Are the Mets for real

Are the Mets back?

Yoenis Cespedes was recently quoted saying that the 2018 Mets are the best team he has been around. After defeating the Miami Marlins 8-6 on Tuesday, New York improved to 9-1 on the season. They have won seven straight. In their long, storied franchise, the Mets have never started a season 9-1.

So what have been the keys to success so far? For one, their bullpen has been lights out. In 2017, New York’s bullpen ranked 29th in the MLB in ERA. Today, they are third in the MLB with a 1.56 ERA, and recently received Bullpen of the Week Honors. Their closer, Jeurys Familia, in eight innings of work, has six saves, 10 strikeouts and zero runs allowed.

Are the Mets for real

New haircut, same nasty stuff. (Photo from New York Post)

As a team, the Mets have the second best ERA in the NL and rank second in strikeouts. Jacob deGrom is off to a hot start, winning his first two starts and posting a 1.54 ERA in his 11.2 innings of work. Noah Syndergaard is also 2-0, and Matt Harvey looks a lot more like the 2015 version of himself than what we have seen of him over the last two seasons.

Offensively, the Mets are not scoring a crazy amount of runs, but they are getting on base. Last year, New York ranked ninth in the NL in batting average and 11th in OBP. This year, they are second in OBP and third in batting average.

Newcomers Adrian Gonzalez and Todd Frazier have already shown they have plenty left in the tank. Gonzalez has six RBIs and a .387 OBP, while Frazier has an OBP of .386. Their star, Cespedes, leads the team in home runs (three) and RBIs (10). Asdrubal Cabrera is also off to a hot start, slashing .324/.400/.634.

Only two other times in Mets history has the team won eight of its first nine games. The first time was in 1985 and the second more recently in 2006. In both instances, New York won over 95 games.

Does that mean the Mets are destined for success? We now look back at those historic years, and see if those ball clubs relate to the 2018 Mets.

1985 New York Mets

Coming off a 90-win season in 1984, New York rolled into 1985 with essentially an identical roster. Dwight Gooden was fresh off winning NL Rookie of the Year, and finished runner-up in the NL CY Young voting after a stellar 17-9 record with a 2.60 ERA.

Are the Mets for real

Doc Gooden had one of the best pitching seasons in baseball history in 1985. (Photo from Amazin’ Avenue)

In 1985, “Doc” Gooden went on to pitch statistically one of the best seasons we have ever seen. His 13.3 WAR was the highest by a pitcher in over sixty years. Gooden finished 24-4 with a ridiculous 1.53 ERA, 268 strikeouts and 16 complete games in 276 2/3 innings of work. He won the pitching Triple Crown, leading the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts and unanimously won the NL CY Young Award. Gooden became the youngest pitcher to win the CY Young and Pitcher of the Year honors.

The Mets also had one of the best offenses in the league. Among the 12 NL teams, New York ranked third in runs and home runs, fourth in batting average and fifth in OBP. The offensive surge was led by Gary Carter, who hit 32 home runs and drove in 100 RBIs, and Keith Hernandez, who batted .309 with 183 hits and 91 RBIs. Both finished top-10 in the NL MVP voting.

The 1985 Mets went on to win 98 games, yet missed the playoffs, as this was before the Wild Card era, and only two teams from each league made the postseason. The following season, New York won 108 games and defeated the Boston Red Sox (Thanks Bill Buckner) in seven games to win the 1986 World Series.

Can we draw comparisons? In all honesty, this Mets pitching staff, led by deGrom and Syndergaard, is very similar to the 1985 team, which showcased Gooden, Ron Darling (16-6 2.90 ERA), Ed Lynch and Sid Fernandez. Both teams have All-Star caliber arms, as well as a good back-end of the bullpen.

2006 New York Mets

The 2006 Mets were more well-rounded than the present-day team. New York had a mix of established veterans like Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran and Jose Valentin, along with up-and-coming studs like David Wright and Jose Reyes, who were both 23-years-old at the time.

Are the Mets for real

Four players in the top 12 for NL MVP voting. (Photo from MLB.com)

They finished the season 97-65 and had four players in the top 12 for NL MVP Voting (Beltran fourth, Reyes seventh, Wright ninth, Delgado 12th). Beltran hit 41 home runs and drove in 116 runs. Reyes slashed .300/.354/.487 with 19 home runs and 64 steals. Wright slashed .311/.381/.531 with 26 home runs, 20 steals, 40 doubles and 116 RBIs. Delgado smashed 38 home runs with 114 RBIs.

