Fantasy Baseball 2017

Fantasy Baseball 2017: Injury Update

As we head deeper into the first month of the baseball season, it is time to identify and analyze some key injuries across the league. This injury update will provide insight to a player’s current health status and their outlook moving forward. The following players are listed on the disabled list as of April 13th, 2017.

 

David Price, starting pitcher, Boston Red Sox, (10-day DL elbow)

Fantasy Baseball 2017

David Price is eager to make his 2017 debut. (Courtesy of Keith Allison)

  • Expected return: mid-to-late May
  • Re-injury potential: medium

 

Price was placed on the 10-day DL after feeling elbow stiffness during a spring training start. The ace-caliber arm tossed a 35-pitch bullpen session on April 12th, which ended with positive results. He felt no additional soreness, which is encouraging, as he plans to increase his pitch totals to 45 come his next bullpen. According to manager John Farrell, Price could begin to see “hitters possibly early next week”, as he will pitch in a handful of simulated games before beginning his rehab starts. Price’s next step is to continue working on his breaking pitches, as an elbow injury can severally flatten out a breaking ball.

Fantasy-wise, Price has been a proven ace, as he sports a career 3.21 ERA, while striking out 200 batters five times in his nine-year career. Although Price managed to win 17 games in 2016, it was by far his worst season in the majors since his rookie year, in 2009. The upside with Price is immense, as he is a proven ace on a championship caliber team, although the injury risk is real for the 31-year-old workhorse, as he has thrown an average of 218 innings over his last seven seasons.

 

JD Martinez, right fielder, Detroit Tigers, (10-day DL foot)

Fantasy Baseball 2017

J.D. Martinez is well ahead of schedule. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

  • Expected return: late April
  • Re-injury potential: low

 

The Tigers’ slugger sprained his foot making a catch in right field this spring, landing himself on the 10-day. Martinez is expected to make his first rehab start “within the next few days”, according to MLB Network Radio reports. This is a great sign, as it shows that Martinez is ahead of schedule, and should return before the end of April.

J.D. Martinez is a very underrated fantasy asset, as many forget about his outstanding 2015 campaign that resulted in 38 home runs, 102 RBI, and a .282 batting average. Injuries have remained a staple of his career, although a healthy Martinez can be as valuable of a fantasy asset as any outfielder, excluding Trout, Harper, or Betts.

 

Jason Kipnis, second baseman, Cleveland Indians, (10-day DL shoulder)

(Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Jason Kipnis faces yet another setback after being hit in the hand during rehab start. (Courtesy of MLB.com)

  • Expected return: mid-to-late April
  • Re-injury potential: low

 

Kipnis found himself on the disabled list after he had inflammation in his shoulder, which is fairly common among infielders, especially those who participate in deep playoffs runs the season before. He was scheduled to return within the next week, although he was hit by a pitch in the hand during a rehab start. This incident will push Kipnis’ return back about a week, as he will miss one or two rehab starts.

The Indians’ franchise second baseman has been a proven producer who will most likely see at bats in the two spot of the lineup, but also may see time batting behind newcomer, Edwin Encarnacion, as the Cleveland lineup is loaded with top tier talent. Kipnis hit 20 home runs for the first time in his career last season, showing that he has power to combine with his speed and batting average. The 30-year-old is a top 10 second baseman when healthy, and should be confidently placed in your lineup once he returns.

 

Wilson Ramos, catcher, Tampa Bay Rays, (60-day DL knee)

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Wilson Ramos is ready for an early June return. (Courtesy of Getty Images)

  • Expected return: mid-to-late June
  • Re-injury potential: low

 

The newly acquired catcher has yet to suit up for the Rays this season due to undergoing knee surgery which ended his 2016 season. He will be eligible to return as early as June 1st, although it is anticipated that he will require until mid-to-late June until he is fully recovered and game ready. The Rays also acquired catcher Derek Norris, who should remain the every-day catcher even after Ramos’ return, as it is anticipated for the Rays to ease Ramos back into his everyday role by placing him at designated hitter.

