (Baseball Essential)

The Dodgers have had a similar story to the Braves. They have managed to have regular season success and have been reaching the playoffs, however they have trouble getting past the league championship. It is still surprising to see them this high on the list, but that goes to show just how good they have been in the regular season as opposed to the postseason.

Clayton Kershaw already seems to be able to get into the Hall-of-Fame before reaching the age of 30. However, he has been part of the problem in the postseason. Kershaw is 4-7 with a 4.55 ERA in 14 starts in postseason play.

Especially with how much the Dodgers rely on him to be the ace that he is known to be, it is difficult for them to be able to make it very far in the playoffs.

This year may rewrite the script in terms of the Dodgers postseason woes. Their young lineup mixed with a spectacular pitching staff makes the Dodgers a force to be feared. If the article was to be written a year or two from now, the Dodgers may be moved up a couple spots on this list.

5. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Win-Loss: 1,535-1,311 (.539)= 224 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 7= 70 points

Division Titles: 6= 60 points

League Champions: 1= 30 points

World Series Champions: 1= 50 points

Consistency: 2007-2009= 20 points

Total= 454 points

Since 2009 the Angels have only made the playoffs once. They were successful in the regular season leading up to that, but have not been able to reach the World Series since winning it in 2002.

Anaheim currently may have the best baseball player since Willie Mays in Mike Trout. However, they have not been able to do much with him on the team despite also signing Albert Pujols. The Pujols contract may be what is keeping them back though. The amount of money they have invested in him may prevent them from being able to resign Mike Trout when that time comes. These big contracts are showing why they don’t work since it is difficult to build a good team around these mega deals.

Even with some of the legendary players on the Angels it seems that their future is at an interesting juncture. I expect them to move down this list in a few years while others rise.

4. San Francisco Giants

Win-Loss: 1,496-1,345 (.526)= 151 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 7= 70 points

Division Titles: 4= 40 points

League Champions: 4= 120 points

World Series Champions: 3= 150 points

Consistency: No consecutive playoff appearances three years in a row= 0 points

Total= 531 points

The Giants managed to gain the reputation of winning the World Series only in even years, as they won in 2010, 2012 and 2014. They have not been as good of regualr season teams as others on this list. San Francisco has only one four division titles since 2000 which is low compared to others on this list. However, there may not be much debate in saying they have had the most playoff success out of all these teams.

One of the biggest names for San Francisco since the turn of the century is Barry Bonds, who even though is tainted by the steroid era could still be one of the best hitters of all time. Much of their success has come from their pitching staff though. Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, and at one time Tim Lincecum have all been big contributes to the Giants success in the playoffs. Overall though, during their stretch of winning championships they were able to work well as a team. There were not a whole lot of big names outside of Bumgarner or Posey, but they had a supporting cast that did what they had to do and took them all the way.

Things are different this year. The Giants are currently in the midst of one of their worst years in the history of their franchise. Which is really saying a lot seeing as they are one of the oldest organizations in baseball. It is hard to see what is in store in the future for the Giants, but knowing them they will find away to make it back to the playoffs soon.

3. Boston Red Sox

Win-Loss: 1,557-1,285 (.547)= 272 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 8= 80 points

Division Titles: 3= 30 points

League Champions: 3= 90 points

World Series Champions: 3= 150 points

Consistency: 2003-2005, 2007-2009= 40 points

best mlb teams 21st century

Boston broke their World Series drought by sweeping St. Louis in 2004 (Boston Globe)

Total: 662 points

In 2004 the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years. Since then, they have won another two championships. They also had perhaps the greatest comeback in playoff history, coming back from 3-0 against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS.

The Red Sox have also been playing in the toughest division in baseball since 2000. If you look at their division titles they only have three, which is as many World Series wins they have. This is largely because of who they have been competing with, rather than their lack of ability to perform in the regular season. It is odd to see the third place team on this list only with three AL East titles but it is the way the game goes.

Boston has had some stellar hitters including David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. They also have had some of the greatest pitchers of all-time in Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling. Their success can also be largely attributed to the supporting cast of their team. Players like Kevin Youkilis and Jacoby Ellsbury are the less well known players on these teams that are able to have a significant impact.

2. St. Louis Cardinals

Win-Loss: 1,593-1,248 (.560)= 345 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 12= 120 points

Division Titles: 9= 90 points

League Champions: 4= 40 points

World Series Champions: 2= 100 points

Consistency: 2000-2002, 2004-2006, 2011-2015= 80 points

Total= 775 points

The Cardinals have been called the Yankees of the National League. Since 2000, they have been one of the most consistently great organizations in baseball. This is because they have had a great mix of star performers and supporting players.

best mlb teams 21st century

Known as “MV3”, this legendary trio led the Cardinals to be one of the best teams of the 21st century (InsideSTL)

Albert Pujols came from the Cardinals system and had the best 10 year start to career in the history of the game. After he left the Cardinals in 2011, they have yet to figure out a way to fill the void that Pujols left in 2013. Despite the fact that they made it to the World Series in 2013, they have still been missing that spark in the lineup. Yadier Molina has been the best catcher since Ivan Rodriguez and is also a product of the Cardinals’ farm system, however he was never entrenched at the three spot in the lineup quite like Pujols was. Pujols provided the intimidation factor that has been missing and may contribute to why the Cardinals are struggling in 2017.