The pitching staff, which was full of veterans like Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Steve Trachsel and Orlando Hernandez, finished second in the NL in strikeouts and third in ERA.

Ultimately, New York finished one win shy of the World Series, as they lost in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Conclusion

Let’s be honest, the 2018 Mets, unlike the 1985 and 2006 team, will not have multiple players in the top 15 for NL MVP voting. Aside from Cespedes, no one in this lineup is capable of earning MVP votes.

However, the 2018 Mets pitching staff has a chance to be better than both the 1985 and 2006 teams. Syndergaard and deGrom are two of the best pitchers in the NL, and if Harvey can get back to what he used to be, there is no reason this team cannot make a run in the postseason.

We saw what they were capable of in 2015 when they were a Wild Card team. Now healthy and more experienced, don’t sleep on the Mets.

 

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Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals breakout candidates

The 2018 MLB season is kicking into full gear and teams are taking shape. The St. Louis Cardinals had a rough go of things the first couple days, facing the two-headed monster in Noah Syndergaard and Jacob DeGrom. Since then though, St. Louis has begun to show more promise offensively and pitching wise.

What is special about St. Louis is their ability to find guys with that “it” factor. Something about the fairy dust they sprinkle on guys is able to work wonders for them. The only thing is that the Cardinals have now gone two years without reaching the postseason, which is only the second time it has happened since the turn of the century.

With that being said, the Cardinals are due for another postseason appearance. Seeing as they don’t have the same sort of superstars you might see on other teams, their path will be paved by guys who don’t have as big of reputations. Here is a look at some under the radar players who could make that big difference in 2018.

Jose Martinez

Cardinals

Jose Martinez may be one of the best hitters on the Cardinals in 2018 (VivaElBirdos)

Martinez is one of those guys that bounces around minor league systems for years but never is able to quite make it to the majors. That all changed last year when he finally got the chance to show his stuff in St. Louis. The 29-year-old had some sporadic appearances throughout the beginning of the season, where he made his mark as one of the best pinch hitters in the league. He really started to settle in during the summer though. He finished the year with 14 home runs and a .309 batting average. Also, he took home the NL Rookie of the month in September.

Martinez has picked up right where he left off so far this season. He may be one of the best contact hitters the Cardinals have so far, so it will be exciting to see if he is able to continue that trend.

What is also surprising about this 29-year-old sophomore is that the Cardinals already announced that Martinez will be the solidified first baseman going forward. They mentioned at the beginning of the year that Matt Carpenter will more likely be used in a “super utility role”, so you will see him being moved all over the place.

Despite being 6’7″, Martinez does not have the prototypical power you may see from a first baseman. One thing is for sure though, the guy knows how to hit. If the Cardinals are in a 9th inning situation and need a base hit to tie or win the game, Martinez may be that guy for the Redbirds.

Yairo Munoz

Cardinals

Munoz forced his way onto the Cardinals roster (STL Today)

Yairo Munoz was acquired by the Cardinals in the offseason as a part of the heartwarming Stephen Piscotty trade. While the trade certainly looked to be centered around getting Piscotty back home to be closer to his family, the Cardinals may have known what they were doing by getting Munoz.

The 23-year-old infielder made his mark in the Spring, where he may have been the best offensive performer for the Cardinals. He finished the Spring with a slash line of .323/.364/.516, along with three home runs and 10 RBIs. That performance was good enough for him to earn a spot on the Cardinals bench the begin the season.

Two years in a row now the Cardinals have had breakout infielders. In 2016 it was Aledmys Diaz, and in 2017 it was Paul DeJong. While Diaz is gone now, it certainly looks like DeJong is here to stay with his six-year contract. This presents a problem for Munoz who is looking for room in the crowded Cardinals infield.

What should be watched for is any injuries that may arise where Munoz may get an opportunity to play. If this guy gets some extended playing opportunities, he could certainly be this year’s version of Paul DeJong. Even though the power isn’t there, he is another good candidate for bringing in a high batting average.

Jordan Hicks

Similar to Munoz, Hicks performed too well in the Spring to justify the Cardinals leaving him off the opening day roster. Hicks showcased his ability to strike guys out as well as keep the walks down. What Hicks provides is the sort of late-inning power arm you see in closers these days. Many Cardinals fans were calling for him to fill in the closer role, this of course came before the signing of Holland.

With Holland in the picture now, fans shouldn’t expect to see Hicks occupying that closer role anytime soon. Seeing that Holland only signed a one year deal though, it is a good opportunity for Hicks to be groomed as a closer of the future.