The 2016 Silver Slugger will become an essential part of the Rays lineup, and will presumably bat in the five or six position, giving him ample opportunities to produce RBI. If Ramos is not owned in your league, the time to add him may be soon approaching. Stay aware of his status come June, as you may find yourself a top three catcher for the second half of your season.

 

Sonny Gray, starting pitcher, Oakland Athletics, (10-day DL back)

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Athletics’ Ace Sonny Gray aims for March 1st return. (Courtesy of SF Gate)

  • Expected return: early April
  • Re-injury potential: high

 

Gray was placed on the 10-day DL after suffering a strain in his back, which has been causing him severe discomfort when pitching. He has begun a throwing program, which included three separate 15 pitch bullpen sessions, which all went smoothly. Coach Bob Melvin stated that his timetable is “the first of May”, which gives him about three weeks to hone his stuff before he makes his season debut.

The 27-year-old had major success in his first two full major league seasons, having a 3.08 and 2.73 ERA respectively. He also finished third in American League Cy Young voting in 2015 after winning 14 games and recording 169 strikeouts. If Gray is healthy, there is no reason he cannot return to Cy Young caliber.

 

Jean Segura, short stop/second basemen, (10-day DL hamstring)

Fantasy Baseball 2017

Jean Segura will bring his newfound power to the Pacific Northwest in 2017. (AP Photo, Ross D. Franklin)

  • Expected return: late April
  • Re-injury potential: medium

 

Segura strained his hamstring diving back into first base, causing himself to be placed on the 10-day DL. Although it is a mild strain, the Mariners are taking every precaution with their starting short stop, as a lingering hamstring injury could seriously derail Segura’s season.

The 2016 top 15 NL MVP candidate has been off to a very hot start in 2017. He is currently batting .313, with six runs scored, three RBI, and three stolen bases. The Mariners leadoff man is sure to be a top fantasy producer this season once he can get back on the field. If you want to make a move for the 27-year-old, the time is now.

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2017 MLB Season

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Catchers

This is the second installment of the 2017 MLB Season Position Rankings. In this installment, we will be focusing on catchers. Catchers will be weighed by their offensive as well as defensive stats.

Lets start our list of backstops at number five.

5. Yasmani Grandal- Los Angeles Dodgers

2017 MLB Season

Yasmani Grandal will be a steady presence behind the plate for the Dodgers in 2017. (Kevin Sullivan, Dodgers Staff Photographer)

Yasmani Grandal has proven to be a steadying presence behind the plate for the Los Angeles Dodgers. After being acquired from the Padres in the 2014 Matt Kemp trade, he has come into his own. He has provided a solid bat with some good power, knocking 27 long balls to go along with 72 RBI’s in 2016.

Grandal also has good control over the opposing team’s running game. In 2016, Grandal threw out would-be base stealers at an above average 29 percent. Grandal also had 13 defensive runs saved in 2016, providing elite defense behind the plate.

While Grandal does hit for a relatively low average (career .238 hitter), he makes up for it with good power and exceptional defensive skills. Look for Grandal to contend for his second career NL All-Star appearance in 2017.

4. Wilson Ramos- Tampa Bay Rays

Wilson Ramos turned into an offensive force for the Washington Nationals in 2016. With the decline of Bryce Harper from his 2015 MVP form, Ramos was able to pick up some of the slack and help Washington to their third NL Division Series in the last five years. However, the Nationals were unable to get over the hump.

Ramos posted career highs in all major offensive categories. He batted .307 and launched 22 bombs to go with 80 RBI’s. While putting up career highs in offensive numbers, Ramos also exhibited a strong control over the base paths. Ramos was well above league average (27 percent) in throwing out baserunners, limiting opposing teams to 37 percent.

While Ramos did provide ample control of the run game, his overall defense left something to be desired. He posted -1 defensive runs saved in 2016. The Tampa Bay Rays snagged the slugging catcher this off season, and will value him more for his bat than his glove in 2016.