The 2004 Cardinals won a monstrous 105 games. This is largely thanks to the stellar middle of their lineup in Pujols, Edmonds, and Rolen. There hasn’t quite been a trio as good as them for a long time. Each one of them was the full package with offense as well as defense. They are a big reason why the Cardinals were so successful from 2004-2006.

With the combination of Hall of Fame managing in Tony La Russa as well as great upper management, the Cardinals have some of the best sustained success since the turn of the century.

1. New York Yankees

Win-Loss: 1,637-1,199 (.577)= 438 wins/points

Playoff Appearances: 13= 130 points

Division Titles: 10= 100 points

League Champions: 4= 120 points

World Series Champions: 2= 100 points

Consistency: 2000-2007, 2009-2012 = 100 points

Total= 988 points

best mlb teams 21st century

Not many would debate Derek Jeter being the face of the Yankees success (MLB)

The Yankees had a reputation for a long time for spending big money to get the best players in baseball. They did this with Alex Rodriguez, Mark Texiera, and C.C Sabathia. However, that culture has been starting to get phased out and New York has been growing their own players in their farm system. The best example of this is Aaron Judge who is busting onto the scene and may be one of the greatest rookies ever. Other homegrown players such as Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and Bernie Williams made a big impact this century as well. I haven’t even mentioned that the best closer of all-time, Mariano Rivera, racked up more saves than anyone during this time and came from the Yankees system.

Just by naming all of these players who have played in New York tells the story of how successful they have been. They have won 2 World Series titles since the turn of the century, which is low for them considering they have won 27 all together. Their heated rivals, the Red Sox, have won more championships since 2000. However, the Yankees continued success coupled with their excellent ability to get top-notch players in a variety of ways, makes them the best franchise of the 21st century…so far.

 

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Spring Training Storylines

February has finally come, which means Spring Training is on the horizon. Pitchers and catchers report in less than two weeks. With roster spots up for grabs and offseason moves and contracts still being discussed, this spring training offers plenty to look forward to.

Will the Pirates and Andrew McCutchen be able to reconcile?

2017 MLB Spring Training

Andrew McCutchen will be reunited with the Pirates in Spring Training after they almost dumped him in the off-season (Jim Mcisaac, Getty Images).

Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen was the subject of trade rumors all offseason after having a down year in 2016. With the drop in his offensive production and prospects knocking on the door to the majors, moving the former all-star made perfect sense. That is, until it didn’t happen.

The Pirates decided to stand pat, and in the process alienated their franchise cornerstone. He will return in 2017, but his role with the team is still in question. Will he be the everyday center fielder? Or will young speedster Starling Marte make the move to center? What about Austin Meadows, who according to MLB.com is the ninth highest ranked prospect in baseball?

All of these questions pale in comparison to only one question: will Andrew McCutchen return to normal form? He will have the opportunity to prove it in 2017, with the team many thought had already given up on him.

How will Ian Desmond look at first base?

2017 MLB Spring Training

Ian Desmond will be making his second position change in the past three seasons (Ronald Martinez, Getty Images North America).

The Colorado Rockies made a surprising sign in the offseason, inking outfielder Ian Desmond to a five-year, $70 million deal. With a glut of outfield talent, you would think that money would’ve been better spent on the bullpen or the starting rotation. After signing Desmond, they made an even more surprising announcement.

Desmond is being penciled in as the Rockies starting first baseman for the 2017 season. Changing positions is something Desmond has experienced before. As a shortstop, he made the move to the outfield for the Texas Rangers in the 2016 season. First base is still a whole new world for Desmond.

First base, besides catcher, handles the ball on more plays than any other position. While Desmond is a terrific athlete, asking him to learn a position such as first base in one offseason may be asking too much of him. It will be interesting to watch Desmond in Spring Training, as he will certainly see the field often.

Where will Jose Reyes play?

When the Mets signed Jose Reyes during the 2016 season after his release from the Colorado Rockies, he was expected to take over third base for David Wright. That he did, albeit with poor defensive metrics. What Reyes did provide was solid offense, posting a 104 OPS+ for the Mets. With the return of David Wright in 2017, that leaves Reyes without a position.

2017 MLB Spring Training

The Mets hope Jose Reyes can fly in the outfield just as he has in the infield (Ronald Martinez, Getty Images North America).

It seems the Mets have the answer. Jose Reyes has been practicing in the outfield this offseason, leading many to believe that he will become a super utility player. His experience at shortstop, third and second base give him the ability to play all over the infield. His athletic ability should transfer to the outfield, giving him the ability to play the corner outfield spots or maybe even center field.

With a bat like Reyes’ on the bench, manager Terry Collins will look to utilize him as much as he can. Reyes will see plenty of time in the field during Spring Training. Just don’t expect him to stay in one place too long.

Will any of the remaining sluggers be signed?

Spring Training offers many players the opportunity to prove themselves and earn a starting gig. It also catches many players off guard. Some players wind up getting injured or under performing. That is where these players come in.