What is surprising about Hicks, is that so far in 2018, he is throwing the fastball even harder than Aroldis Chapman. That may sound hard to believe, but FanGraphs breaks down the stats here. Holland is the perfect signing in this situation as he will likely be taking the ball from Hicks after the eighth inning. Either way, the Cardinals have something special in Jordan Hicks.

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2018 MLB preview: New York Mets

2017: 70-92 (fourth place in NL East)

Last Postseason Appearance: 2016

Last World Series Title: 1986

2017 Recap

One word to define the New York Mets 2017 season? Injuries. Throughout the season, New York lost, most notably, Noah Syndergaard, Yoenis Cespedes, Michael Conforto, David Wright, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Zach Wheeler, and Jeurys Familia. Jose Reyes was the only player on the Mets to play in at least 140 games.

It all started in April when Syndergaard declined to undergo an MRI, even though doctors encouraged he do so. Of course, a team like the Mets did not force him to get the test. On April 30, Syndergaard exited a game against the Nationals, and ultimately tore his lat. He did not make it back until the last week of the season.  “Thor” finished the year with a 2.97 ERA in his seven starts.

Besides for Jacob DeGrom, who, in 201 innings, went 15-10 with a 3.53 ERA and finished fifth in strikeouts, the Mets staff was absolutely atrocious. Below is a table which illustrates how poor the other starters for New York performed in 2017. The Mets finished with the fourth most walks and total bases, 26th in Opp. SLG, 27th in Opp. OPS, 28th in ERA, and 29th in BAA and WHIP.

METS PITCHERS WHO MADE AT LEAST 13 STARTS, NOT NAMED JACOB DEGROM

NAME (STARTS) ERA
ROBERT GSELLMAN (22) 5.19
SETH LUGO (18) 4.71
RAFAEL MONTERO (18) 5.52
MATT HARVEY (18) 6.70
ZACH WHEELER (17) 5.21
STEVEN MATZ (13) 6.08

2017 NL All-Star, Michael Conforto (NJ.com)

Among the 15 NL teams, the Mets finished last in steals, and 11th in OBP and hits. In regards to the entire league, New York finished 19th in runs, and 27th in run differential. As a team, they ranked 28th in WAR.

However, some positives came out of this bad situation. Outfielder Michael Conforto, who started the season as the Mets fourth outfielder, worked his way into the lineup and was selected to the 2017 MLB All-Star Game. Unfortunately, in typical Mets fashion, Conforto, after taking a swing in a Late-August game, dislocated his left shoulder and tore his posterior capsule, which required season-ending surgery.

In his 109 games, Conforto hit 27 home runs, with a .279 batting average and .384 OBP. He also led the team in SLG and OPS, and hit .320 with men in scoring position. Because of the offseason shoulder surgery, Conforto will be out until the beginning of May.

2018: Around the Diamond

With an entirely new medical team in place, the Mets hope to turn back into the team that won the NL Pennant in 2015. New York brought back Jose Reyes, who stole 24 bases, and finished seventh in triples, as well as Jay Bruce, who hit 29 home runs and 75 RBIs in 2017. They also signed Adrian Gonzalez, who will start at first base. The 5x All-Star and 4x Gold Glove Award winner fought injuries last season, but still has some left in the tank. As an everyday player in 2016, Gonzalez hit .285 with 18 home runs. The Mets desperately need production out of their first basemen, a position in which they finished 27th in WAR in 2017.

Yoni is ready to go for 2018 (SI.com)

The Mets also struggled with getting any output out of the hot corner. Last season they ranked 28th in WAR for third basemen. To save the day, New York signed Todd Frazier, who hit 27 home runs, walked 83 times, and posted a .344 OBP. Joining Gonzalez and Frazier in the infield will be Asdrubal Cabrera, who was second on the team in OBP and doubles, and Amed Rosario, a former top prospect who struggled in his first 46 MLB games, but hit .328 with seven home runs and 19 steals in 94 AAA games. Rosario strikes out a lot and needs to draw more walks, but let’s hope he turns into the player that the Mets expected.

Mets star Yoenis Cespedes dealt with hamstring injuries in 2017 and played in just 81 games. He still was able to hit .290, 17 home runs and slug .540. He homered in his spring training debut so all seems well for the left fielder. Jay Bruce will remain in right, and Juan Lagares, who has a new swing in 2018, will most likely start in center until Conforto is healthy. Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki will split time behind the plate, and, when the team travels to an American League ballpark, look for Brandon Nimmo, Wilmer Flores or Jose Reyes to get some time at DH.

