We are heading into the second full week of the Major League Baseball season, and new names are starting to emerge. Every year there seems to be players that nobody saw coming, but tore it up on the diamond. That being said, now is as good of a time as ever to look at some names that could make a big impact in fantasy baseball in 2018.
(Second baseman, San Francisco Giants)
Joe Panik may have his best season in 2018. (Photo from McCovey Chronicles)
Joe Panik has already established himself as an everyday second baseman in San Francisco. The 27-year-old has played in over 100 games in three straight seasons, but may have his most complete campaign in 2018.
Panik has already racked up four multi-hit games this season, and has knocked three balls out of the park. He has never been known for his power, but with this new generation we are in, he could possibly hit over 20 home runs this season.
The draw with Panik though is he looks like he could hit over .300 this year, which is a huge plus for roto leagues. Panik is also still only owned in 64 percent of ESPN leagues, so it is best to take advantage of the slight availability he his left.
(Third baseman, Miami Marlins)
Anderson is ready to prove himself in Miami. (Photo from Zimbio)
Anderson is owned in just 29 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues at the moment, but almost all of those teams have picked him up in the last couple of days. Much of this is probably due to Jake Lamb’s absence in Arizona, as Anderson has been a great replacement while Lamb has been out.
Martin Prado is due back for the Marlins within the next couple of weeks, so that could possibly put Anderson’s playing time in jeopardy. However, like Panik, Anderson has the ability to rack up the hits. With the offensive struggles the Marlins are expected to have this year, there would not be much of a reason for Don Mattingly to keep Anderson out of the lineup.
Part of the attraction surrounding Anderson is his hit streak through the first seven games of the season. That streak is over now, but Anderson is a good eye to keep out for in case there is room in the third base or 1B/3B spot.
(Outfielder, Atlanta Braves)
Preston Tucker’s ownership in ESPN fantasy leagues has gone from one percent to 45 in the last week. He is currently the hottest player that may still be on the free agent market, so now is the time to go and get him.
Atlanta has Tucker in a pretty good spot in the middle of the lineup, making him a good candidate to rack up the RBIs. Atlanta is currently hot at the moment too. Although they will not be able to keep it up, don’t discount the Braves and the firepower they may be able to produce.
Tucker is in a solid lineup and is in a good situation to succeed. Now may be a good opportunity to snag him while he is still readily available.
(Starting pitcher, Oakland Athletics)
Manaea is the best free agent pickup available right now. (Photo from Beyond the Box Score)
Sean Manaea is one of the hot young names coming up through the starting pitcher ranks. In two starts this season, the 26-year-old has gone into the eighth inning both times and has given up seven hits and just two runs.
Strikeouts are obviously extremely valuable in head-to-head point leagues, but for head-to-head by category or roto, he could prove to be a very valuable piece on any fantasy roster.
The only concern for the young starter is the teams he will be facing. Being in the American League West, the Athletics will be facing some very high-powered offenses. Manaea has made both of his starts against AL West teams, but it will be vital for him to keep up that performance against more of the high-powered teams once they come around.
Either way, Manaea should be a pitcher that is readily available and could be used throughout any fantasy rotation.
(Third baseman, San Diego Padres)
Villanueva is another smaller name that broke out for three home runs, much like Matt Davidson. Villanueva may not have the consistent power all year long, but it is at least worthy to watch if any room is available at the third base position.
Villanueva is only 26 years old and is starting to see consistent MLB time for the first time in his career. He is certainly someone who can make an impact on the Padres’ roster, so he may be able to do the same for a fantasy team as well.
What the young third baseman has been able to do in the minors is rack up the RBIs, so that is certainly something he showed in his three home run performance.
Although he still has much to prove in the big leagues, he could certainly come up clutch in the fantasy world.
Featured image from MyAJC.com
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It’s crazy to think that the two times the Marlins have made the postseason in franchise history, 1997 and 2003, they won the World Series. It’s also wild to think that it’s been 15 years since they played more than 162 games in a season. Miami finished second in the NL East for the first time since 2009, but ultimately finished 20 games back from the Washington Nationals.
If the Marlins had any pitching, they would have absolutely made a run at a spot in the NL Wild Card Game. Unfortunately, they finished with the third most walks in the MLB, as well as 26th in ERA, 27th in strikeouts, 29th in team pitching WAR, and tied with Seattle and Toronto with the most blown saves in the MLB.