2017 MLB Spring Training

Plenty of power hitters remain on the free agent market, but will any of them make a team in Spring Training (Ken Blaze, USA Today Sports).

Names like Mike Napoli, Chris Carter, Pedro Alvarez and Ryan Howard are still on the market, drawing little interest. So much so that Chris Carter, who tied for the most homers in the National League last year with 41, is looking to Japan for employment. With the start of Spring Training, that could change.

These players are likely to be the first to sign during Spring Training due to injury or under performance. The question is which one(s) will it be? Will playoff hero Mike Napoli be the first off the board, or will Pedro Alvarez be able to leverage his massive power into a major league job? What about aged slugger Ryan Howard? Or will Chris Carter be able to avoid the cross-Pacific trip?

With so many questions to be answered before the season starts, Spring Training provides the perfect opportunity to answer them. These and many others will be asked and answered before the season even begins. Just like spring, baseball will burst forth anew in just a few weeks. I for one can’t wait for it to begin.

 

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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: 5/23-5/29

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

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

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

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

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

1. Washington Nationals (30-21)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Philadelphia Phillies (26-24) 3.5 GB

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

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

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

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

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

Miami Marlins (26-24) 3.5 GB

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Atlanta Braves (14-35) 15 GB

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

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

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

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

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

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

NL East Weekly: 5/16-5/22

For the first time in two weeks, there was no lead change in the NL East. The Nationals remain atop the division. They didn’t gain too much headway in the division, as every team won at least three games last week, aside from Miami.

One of the bigger news stories from the East last week was the Braves firing manager Fredi Gonzalez. The move was inevitable with the way the Braves had been playing, and with the plans have for the future, but it’s always hard to gauge exactly when a manager is going to bite the dust. The Braves did win their second series on the year, their first since April 17th, under interim manager Brian Snitker against the Phillies over the weekend. While I doubt there was a whole lot of correlation between the two events, it is good to see the Braves young pitching is starting to show more life.

Jose Fernandez ended up in handcuffs last week. That’s right, the young Marlins ace stole the keys to Phillie Phanatic’s ATV prior to Wednesday’s game, and ended up being cuffed by the Phanatic and led back to the Miami dugout. One thing’s for certain, guys need to stop messing with the Phanatic’s ATV. Another guy in Miami that may as well be batting with handcuffs on is Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton recorded just one hit in 21 at-bats last week, striking out 17 times. Stanton became just the second batter in the modern era to strike out 15 times over a five game span, and the first position player to do so.

I guess the bright side (if you’re one of those optimists who absolutely has to find one) was that Stanton’s one hit came off of Nats ace Max Scherzer, who has looked extremely dominant in his last three starts, combining for 38 strikeouts over that time. Scherzer wasn’t the only one looking dominant on the mound for Washington, as the entire bullpen combined to post a 0.00 ERA last week. Any fans would be ecstatic to see those kind of numbers put up by their bullpen, Nats fans particularly so, given how the bullpen has been one of their sore spots over the past years.

Since we’re already on the topic of the Nats, let’s dive a bit deeper into them as we take a closer look at how the NL East teams fared last week.

1. Washington Nationals 27-17 

Max Scherzer was great, the bullpen was great, and the offense also looked very strong for Washington last week. The Nationals outscored their opponents 30-8 over sox games last week, whose offensive production compared to the rest of the division is why they’re still my favorites in the East (injuries not withstanding). The Nationals bats were hot last week, and they’re continuing to show that they aren’t a one-man Bryce Harper show like some were claiming them to be in April. While Harper continues to pile up the walks, Wilson Ramos continues to drive in runs, totaling six RBI on the week. Ramos is having a standout season through the first two months, and while there’s still a long way to go, Ramos is on the way to having a career year if he continues producing at this rate. The career .264 hitter is almost .100 points higher in 2016, hitting .347.

Anthony Rendon led the team in hitting last week, batting an even .500 and bringing in seven runs in six games. Coming into the year, the biggest problem concerning Rendon was his health, after missing extended time in 2015. Weeks like this show why: it’s obvious that Rendon has the tools necessary to provide in this Nationals lineup if he can stay healthy. A guy who has already spent time on the DL in 2016, Ben Revere, is beginning to turn into the weapon Dusty Baker wanted him to be before his injury. He stole his first two bases and drove in four runs last week. Revere has still been recovering from an oblique injury suffered on Opening Day, but this week’s performance looked reassuring as he looks to return to full form as the Nats leadoff man.

While Max Scherzer struck out 18 men in his two outings last week, he still took the loss in a 2-0 pitcher’s duel against Noah Syndergaard and the Mets on Tuesday. Scherzer allowed just four runs over two starts, with all of them coming off of homers. Solo shots by Curtis Granderson and the hot hitting Michael Conforto were enough to down the Nats, who couldn’t get anything going against Noah Syndergaard. The offense made it up to him on Sunday, however, giving him eight runs of support against the Marlins in the rubber match of that series.

Another guy who (finally) found success vs. Miami was Tanner Roark. Roark was 0-3 against Miami before Friday’s start in which he went 6.2 innings and allowed just one run. Gio Gonzalez continues to fly under the radar on the mound for the Nats. While he is just 3-1 in eight starts, Gonzalez has struck out 40 men in 48.1 innings and posted an impressive 1.86 ERA. Gonzalez picked up his third win in a strong 6.1 inning, one run start against the Mets on Wednesday.