On the Bump

After DeGrom and Syndergaard, this rotation is filled with giant question marks. Matt Harvey was horrendous last season, especially late, posting a 1-4 record with a 11.28 ERA in September. Zach Wheeler has only made 17 starts since his 2015 Tommy John, and has not been impressive at all. Steven Matz had season-ending elbow surgery in August, but was terrible when he pitched. Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo, two pitchers who finished second and third on the team in starts, had poor 2017’s.

Expect big seasons from both Syndergaard and DeGrom (FOX Sports)

Last week, New York signed Jason Vargas, who, last season, went 18-11 with a 4.16 ERA with Kansas City. New York also brought in AJ Griffin to help with depth. In all likelihood, Vargas, Harvey, and Wheeler will join DeGrom and Syndergaard in the starting rotation. But don’t sleep on Gsellman, who had a 3.50 ERA in the second half of 2017.

In 2017, The Mets finished 29th in bullpen ERA. Familia missed time, but is good to go for 2018, and will serve as the primary closer. Joining him in the bullpen, most notably, will be Jerry Blevins, who in 75 appearances, went 6-0 with a 2.94 ERA, AJ Ramos, and Anthony Swarzak.

The Future

Although New York has no members on MLB.com’s, 2018 Top 100 Prospect’s list, there a few names to remember. Andres Gimenez, New York’s top prospect, is a 19-year-old shortstop who is a nice defender, with above average speed, and a good eye at the plate. David Peterson, the Mets first round pick in 2017, pitched well in his three A-Short starts, and has potential to be a solid number three at some point.

Peter Alonso could be the future starting 1B for the Mets. A former second round pick. Alonso, in 93 games between A+/AA, slashed .289/.359/.524 with 18 home runs. Dominic Smith may be ahead of him on the depth chart, but if Alonso continues to hit, there is no reason as to why he will not become an everyday player. As far as player comparisons, Alonso looks like a right-handed Justin Bour.

2018 Prediction: 78-84

With the majority of their better players now healthy, New York will improve from last year’s win total, but don’t expect this team to be playing in the postseason. DeGrom and Syndergaard are great, but the backend of the rotation cannot be trusted. This lineup is weak and, besides for Cespedes and maybe Jay Bruce, no one in this order is feared.

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New York Mets offseason

New York Mets offseason in review

The New York Mets have been one of the most active teams in free agency this offseason, making shrewd and solid moves in an otherwise stagnant offseason for most clubs.

Many teams have chosen to adjust their rosters via trade, rather than increase payroll. However, the Mets have made the most of their budget and reconnected with some familiar names.

With spring training underway, the season has begun for the Mets and they are ready to embark on the 2018 season. Let’s recap the team’s most significant acquisitions and signings thus far.

Anthony Swarzak

New York Mets offseason

Anthony Swarzak delivers a pitch against the Pittsburgh Pirates. (Photo from NY Daily News)

This signing was made to bolster the Mets’ bullpen depth, although he essentially replaces Addison Reed from last year’s team. It was still a necessary pickup to give new manager Mickey Callaway another option out of the pen besides Jerry Blevins, AJ Ramos and Jeurys Familia.

Callaway has stated that there will be a closer by committee this season for the bullpen, so there is no defined role yet for Swarzak. However, it will become clearer as the season goes on. 

Jay Bruce

New York Mets offseason

Jay Bruce celebrates with Yoenis Cespedes after hitting a home run against the Philadelphia Phillies. (Photo from Forbes.com)

The Mets realized they traded away too much of their power from last season, so they brought back Jay Bruce to fill a hole in the outfield, and provide depth at first base. He will also take on a role as a leader in the clubhouse that was sorely needed for how young the team is.

Bruce led the Mets in hitting, home runs and RBIs before he was traded to Cleveland last summer. The team will expect more of the same productivity moving forward.

Adrian Gonzalez

The Mets brought in Gonzalez to be a placeholder at first base until Dominic Smith is ready for his next chance in the big leagues. He replaces Lucas Duda from last season.

While he won’t provide the offensive firepower that Duda had, he is a veteran and a natural at the position with a smooth glove that will help the youngsters around the infield improve their overall game.

Jose Reyes

This move was made purely for infield depth and allows the team to reconnect with a fan favorite. It also gives Reyes the opportunity to play for the one team that has always accepted him. He will be around to mentor the young Mets’ infielders, specifically Amed Rosario, who expressed his desire to the club to bring Reyes back in the offseason.