3. Salvador Perez- Kansas City Royals

2017 MLB Season

The base paths are on lock down with Salvador Perez behind the dish. (John Rieger, USA Today Sports)

Salvador Perez has been one of the top catchers in all of baseball since becoming a full-time starter in 2013. In that time, Perez has garnered four AL All-Star appearances to go along with four Gold Gloves. He has provided a steady presence for the Royals and helped fuel their back-to-back World Series appearances in 2014-2015.

While his bat did slip some from his career averages (career .272, .247 in 2016), his power was ever present. Perez slammed 22 home runs, the most of his career to go along with 64 RBI’s.

He also continued to show why he is considered one of the best defensive catchers of the game. Perez threw out opposing baserunners at an astounding 48 percent, easily tops for the catchers in contention for this list. He also provided solid overall defense with 3 defensive runs saved. Perez is set to continue his run as top defensive catcher in all of baseball for years to come.

2. Jonathan Lucroy- Texas Rangers

Jonathan Lucroy saw his season be split between the NL and the AL as the top catcher available was traded from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Texas Rangers at the 2016 trade deadline. Lucroy posted solid numbers in both leagues in 2016, batting .292 while providing exceptional power evident from his .500 slugging percentage. He used his 24 home runs to pad his slugging percentage while pairing them with 81 RBI’s.

Lucroy was a force for the Texas Rangers down the stretch, both behind the plate as well as in the batters box. He threw out runners at a 39 percent clip, more than 10 percent better than the league average. Lucroy also had 4 defensive runs saved in 2016, proving he is one of the top overall catchers in baseball. A change of scenery seemed to fuel Lucroy in 2016. Look for him to continue his ascent while helping lead the World Series contending Texas Rangers in 2017.

1. Buster Posey- San Francisco Giants

Buster Posey has proven to be the total package for the San Francisco Giants. He has four career NL All-Star appearances, three Silver Sluggers, one Gold Glove, and an NL MVP Trophy to go along with his NL ROY award. Posey easily gained the top spot in these rankings, but not just by his trophy case. He posted a batting average of .288 to go along with 14 home runs and 80 RBI’s.

Posey was able to couple his solid offense with his stellar defense to garner his fourth NL All-Star appearance and earn his first Gold Glove. Posey posted stellar defensive numbers, providing 23 defensive runs saved in 2016, easily tops on this list. Combine that with his ability to limit the running game by throwing out 37 percent of baserunners, and you have the best defensive catcher of the 2016 season. Posey will give the Giants a strong glove and bat in 2017.

Catchers play a vital role in the offense and defense of a team. While catchers are more heavily weighed on their defensive stats, in the next installment of this series we will be looking at some of the biggest bats in the game. Stay tuned!

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5 NL Free Agents to Watch this Offseason

With the season finally over, it is time for teams to focus on the more subtle aspect of baseball: the off-season. Here I’ll take a look at five of the biggest names coming from National League teams, hitting the free agency in the 2017 off-season. These players are not ranked in any particular order.

1. Yoenis Cespedes – OF

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What colors will Yoenis Cespedes be rocking in 2017? Image courtesy of FOX Sports.

Cespedes was a huge part of the Mets’ offense in 2016, especially considering how weak and injury prone it was. Jay Bruce, who the Mets acquired at the Trade Deadline, will ensure the Mets still have one big bat in the outfield regardless of what happens to Cespedes. Bruce has struggled in his brief time in the Big Apple however. This certainly could change after an off-season with the team.  The Mets would certainly love to keep his bat, and cannon of an arm at Citi Field. Cespedes’ numbers weren’t top-tier on offense, but certainly stood out amidst a sputtering Mets offense in 2016. This might bring his value up even higher than he may realistically be worth. He batted .280, with 86 RBIs, and 31 home runs for the Mets in 2016. I think the biggest concern for potential Cespedes buyers would be his age. He is 31 years old, so his most dynamic years might be behind him. This isn’t to say he can’t be productive on a team, just that he is less likely to be a superstar that a team can build an offense around.