The bullpen deserves a lot of credit on the mound this week as well. Seven men combined for zero earned runs allowed in 13 innings of work last week. Jonathan Papelbon had been looking more suspect than Nats fans had hoped in the past weeks, but he was able to convert his only save opportunity flawlessly on Thursday.

The Nationals are at home all week, with three games against New York before a four game set against the Cards beginning on Thursday.

2. New York Mets (25-18) 1.5 GB

While Noah Syndergaard was able to out-duel Max Scherzer on Tuesday, the rest of the Mets arms were overwhelmed by Washington’s offense in games two and three of the series. The Mets were able to rebound, however, with a sweep of the Brewers over the weekend to keep things interesting in the East.

The Mets offense, while still producing with the long ball, looked much more dormant last week compared to weeks prior. Obviously, the Mets strong pitching staff can make up for some lack of offense, but Syndergaard cannot pitch every game, and even if he did he can’t be expected to put up double-digit strikeouts and give up two runs or less in every start. While Michael Conforto has been fantastic for the Mets offense in recent weeks, belting some balls that still haven’t landed, the Mets appear to have lost first baseman Lucas Duda right before a key series against the Nats. Duda currently has seven homers and 19 RBI on the season, but had to see a doctor on Sunday in regards to an ailing back.

Curtis Granderson is still in the midst of a May slump, hitting just .151 with an OBP of .235. While he did hit two more home runs last week, Granderson is going to need to find himself on base more frequently, and provide opportunities for the men behind him to bring him in. Yoenis Cespedes has proven himself more than capable of doing so. While he didn’t homer last week, his 3 RBI increased his season total to 35, which leads the National League. If Granderson is able to get on base more often, Michael Conforto can begin turning those solo shots into multi-run homers, which can both solidify leads and spark comebacks.

When you look at the Mets’ starting pitcher performances this week, we’re reminded that everybody is human. Except Noah Syndergaard, who is making a very strong case for actually being a demigod. He posted 21 Ks in two scoreless outings, improving his season line to 5-2 with a 1.94 ERA and 76 strikeouts. Thor doesn’t even have the best record on the Mets staff, however. That honor belongs to Steven Matz, who is now 6-1 in seven starts (6-0 in his last six). While he isn’t striking out as many guys as Syndergaard, he’s been just as productive on the hill.

The surprising troubles for the Mets have come from their one and two spots in the rotation, Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey, both of which were hit well in their appearances last week. Harvey lasted just 2.2 innings against the Nationals. Harvey threw a simulated game at Citi Field Saturday in hopes he can work his way out of the worst slump of his young career. He’ll get a shot at redemption against the Nats on Tuesday. DeGrom didn’t suffer a loss in his five innings against the Brewers, and still struck out seven men, but he, admittedly, still isn’t quite back to the form he was in 2015.

The Mets won a number of close game this week, in large part to the efforts of closer, Jeurys Familia. Familia converted three of three save opportunities and notched himself a win last week, all without surrendering a single run. Familia ranks second in the MLB in saves, only behind Jeanmar Gomez of the Phillies. Logan Verrett, after being roughed up in a start filling in for Steven Matz, continues to look more at home in the bullpen, not allowing a run through 2.2 innings of work.

The Mets plays three games in Washington before hosting the Dodgers for three games over the weekend.

3. Philadelphia Phillies (25-19) 2 GB

The Phils missed an opportunity to take second place in the division last week, dropping two of three games to the Braves over the weekend. Despite that, they’re still very much in the conversation in the division. The offense continues to show that it needs some serious help, however, as the Braves young arms held the Phils to just one run in the first two games of the series in Philly.

Tommy Joseph NL East

Tommy Joseph is finally seeing Big League action in Philly, hitting his first homer off of Wei-Yin Chen last week. Photo courtesy of articles.philly.com

We’ll start with the positives surrounding the offense. New first baseman Tommy Joseph is looking primed to produce at the plate. While he is currently splitting starts with Ryan Howard, Joseph hit his first big league homer on Tuesday against the Marlins. Joseph is currently hitting .250 in 2016, and while that isn’t earth shattering, it’s a step up from Howard’s .161. One other thing I like about the Phils is their gameplan at catcher. Both Cameron Rupp and Carlos Ruiz started three games behind the plate last week. Alternating catchers ensures that both remain fresh when it’s their turn to start, which has really paid dividends for Rupp, who hit .545 with a homer and three RBI last week.

What Philadelphia really isn’t doing at the plate is getting on base and manufacturing runs. They’re 13th in the NL in on-base percentage, with a team .292; 14th in walks, with just 111; and dead last in stolen base percentage, converting a steal just 50% of the time. When you have a young, developing offense like the Phils, small ball is usually the more conducive way to produce runs, especially when you have talented pitching. That isn’t saying the Phillies should forego the long ball entirely, they have some guys, like Maikel Franco, who can produce in that category. But they also have guys like Freddy Galvis, who can fly on the basepaths, and I feel that Philadelphia isn’t really taking advantage of that.