He will look to establish himself as a future star in his first full big league season. Reyes will provide infield depth as he is capable of playing third base, shortstop and second base.

Todd Frazier

New York Mets offseason

Todd Frazier in the home run derby. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

In a much-needed move, the Mets not only improved their offense by plugging Frazier’s power into the middle of their lineup, but also solidified the team’s defense, as Frazier can pick it at third with the best of them. He has been rated one of the best defensive third basemen ever since he came up with the Cincinnati Reds.

He is also a large presence in the clubhouse. The team will hold him in high regard for his leadership skills on and off the field to go along with the many hits he will hopefully swat for the team during his tenure.

Jason Vargas 

New York Mets offseason

Jason Vargas being formally introduced as the newest member of the New York Mets. (Photo from NY Daily News)

In a surprising late offseason signing, the Mets added some valuable pitching depth behind Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard by signing Vargas. He will almost certainly take up one of the five rotation spots for the Mets this season.

The signing also increases competition for the last two spots among the other young Mets hurlers like Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz, Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman. This will make an entertaining spring training.

 

 

 

 

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New York Mets team profile

New York Mets team profile

The New York Mets finished in fourth place in the NL East with a 72-90 record. They were a team that dealt with a plethora of injuries, and it ended up costing them its season. David Wright has not been able to get over the injury bug, and the team’s two best hitters, Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto, saw extended time on the disabled list.

It was not only at the plate, but on the mound the Mets saw its fair share of issues. Matt Harvey has not been able to break out of his rut, and Noah Syndergaard was only able to start seven times. Jacob deGrom was the only one that was able to cross the 25-start threshold in 2017, so the Mets have a fair amount to deal with before being able to compete in the near future.

Offseason moves

New York Mets team profile

Jay Bruce will reunite with the Mets in 2018 (Photo from FanRag Sports)

The New York Mets have taken strides to improve in the near future. It was reported on Wednesday that Jay Bruce would be returning to the Queens with a three-year contract. This is a solid signing that is lighting a mini spark into the hot stove. Since not many other moves have been made, the Mets look serious about improving in 2018.

So far, the only loss for them has been Jose Reyes, who did not have a great 2017 season. It was also reported that the Mets were very close to a deal with the Cleveland Indians for second baseman, Jason Kipnis. While he may not have provided the impact that the Mets need, it would have been a step in the right direction to show they are serious about improvements.

The three-year contract that Bruce signed also shows that the Mets are nowhere near thinking about a rebuilding phase despite its current place in the division. The rest of the NL East is in for some trouble with how successful the Nationals have been during the regular season. This move shows that the Mets want to try their hand though, and they may not be that far off.

The pitching

The New York Mets ranked 28th in pitching in 2017. This is nowhere near the expectations for the players they have on the team at the moment. New York has some of the best young pitching in the league, but due to injuries and underperforming, they took a step in the wrong direction.

The Mets have built a very good base in the rotation with Syndergaard, deGrom, Harvey, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler. As mentioned, due to injuries and poor performance, it does not look as solid as it once did. The top two in the rotation still look like they have a promising future, but Harvey, Matz and Wheeler will have a pivotal year in 2018. If they don’t show signs of improvement, the Mets will know it will be time to move on.

Anthony Swarzak had the best year of his career in 2017. He may have been one of the better middle relievers in all of baseball. He, along with A.J. Ramos and Addison Reed, should provide a reliable core to the bullpen.

2018 outlook

New York Mets team profile

Matt Harvey needs to get back on track in 2018 (Photo from USA Today)

As stated previously, the Nationals are still at the forefront of the NL East, and the National League as a whole. No team from the East will most likely compete with them for the division.

This is a year for the Mets to build up and see if they are ready to compete by 2019 perhaps. Washington is leaps and bounds ahead of the competition, and even the Wild Card is going to be tough to come by as it will take more than 87 wins most likely.

This is a big year for Matt Harvey as well. After stellar seasons between 2012-15, Harvey looks like he has lost his touch. This especially looked to be the case last year after finishing with a -1.1 WAR and 6.70 ERA. Something has to change in order for him to stick around the team. Whether it is mechanical or mental, the Mets can not afford to let him throw games away much longer.

With Noah Syndergaard coming off injury and deGrom looking to improve, there is a lot of room to improve. Their health is key too, as we may see a much better team in 2018 if the Mets are able to keep guys on the field.