 

 

2. Justin Turner – 3B

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Justin Turner and his magnificent beard may be shipping out of LA this off-season. Image courtesy of FOX Sports.

Turner is another player who provided a consistent bat at the plate in 2016. He led the Dodgers in home runs (27) and RBIs (90). What might make Turner more valuable than Cespedes this off-season is his defensive position. Plenty of teams could use a new glove at third base, and Turner’s bat outranks the other third basemen on the market this off-season. Similarly to Cespedes, he isn’t as youthful as he once was. At 31 years old he can certainly still make an impact for a team.  It will be interesting to see how long of a contract teams are willing to offer him. One more thing about Turner is his ability to play anywhere in the infield. While he’s undoubtedly most comfortable at the hot corner, Turner has spent some time in the middle infield (71 starts at 2B with the Mets in 2011), meaning there’s an off-chance that he could fill a multitude of infield holes based on the teams pursuing him.

 

 

3. Dexter Fowler – OF

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Where will Dexter Fowler take his switch-hitting abilities in 2017? Image courtesy of Baseball Hot Corner.

Just days after helping the Cubs win their first World Series in over a century, Fowler declined his $9 million mutual option with Chicago for 2017. Fowler will undoubtedly garner a lot of attention. As a switch-hitting leadoff man who hit .276 in Chicago last year, he’d fit in well with almost any team willing to make him an offer. Some have dubbed him the potential Ben Zobrist of this off-season. One big difference between Fowler in 2017 and Zobrist in 2016 is the age gap. Fowler will be 31 by the time the regular season rolls around, while Zobrist was 35. I know I’ve cautioned against the 30+year old players earlier, but I feel that the versatility Fowler offers at the plate as a switch hitter means he has slightly more long-term value, even if he’s just coming off the bench. He’s also still got a little bit of pop in his bat for a leadoff man, hitting 13 homers in the regular season while batting .276 and scoring 84 runs.

 

 

 

4. Neil Walker – 2B

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Neil Walker showed surprising power from both sides of the plate in 2016. Will he stick with the Mets or look elsewhere for 2017? Image courtesy of the New York Post.

Neil Walker turned a lot of heads with his performance in April of 2016. A guy not usually known for his power, Walker led the Mets squad with nine homers and 19 RBIs that month. But as the season progressed, Walker’s numbers appeared to be on the decline until August, where he again started surprising everyone. He hit a commanding .389 that month, but eventually wound up on the DL for the remainder of the year. He finished with a .282 average, 55 RBIs, and 23 homers in 113 games. While questions surrounding his off-season back surgery will certainly cause some teams to think twice, one pull for Walker, similar to Fowler, is his ability to hit consistently from both sides of the plate. The biggest change coming into 2017 is his potential to hit for power from both batter’s boxes. On Monday he received a qualifying offer from the Mets in an attempt to get him back.  If he declines then we’ll see what kind of attention the switch-hitting second baseman can garner.

 

 

 

5. Wilson Ramos – C

Ramos looked like an entirely new player in 2016 compared to previous seasons. He was hitting the ball more consistently than ever (.307 vs. .258 career  average coming into the season), and had his first season with more than 20 homers. The Nationals declined to make him a qualifying offer, meaning he’s now available for any team looking to nab him this off-season. He was slightly above the middle of the pack on defense, with a 37.25 caught stealing percentage in 2016. With catching being such a demanding position and Ramos being one of the youngest catchers on the free agent market at 29 years old, I think he could draw a lot of attention and be a real asset wherever he goes.

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For the first time since 2010, Wilson “The Buffalo” Ramos will not be suiting up in a Nationals uniform. Image courtesy of MLB.com.

 

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Why The Nationals Are A Special Team

Currently first in their division, the Washington Nationals have demonstrated just how special a team they are during the first half of the MLB season.  Nationals manager Dusty Baker has showcased his philosophy of rotating his players and starting lineup every few games or so to keep guys fresh.  Personnel depth is desirable for any team and the Nats have it.