None of the Phils arms looked particularly bad this week, despite their starters suffering three losses. Aaron Nola suffered from three unearned runs in what would have otherwise been a quality, two-run start in seven innings against the Braves. The loss ends Nola’s streak of unbeaten starts at five. Jerad Eickhoff had to make two starts this week, and looked strong in both. The lack of run support hurt in his six inning, three run loss to Miami on Monday. But he returned with a strong seven scoreless innings against the Braves on Sunday. Jeanmar Gomez continues to lead the MLB in saves, converting numbers 15 and 16 last week.

The Phillies begin a road trip on Monday in Detroit for three games, before playing the Cubs in Chicago for three more over the weekend.

4. Miami Marlins (22-21) 4.5 GB

The Marlins lost the most ground last week, but they’re still within striking distance in the East. With that in mind, they have to find a way to help slugger Giancarlo Stanton out of one of the worst slumps in baseball. Stanton struck out 15 times in five games last week, before finally recording a hit in Sunday’s game against Washington.

Christian Yelich, despite missing two games for back spasms, posted a strong .412 batting average last week. But the real surprise came from his replacement, Ichiro Suzuki. The 42 year old showed he’s still got it, going hitting .667 in the weekend series against Washington, hitting from the three-hole. Justin Bour was able to pick up some of Stanton’s slack in the power department, hitting three homers and notching five RBI. Marcell Ozuna hit the only other two homers for the Marlins last week, and brought home three runners himself.

Jose Fernandez delivered another strong outing against the Nationals on Saturday, striking out nine in six innings of work and allowing just one run. Hernandez was the Nats’ worst nightmare in his starts. In three starts against them, he allowed just three runs combined while striking out 29. Fernandez is also 4-0 in the month of May and hasn’t lost a game in over a month, since April 23 against the Giants.

The only other Marlins starter to pick up a win last week was Adam Conley, who tossed six innings of one run ball against the Phils, before being hit hard by Washington on Sunday. Tom Koehler and Wei-Yin Chen both were stiffed offensively, allowing just two earned runs in seven and six innings respectively, but ending up being dealt the loss. While Koehler is 0-1 in his past three starts, he has surrendered just four earned runs over 19.2 innings of work, and has struck out 16 men. Hopefully for Marlins fans, he’ll continue to trend in this direction while Adam Conley tries to work out of his consistency issues at the bottom of the rotation.

The Marlins play a four game series against the Rays, two games at home before heading to Tampa for the last two. They then head to Atlanta for three games over the weekend.

5. Atlanta Braves (12-31) 14.5 GB

While the firing of Fredi Gonzalez cast a shadow over the Braves this week, it was a good week for them overall. They picked up their first series win in over a month against the Phillies over the weekend, and more guys are starting to relax and find their power swings. Mallex Smith, Jeff Francoeur, and Freddie Freeman all turned in multi-homer weeks; meanwhile Nick Markakis, Kelly Johnson, and Tyler Flowers all hit their first dingers of 2016.

This is a good sign for the Braves, not because it means they’re going to miraculously turn their season around and make a postseason run, but because it means their young pitchers can finally start playing with some run support. When pitchers have run support, they’re able to be more relaxed on the mound and throw their game. Particularly for younger guys, this can play a huge role in a pitcher’s confidence when they take the mound. When pitchers know they will get some run support, they won’t put so much pressure on themselves when they’re on the mound, which can lead to more quality outings. That’s not to say that Braves starters are going to begin routinely throwing seven scoreless innings every time they take the hill, but it will help further their development and maturation on the mound.

Freddie Freeman continues, as expected, to be the top producer for this Atlanta offense, while Mallex Smith continues to solidify his position as a promising player down the road. Jeff Francoeur came out of nowhere last week, with two homers and four RBI. Francoeur is another guy who can provide a lot of veteran knowledge to some of the younger players around him on this Braves roster. The Braves are finally starting to get back into the groove on the basepaths as well, as new third baseman Chase D’Arnaud and Ender Inciarte both swiped two bags last week. D’Arnaud hit a loud .412, and looks to be another strong candidate in the Braves leadoff spot.

Julio Teheran pitching NL East

Julio Teheran finally got a win in 2016. He tossed a 7.2 inning shutout against the Pirates. Photo courtesy of totalprosports.com

Julio Teheran finally snagged his first win of 2016, turning in 7.2 scoreless innings against the Pirates on Wednesday. Teheran has allowed just two earned runs in four starts this month, but is still just 1-1 over that period. Matt Wisler also turned in another strong start, surrendering just one run to the Phillies in 6.2 innings of work. Wisler, also, has been strong in the month of May; he’s allowed just six runs in four starts and has a 2-1 record. Aaron Blair continues to struggle the most of any of the young Braves starters, getting roughed up in Pittsburgh. Blair lasted just 1.1 innings and gave up nine earned runs over that time. The silver lining for Blair is that there’s nowhere to go but up from here, as he’ll have some time to recover some confidence with triple-A Gwinnett.