 

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Mitch Haniger fantasy baseball

Mitch Haniger is a must-add for your fantasy baseball playoffs

Background

Mitch Haniger fantasy baseball

Mitch Haniger was traded last November to the Seattle Mariners along with blossoming star Jean Segura. (Photo by Zimbio.com)

Mitch Haniger was originally drafted out of high school by the New York Mets in the 31st round of the 2009 MLB draft, but he opted to attend Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, California. The most notable player to come from Cal Poly is Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith.

In his freshman season, Haniger only played in 17 games. He began to become one of the more highly-touted college prospects after earning an every-day role his sophomore year. In his final collegiate season, he batted .346 with 13 home runs and 64 RBIs in 56 games. He was dominating the Big West Conference and MLB teams were taking notice.

At 21 years old, Haniger was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the first round of the 2012 draft. After failing to standout in low and high-A, Haniger was traded with former 10th-round selection Anthony Banda to the Arizona Diamondbacks for outfielder Gerardo Parra.

In 85 games at the triple-A level, Haniger batted .330 with 23 home runs, 70 RBIs and eight stolen bases. Haniger debuted for the Diamondbacks in 2016, where he played in 34 games and batted .229 with five home runs and 17 RBIs.

After an underwhelming start, he was subsequently traded last November to the Seattle Mariners along with blossoming star Jean Segura and former sixth-round pick Zac Curtis for former first-round pick Taijuan Walker and infielder Ketel Marte.

Haniger was deemed the everyday right fielder after slashing .406/.472/.719 in 32 at bats in spring training. He originally slotted into the two-hole for the Mariners, batting behind Segura and ahead of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager. This spot helped Haniger become one of the most productive players in the MLB in April, as he was leading the Mariners in WAR at 1.8 and batting .342 with four home runs, 20 runs scored, 16 RBIs and two stolen bases.

 

Injuries

Mitch Haniger fantasy baseball

Haniger missed half of August due to a mild concussion, small nasal fracture and lacerated upper lip which occurred after being hit in the face by a Jacob deGrom fastball on July 29th. (Photo by NY Daily News)

Haniger is currently owned in only 18.6 percent of fantasy baseball leagues on ESPN.com, which is mainly due to his inability to stay on the field. He missed all of May and the beginning of June due to a strained oblique, which he suffered on April 25.

After returning on June 18, the 26-year-old clearly was feeling the lingering effects of the leg injury, as he only batted .176 in 68 at bats in July.

Most recently, he missed half of August due to a mild concussion, small nasal fracture and lacerated upper lip, which occurred after being hit in the face by a Jacob deGrom fastball on July 29.

 

Picking back up where he left off

Mitch Haniger fantasy baseball

Haniger is batting .455 with two home runs, five runs scored and six RBIs in his 18 games since returning. (Photo by the Seattle Times)

The Mariners outfielder returned from his facial and head injuries on August 19 and returned to his everyday role in right field. So far in September, Haniger is batting .455 with two home runs, five runs scored and six RBIs in 33 at bats.

In his 18 games since returning, Haniger’s lineup position has varied. He has batted second and fifth on four separate occasions, while batting sixth 10 times.

If he can continue to get at bats in the two-hole, his fantasy value will sky rocket. Haniger will be an integral piece to the Mariners success moving forward. If you need outfield depth, Haniger would be a perfect option for your fantasy baseball playoff run.

 

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NL East Weekly: 6/20-6/26

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

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

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

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

1. Washington Nationals (44-32)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Miami Marlins (41-35) 3 GB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Philadelphia Phillies (32-45) 12.5 GB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Atlanta Braves (26-49) 17.5 GB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NL East Weekly: 6/13-6/19

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

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

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

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

1. Washington Nationals (43-27)

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

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

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

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

2. Miami Marlins (37-32) 5.5 GB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Philadelphia Phillies (30-40) 13 GB

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

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

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

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

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

5. Atlanta Braves (23-46) 19.5 GB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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NL East Weekly: 6/6-6/12

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

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

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

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

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

1. Washington Nationals (39-24) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Miami Marlins (32-31) 7 GB

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

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

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

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

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

4. Philadelphia Phillies (29-34) 10 GB

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Atlanta Braves (18-44) 20.5 GB

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

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

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

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

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NL East Weekly: 5/30-6/4

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Washington Nationals (34-23)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Miami Marlins (30-27) 4 GB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Philadelphia Phillies (28-29) 6 GB

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

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

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

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

5. Atlanta Braves (16-40) 17.5 GB

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

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

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

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

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