The Nats are indeed special in 2016 because of their batting. This article will focus solely on the Nats batters.  T Nationals have players ranked first and second in the National League in batting average among players who have played in at least 69 games. These players are second baseman Daniel Murphy (.348) and catcher Wilson Ramos (.343) respectively.  Murphy was brought in because of his ability to make contact with the ball and generate any kind of directional hit. Whether it be a home run or a line drive single to advance the runners while Ramos, whose average is usually in the .200s, has simply had a breakout season.  Murphy is also first in the National League in hits (108) and eighth in runs batted in (56).

Daniel Murphy is congratulated by Jayson Werth after batting a hit.

Young stud and possible back to back MVP right fielder Bryce Harper holds an impressive on base percentage at .404, good for fourth in the NL.  Harper brings another strong dynamic to this team.  A batter who can be intentionally walked or hit a grand slam, the pitcher must roll the dice. Harper keeps his fans guessing when he’ll make a play or be a hero.  He’s got a keen eye at the plate and smart, quick base running instincts, leading the team in stolen bases with 11.

Bryce Harper runs towards first base after hitting a double.

Then there’s the durable third baseman Anthony Rendon, who leads the team in runs with 52.  His batting average ranks fourth on the squad at .256.

Another big time hitter for Washington is part werewolf, part nut. I am talking about the beginning of this squad, left fielder Jayson Werth.  A clutch performer, and a bit of a lumbering base runner. Werth is as steady as they come, registering solid numbers across all aspects of batting.  And how can we forget his recent post-game interview in which he addressed his doubters with, “Those people can kiss my ass!”

Jason Werth during one of his most hilarious post-game interviews in which he exclaims, “Those people can kiss my ass!”

Next up to bat is shortstop Danny Espinosa, the team’s leader in home runs (18).  Though Espinosa has shown flashes of brilliance, he remains an inconsistent puzzle piece.  He may hit two home runs in one game and then fail to have a good eye at reading balls and strikes at his next few at bats.  Still, this shortstop can electrify the stadium when his good luck is happening.

Let’s not forget center fielder Ben Revere. His role on the team is a bit like a secret weapon or x factor.  Revere can make contact with the ball in a lot of ways.  He can hit a well-placed grounder, or a solid base hit in a clutch moment.  Though Revere has struggled to hit the ball out of the park (he has just one home run), his speed has compensated.  Revere’s 10 stolen bases are second only to Harper and his three triples are second only to Murphy.    In summary, Revere is a valuable signing with a penchant for flying around the bases.

Ben Revere attempts to bunt the ball.

Other honorable mentions include second baseman Stephen Drew, who hit an inside the park homer earlier in the year. Also Ryan Zimmerman, the longtime first baseman and backbone of the team.

Any one of these players can shine in any game.  And when everyone is on fire, the results are blowout wins for the Nationals.

NL East Weekly: 6/20-6/26

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

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

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

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

1. Washington Nationals (44-32)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Miami Marlins (41-35) 3 GB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Philadelphia Phillies (32-45) 12.5 GB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Atlanta Braves (26-49) 17.5 GB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NL East Weekly: 6/13-6/19

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

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

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

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

1. Washington Nationals (43-27)

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

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

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

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

2. Miami Marlins (37-32) 5.5 GB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Philadelphia Phillies (30-40) 13 GB

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

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

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

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

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

5. Atlanta Braves (23-46) 19.5 GB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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NL East Weekly: 5/30-6/4

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Washington Nationals (34-23)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Miami Marlins (30-27) 4 GB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Philadelphia Phillies (28-29) 6 GB

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

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

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

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

5. Atlanta Braves (16-40) 17.5 GB

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

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

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

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

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

Nats vs. Mets: Stars Continue Struggle in Second Series

After two best-of-three series, the Mets and Nats season series is now knotted at three wins apiece. Star players on both teams continue to struggle as the month of May comes to an end, a detail that is lost in the tension of this NL East rivalry.