NL East Weekly Recap: 5/9-5/15

The NL East continues to heat up with four teams within 2.5 games of the division lead. While the East may not have a bench clearing brawl last week, it did see some dominant pitching (namely Max Scherzer), and is shaping up to be one of the most exciting in the long run of division races. Aside from arguably the NL West, the NL East is probably the tightest division race throughout the bulk of its teams.

The Mets showed that the Nationals aren’t the only team that can lose the division due to a bad week of play; the really surprising consequence of the Mets’ 2-5 trip out west, however, is that the Phillies are now not just hanging around in the divisional race, they’re right in the thick of it in the #2 spot. The Phils admittedly had one of the easier schedules this week, getting to enjoy beating up on poor Atlanta just like every other team in the division has up to this point.

While offenses in the division continue to be below average in the runs category, the pitching continues to be leaned on as the real workhorse in the division. While none of the staffs were as dominant as we’ve come to expect, there were some surprising starts (both good and bad) for a lot of guys in the division.

Without further ado, let’s take a closer look at each team in the NL East.

1. Washington Nationals (23-15)

The Nationals finally find themselves on the positive side of a divisional lead change. Washington found themselves on both ends of some bizarre fielding in their game against Miami on Sunday, but Washington ended up on the losing end of the trade, resulting in the four game set being split at two wins apiece. Ryan Zimmerman was the beneficiary of one of those Sunday plays, notching himself an inside the park home run when Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna collided in the outfield. Both Ozuna and Stanton appear to be fine despite being shaken up on the play. That homer was one of Zimmerman’s surprising three home runs last week, which led the team. Unforfunately for the Nats, Stephen Drew, who started in place of a sick Daniel Murphy on Sunday, gifted the Marlins two runs earlier in the game when he lost a pop up in the sun in the Nats 5-1 loss.

Zimmerman may have led the team in homers last week because their usual suspect at the dish, Bryce Harper, continues to adhere to the lyrics of Unk and Walk it Out. Harper hit just .267 last week with four hits, one of them a homer, but he walked 11 times, giving his OBP a .310 point boost on the week to .577. At this rate, according to ESPN’s Dave Schoenfield, Harper is on par for being the second most-walked player in a season, only behind Barry Bonds. What Harper is doing more than Bonds is starting controversies with home plate umpires. Harper game two of Washington’s doubleheader against Miami on Saturday due to a one-game suspension for his actions towards the home plate umpire in game one of the Detroit series on Monday. Harper continues to let his emotions dominate his play, and manager Dusty Baker continues to acknowledge that, but I feel brief episodes like this will continue for Harper. So long as he doesn’t put himself at risk by inducing an all-out brawl on the diamond, I think the Nationals are not going to force Harper to undergo any dramatic changes behaviorally.

The Nats arms have plenty of stories surrounding them as well. We’ll start with the good: Max Scherzer struck out 20 against his former team on Wednesday. Scherzer joins Kerry Wood, Roger Clemens, Tom Cheney, and Randy Johnson as the only pitchers to strike out 20 or more players in a game. What’s almost more impressive is that he did it without walking a single Tiger in the appearance. Scherzer actually threw the least amount of balls in any 20+ K performance (119 pitches, 93 strikes, 26 balls). Scherzer still has some room to go if he wants to put up numbers similar to last season, his ERA is currently 4.15, and his walk total through his first eight starts (15) is nearly half of what it was through all of 2015 (34). Scherzer will start on game one of the series against New York starting Tuesday against Noah Syndergaard. Scherzer struggled the last time he faced a projected playoff team, giving up seven runs in five innings against the Cubs. While New York’s offense isn’t quite as explosive, they have shown an affinity for the long ball this year, and Scherzer will have to avoid missing his spots.

Stephen Strasburg received a huge seven-year, $175 million contract last week. He’s currently 6-0 for the Nats in 2016. Photo courtesy of finance.yahoo.com

Stephen Strasburg signed a $175 million extension, and he rewarded the Nationals with his 6th win on the season against Miami. Strasburg now sits at 6-0 on the year with a 2.95 ERA. His start is the second-best in franchise history through eight games, only behind Pedro Martinez’s 8-0 start in 1997. If Strasburg is able to remain healthy throughout the majority of his new 7-year, $175 million deal and continue to deal like this, then GM Mike Rizzo will show that he earned the extension he received shortly after Strasburg this week.

The bad news is, Tanner Roark continues to struggle against the Marins, and Joe Ross is now 0-3 in the month of May. Roark is currently 2-3 on the year, with all three of his losses coming against the Marlins. Roark’s season ERA sits at just 3.10, but is 8.40 in his three starts against the Marlins. Whatever the cause is for his woes, the good news for Roark is that the Nats only play Miami once more before the All-Star Break. Meanwhile, Ross had an ERA of 0.79 in four April starts. In three May starts, his ERA is sitting just below five at 4.91. This may be due, in part, to Washington’s tougher schedule in May, but the Nationals still need to see Ross recover from the slump he’s in right now.

The Nationals begin their long-awaited, three game set with the Mets on Tuesday, before playing Miami for three games.

2. Philadelphia Phillies (22-16) 1 GB

Every week, we’ve been waiting for the Phillies to fall to where they were expected to be in the NL East, and every week we’ve seen the opposite, with Philadelphia moving closer and closer to a top two spot in the division. Well, now it’s finally happened. The Phillies took advantage of the Mets bad week to jump to #2 in the standings and are just a game back of Washington.

While pitching has been the catalyst of the Phils successes, the young guys at the plate continue to step up for Philadelphia. Odubel Herrera is proving to be a very effective leadoff hitter, hitting .333 on the season with six stolen bases and four homers. He also leads the team in walks by a wide margin, with 29. Maikel Franco is shaping up to be a very strong three-hole hitter, with 22 RBI on the year and seven HRs, just one behind Ryan Howard, who leads the team. According to ESPN’s Doug Mittler, the Phillies may be considering moving up Minor League first baseman, Tommy Joseph, in hopes of yielding more consistent results from their first baseman. Joseph is currently hitting .368 with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. With the way some of these other young guys have hit for the Phillies, Joseph could make this offense even more promising for the future.

Pitching was more of the same in Philadelphia, Aaron Nola allowed just one earned run in a seven inning win against the Reds. Nola tied his career high in that start, with nine punch outs. Nola ranks 3rd in the NL in WHIP, sitting at 0.85. Nola has really blossomed this season after a rough opening three starts. He’s turned in quality starts in four of his last five appearances, and averages just one walk per start in the month of May.

Jeanmar Gomez now leads the MLB in saves with 14. While having a weak offense that wins a lot of close games helps inflate this number, there’s no denying that Gomez has been key to a lot of Philadelphia’s success this year. The Phils are now 14-3 on the year in one-run ballgames, a team can’t have numbers like that without a great closer. The rest of the Phils bullpen is no slouch either, four set-up men allowed no runs over 11.1 innings of work. The highlights there being Brett Oberholtzer, who threw five scoreless innings of relief in two outings, and Hector Nerris, who had three shutout innings over three games last week.

The Phillies have a real shot to move into first place this week with three game sets at home against both Miami and Atlanta.

3. New York Mets (21-16) 1.5 GB

The Mets had a pretty rough trip out west, scraping together just two wins in seven games. Both the offense and the pitching looked a little more docile than it had over the past few weeks. The good news is that catcher Kevin Plawecki is beginning to look sharper at the plate, driving in a team high five runs last week. While the Mets were victim to some controversial calls over the course of the week, they also have fallen victim to some mistakes in areas they have control over. Curtis Granderson is having a rough time in the leadoff spot this month, and when the leadoff man is struggling to get on base, runs are that much harder to get. Granderson has just a .179 OBP with a .132 batting average this month. He’s also struck out 18 times through the first half of May; he had just 19 Ks throughout all of April.

Perhaps the most interesting story in New York was Noah Syndergaard, and not just because of his performance on the mound. Thor may as well have been hitting with his hammer, hitting two thunderous homers, and providing himself with all of his run support on the day. It’s pretty rare to see a pitcher hit one homer in a game, let alone two. Syndergaard became the first pitcher to hit two dingers in a game since  Micah Owings in 2007, and the first Mets pitcher to do so since Walt Terrell in 1983. Syndergaard’s four RBI were the second most for any Met last week.

Syndergaard also got it done on the bump in his start against the Dodgers. He tied a career high with eight innings of work, in which he gave up six hits, two of them solo homers, and picked up his 3rd win of the year. Steven Matz was the other Met to get a win last week, although he did miss his second start on Saturday with forearm soreness. It is unknown yet if Matz will remain in the Mets rotation or end up on the DL, but he did throw long toss on Thursday and has a doctor’s exam upcoming.

Matz’s replacement in the rotation, Logan Verrett got roughed up by Colorado. He lasted just 2.2 innings and gave up seven runs on 10 hits in that timespan. Verrett is the same guy who filled in for Jacob deGrom when he was out of the rotation earlier this season, however. During that time Verrett went 2-0 in two starts, so the ability is there. Speaking of deGrom, he claims he still doesn’t feel as comfortable on the mound as he did in 2015. He did not factor into the decision in either of his two starts last week, despite turning in a quality seven innings of two run ball against the Dodgers on Tuesday. Matt Harvey also continues to have a rough run at returning to form, giving up five runs on 11 hits through 5.2 against the Rockies on Friday. Colorado hit .407 off of the Mets ace.

New York looks to end their four game skid at home on Tuesday against the Nationals, before squaring off with the Brewers on Friday for a second three game set at home.

4. Miami Marlins

Miami went 4-3 last week to remain in the thick of the action in the East. Their batting averages continue to be sky high, with four starters hitting .300 or above last week. They have four starters on the season hitting at that same level, with Derek Dietrich, Dee Gordon’s replacement, hitting .298. With Giancarlo Stanton having an off week, hitting just .154, some other Marlins bats came out to help the offense last week. Justin Bour had two homers and three RBI, while J.T. Realmuto hit .348 and led the team with four RBI. Marcell Ozuna hit .500 last week and provides a strong bridge between the middle and the bottom of this Marlins lineup. While the offense did not look quite as impressive with Yelich and Stanton both having off weeks, it still proved last week that it has the talent and the potential to get wins, especially when its pitchers deliver like they did last week.