Mets starter Matt Harvey is probably undergoing the roughest and lengthiest of the slumps players on these teams are experiencing. After a stellar 2015 season, Harvey was considered to be the ace of a very strong Mets rotation, many argued was the best in all of baseball.

And while Harvey’s slump has lasted throughout the entirety of the 2016 season so far, some players are experiencing a rough May on the diamond. Nationals young star Bryce Harper remains at the forefront of the team’s headlines, with Dusty Baker giving Harper a “mental day off” on Wednesday for the rubber match of the series.

Despite these slumps by prominent figures on both teams, they both remain just half a game apart at the top of the National League East. This just serves as a testament to players who have really stepped up their games and picked up some slack that their star players are left.

In this article I’ll discuss Harvey, Harper, and other slumping players on both rosters, as well as give credit to the players who have bumped up in their performances in response. We’ll start with the Mets.

Matt Harvey (Slump)

As mentioned earlier, after a fantastic outing through the regular and postseason in 2015, Harvey was looked at as the ace of the fearsome Mets rotation. It goes without saying that Harvey has under performed for the Mets as a starter in 2015. In 10 starts, Harvey is 3-7 with a 6.08 ERA in 2016. After a rough five runs in a five inning outing on Tuesday against Washington, questions began circling the Mets organization as to whether Harvey would remain in the Bigs, or see some recovery time with Triple-A Las Vegas. Although Harvey did not help himself, given the manner in which he handled the press after the outing, manager Terry Collins made it clear that Harvey will remain in the rotation for his next start against the White Sox next Monday. While Harvey appears healthy, manager Terry Collins thinks this start could be the result of 216 innings of work in 2015, just one year after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

However, while Harvey’s numbers aren’t pretty on the season, there’s one set of numbers that’s especially interesting in Harvey’s case. In his first three innings of work per game, roughly his first run through the lineup, Harvey’s ERA is a respectable 3.03, per ESPN. However, from the fourth inning onwards, his second or third times through the lineup, Harvey’s ERA skyrockets to almost double digits, 9.89, while the opponent’s batting average rises from .256 to .413. The case remained true on Tuesday night, with Harvey allowing all five of his runs in the fourth and fifth innings. I think these numbers also provide a testament to why Collins continues to have faith in Harvey, and why I still believe people shouldn’t sleep on him bouncing back; he still has the stuff to put up solid stat lines against Major League hitters, he just has to do a better job of mixing up his stuff as Big League hitters become more familiar with him the longer he remains in the League.

Steven Matz, Noah Syndergaard, Jeurys Familia (Bump)

Jeurys Familia set a Mets record on Wednesday for most consecutive regular season save conversions with 32, 16 of them have come in 2016. Photo courtesy of rotoace.com

Steven Matz hasn’t lost a game since his initial start. Since then he’s 7-0 and now stands at a season ERA of 2.36. Matz went a career-long eight innings against the Nationals in the rubber match on Wednesday, shutting the Nats out over that time. Although he is the four slot in the rotation, Matz still had very high expectations coming into the season, and he’s done magnificently in meeting, and surpassing, them so far.

By this point, unless you get your sports news from a rock, you’ve heard of Noah Syndergaard and what he’s done on the mound thus far. While Matz’s 2.36 ERA is impressive in its own right for a starter, Syndergaard tops that (or I guess bottoms it?) with a 1.94 ERA on the year through nine starts. What’s been even more impressive is how dominant Syndergaard looks throughout the entirety of his ouings. He can touch 99 MPH on a fastball, whether it’s his 10th pitch of the outing or his 100th, which would explain his average of 11.34 Ks per nine innings. While the Mets dominance in the rotation in coming from the opposite end of what many expected, they’ve shown the same level of dominance on the hill in 2016 that Harvey and deGrom have shown in years past.

Jeurys Familia’s save on Wednesday set a record for Mets closers with 32 consecutive saves converted in the regular season. Half of those saves have come in 2016, and many more are to come if the Mets continue to play the style of baseball they have in 2016. The Mets hit a lot of homers, sure, but they usually come with one or no men on base, leaving the Mets averaging just a tick under four runs per game. With the Mets being in a lot of close contests (17 of their 27 wins have been save situations coming into the 9th inning) a strong closer is the key to winning games. The Mets are proving that they have that in Familia this season.