Jose Fernandez went seven innings with 11 strikeouts in both of his starts last week. Thumbs up, Photo courtesy of gardygoesyardy.com

Jose Fernandez showed last week why he’s still considered a fantastic starter for the Marlins. He allowed just one run in his two starts combined, a total of 14 innings, and struck out 22 batters, 11 in each start. Fernandez’s lines were nearly identical  in each start, surrendering four hits over seven innings and striking out 11 men. One thing he’ll still want to improve on is his accuracy, as he also issued seven free passes over those two starts.

Wei-Yin Chen also put up some impressive numbers in the K column, fanning 12 hitters in 6.1 innings Wednesday against Milwaukee. Chen is 3-0 in his last four starts, and hasn’t suffered a loss since April 20 against Washington. Tom Koehler was stiffed a decision despite providing a strong 5.2 innings of one run ball against Washington. Koehler’s biggest problem remains to be control, he walked five Nats hitters and struck out just four. He has 27 Ks to 20 BBs on the year, but has looked strong in his last two starts.  The Marlins biggest concern on the mound continues to be walks, they’re 3rd in the NL with 154 free passes issued. If they can cut down on the free base runners, they might save themselves a few runs here and there, which can add up at the end of a ballgame.

Miami plays three games in Philly starting Monday before hosting Washington for the final time before the All-Star Break over the weekend.

5. Atlanta Braves (9-27) 13 GB

The Braves now have the only rotation in baseball made up entirely of players 25 years old or younger. They traded Jhoulys Chacin to the Angels on Wednesday and will now be showing off nothing but young guns from this point onward in the rotation. Atlanta got two wins over the week, which, all things considered, isn’t terrible for them. At this point it really isn’t about wins and losses either, it’s about getting experience to the now entirely young pitching staff. Whether this experience will be used for the Braves or to establish trade pieces as the deadline approaches is yet to be seen.

While Freddie Freeman might be one of the most tantalizing pieces of trade bait the Braves have, the organization has repeatedly announced that they have no interest in trading their staple at first base. That may due, in part, to the fact that he’s providing more power for that team than the rest of the players combined. Then doubled. Freeman’s two homers last week moves his season total up to six. The rest of the Atlanta bats had an off week, even by their standards. Nick Markakis hit just .087 on the week. Recently activated Gordon Beckham did well; he tied for a team best three RBI last week and hit .316.

The pitching should be the main focus for Atlanta right now, and not just because they’re in a division that’s been so reliant on it this season. With nothing but young guys starting for the foreseeable future, the team has the potential to weed out those they want to keep and those they want to trade. The bulk of the rotation did look stronger last week: Mike Foltynewicz turned in his best outing of the season, and notched his first win of the year last week. He went eight shutout innings in Kansas City against the Royals. After a rough first start against the Mets, Foltynewicz’s last two starts have both been quality outings, and have looked impressive.

Williams Perez made his first start in nearly a month against the Phillies on Wednesday, and it was by far his best. He went eight innings and allowed just two hits, one of them a solo homer. Julio Teheran picked up another loss on Friday at Kansas City, but it was due to both a lack of offense, and an error by the right fielder Jeff Francoeur. With Freeman supposedly off the table, Teheran may be the Braves most valuable trade piece right now. While his record is an ugly 0-4, he’s looked very good in the month of May, allowing just two earned runs in three starts, including a shutout seven innings against the World Series favorite Cubs.

Matt Wisler continued to look strong, despite going 0-1 in two starts last week. He went eight innings in a losing effort to the Phillies and another 7.1 of two run ball against the Royals on Sunday, but didn’t factor in the decision. Aaron Blair is still experiencing some growing pains in his first year in The Bigs, lasting just 3.2 against the Phillies on Thursday. This rotation is young, however, and even the most veteran of pitchers have rough outings every now and then, so as long as the Braves are able to turn these outings into quality learning experiences for their young starters, then the results don’t hurt quite as much.

NL East: Week 5 Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. New York Mets (19-11)

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

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

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

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

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

2. Washington Nationals (19-12) 0.5 GB

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Philadelphia Phillies (18-14) 2 GB

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

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

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

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

4. Miami Marlins (16-14) 3 GB

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

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

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

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

Atlanta Braves (7-23) 12 GB

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

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

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

NL East: Week 4 Recap

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

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

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

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

1. Washington Nationals (17-7) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Philadelphia Phillies (15-10) 2.5 GB

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

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

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

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

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

4. Miami Marlins (12-12) 5 GB

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

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

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

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

5. Atlanta Braves (6-18) 11 GB

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

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

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

NL East: Week 2 Recap

Photo courtesy of cbssports.com

 

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

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

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

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

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

1. Washington Nationals (9-2)

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

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

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

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

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

2. Philadelphia Phillies (6-7) 4 GB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Miami Marlins (3-7) 5.5 GB

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

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

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

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

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

5. Atlanta Braves (3-9) 6.5 GB

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

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

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

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

NL East Opening Week Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Washington Nationals (3-1)

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

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

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

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

2. New York Mets (2-3)

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

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

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

3. Philadelphia Phillies (2-4)

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

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

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

4. Miami Marlins (1-3)

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

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

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

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

5. Atlanta Braves (0-5)

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

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

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