Curtis Granderson (Slump)

The Mets leadoff man is having a rough May. Imagine courtesy of huffingtonpost.com

Curtis Granderson is known for being a guy with a solid mix of speed and power throughout his career, which can account for a lower batting average than expected from a a leadoff hitter. While he has delivered on the home runs, currently with eight, he’s currently hitting below the Mendoza line in 2016. While this might be expected, and maybe even acceptable, from guys like Adam Dunn or Ryan Howard who could hit 40 homers a season, that isn’t what Granderson’s role in this Mets lineup is. The Mets are tied for the MLB lead with 65 home runs, meaning there are plenty of other guys that can bring Granderson in on his own, so he should be focusing more on getting on base and using his speed on the bases. Granderson’s batting average has fallen almost .100 points in May, as he’s hitting just .155 on the month. While this may just be Granderson in the midst of a May slump, perhaps manager Terry Collins should put someone with a slightly higher on-base percentage in the leadoff hole while Granderson tries to work out whatever funk he’s currently going through.

Now we’ll look at the Nats.

Bryce Harper (Slump)

Harper’s batting average was at a season-low .246 after Tuesday’s win against the Mets, so manager Dusty Baker decided to give him a day off to try and refocus. After a blazing hot start to 2016, Harper has cooled off significantly in his past 30 games. After hitting .327 with seven homers and 21 RBIs in the initial 14 games of the year, Harper has hit just .207 with three homers and nine RBIs.

To be fair, this tremendous drop in batting average has not been entirely Harper’s fault. After the Cubs walked him 13 times in their four game series at the start of May, teams have adopted the idea of walking Harper to get to statistically weaker hitters behind him. While he’s hitting almost .150 points behind his MLB leading teammate, Daniel Murphy, in batting average (Murphy: .394, Harper: .245), Harper actually has a higher on-base percentage than Murphy (.430 vs. .426).These walks now seem to have thrown Harper out of rhythm when he is getting hittable pitches, as the stats demonstrate. With that said, hitters are defined by how well they can battle against slumps, and Harper is no different; many people see him as one of the greats of this generation of baseball, and he has an opportunity to prove it in the coming months.

Daniel Murphy, Wilson Ramos (Bump)

Daniel Murphy leads the MLB with a .394 batting average. Photo courtesy of nypost.com

Daniel Murphy caught a lot of attention for his performance in last year’s postseason with the Mets, and a lot of people wondered if he’d be able to carry over that momentum into 2016, especially after joining a division rival. Murphy currently leads all MLB hitters in batting average at .394, .030 points higher than Ryan Braun, the next closest qualified hitter. While Harper still leads the team in just about every other major hitting category, Murphy is hot on his heels in a majority of them. His 30 RBIs sits just one behind the current team lead, his seven homers also ranks second on the team. Giving Murphy the nod from the five-spot in the lineup to the cleanup spot, directly behind Harper, has worked very well for the team’s efficiency at the plate. While Murphy may not be the guy you’d expect to see at the cleanup position in the lineup, you’d be hard pressed to find an argument that he’s been less efficient than a lot of other guys at his position at boosting the lineup’s efficiency.

Wilson Ramos is making a loud rebound after a career-low 2015 season. Ramos is currently hitting .333 in 2016, has five homers, and is tied for third on the team with 21 RBIs. All of these coming off of the worst season of his career in 2015. He’s improved his approach at the plate significantly. In 2015, Ramos struck out 101 times in 475 ABs. He has just 17 in 129 ABs this year, and has already walked nine times (he had just 21 in all of 2015). He’s been a strong hitter at the bottom of the lineup, and is on his way to a career season with the Nats if he’s able to continue performing at this rate.

Wilson Ramos is en route to having a career year after a tough 2015. Photo courtesy of abcnews.go.com

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: 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.