The best outfield in 2017 was Stanton, Yelich, and Ozuna. (Grantland)
Aside from the pitching staff, Miami played really good baseball. They had the fourth highest war among position players, and ranked third in hits and batting average, eighth in total bases, and 11th in runs. Defensively, they were the number one ranked fielding team in the league.
Miami was also number one in WAR among outfielders. Without a doubt, they had the best outfield core in the bigs. Giancarlo Stanton won the NL MVP, slashing .281/.376/.631 with 59 home runs and 132 RBIs. Marcell Ozuna, a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award winner, hit .312/.376/.548 with 191 hits, 37 home runs, and 124 RBIs. He finished seventh in total bases. Christian Yelich ranked 10th in times on base, and hit 18 home runs, 36 doubles, while driving in 81 runs.
Clearly, the production from the outfield was absolutely outlandish, but don’t forget about the infielders. Dee Gordon had 201 hits, led the MLB with 60 steals, and finished fifth in runs. Justin Bour who dealt with injuries and played in just 108 games, managed to slash .289/.366/.536 with 25 home runs and 83 RBIs. J.T. Realmuto hit 17 home runs, 31 doubles, and also had the second most steals among catchers. Clearly, he cemented a spot as one of the top-five catchers in the game.
2018: Around the Diamond
In steps Derek Jeter, and out goes Dee Gordon, Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna. While Marlins fans are angry, Jeter, the current Marlins CEO, wants everybody to be patient, and realize that the only way to create success over a long-period of time is to invest in the farm system.
This team has a legitimate shot to lose 100 games. They still have Realmuto and Bour, and received Starlin Castro in the Stanton trade, but the average MLB fan might not know the rest of the players around the field. Competing at shortstop will be JT Riddle and Miguel Rojas. Riddle, who became the everyday shortstop after the Adeiny Hechavarria trade, hit .250 with 3 home runs before tearing a shoulder labrum in July. He is younger, and a better defender than Rojas, but Rojas hit .290 with a .361 OBP in his 90 games.
Justin Bour could have his first 30-HR season in 2018. (FanRag Sports)
The 12-year-veteran, Martin Prado, will hopefully be good to go for opening day. A lifetime .291 hitter, Prado injured himself during the World Baseball Classic, played 37 regular season games, and eventually needed surgery. In 2016, Prado’s last full-season, he hit .305 with 183 hits and a .359 OBP. If Prado is not good to go, look for Brian Anderson to start the season at third.
Derek Dietrich, who has spent the last five years with the Marlins, will start in left. Dietrich is a solid utility player who hit 13 home runs in 2017. The other two outfield spots will most likely belong to the prospects received in the trades for Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna.
Lewis Brinson, the 27th ranked prospect, was the main piece acquired from Milwaukee in the Yelich deal. He struggled in his time with the Brewers last year, but 21 games is not a big enough sample size. In his 76 AAA games in 2017, Brinson hit 13 home runs, with a .331 batting average, 11 steals, and a .400 OBP. He has some nice pop, and above average speed with the potential to be a 20-20 type player. Brinson looks like the next Melvin Upton, who has had four 20-20 seasons in his 12-year-career.
Acquired as part of the Ozuna trade with the Cardinals, right fielder Magneuris Sierra has a legitimate shot to start in the outfield. Sierra is not a power guy, but he hit .317 in 22 games with the Cardinals. He also stole 17 bases in AA. To compete with Sierra for the spot in right, Miami has, Scott Van Slyke, who is 5-for-11 with two home runs and seven RBIs so far this spring, Cameron Maybin, and Braxton Lee. Lee is 3-for-10 this spring with a pair of steals.
For inter-league play, look for Garrett Cooper, first basemen, to get some playing time at DH. Cooper broke out in 2017, hitting .366 with 17 home runs in 75 AAA games.
On the Bump
“I’m glad they’re gone. If they don’t want to be here, good for them.” Wise words from Dan Straily, who was answering a question regarding Stanton, Yelich, and Ozuna. If I was a Marlins fan, I would much rather have that outfield than Straily, who allowed the 10th most home runs last year, and finished with a 4.26 ERA. Sadly, he is most likely the Opening Day starter for Miami.
A true fantasy baseball sleeper, Jose Urena (ESPN)
A fantasy baseball sleeper has to be Jose Urena. Last season, Urena went 14-8 with a 3.82 ERA. Only 26, Urena has shown the ability to succeed at every level. From 2012-2016, in a mix between A/A+/AA/AAA, Urena, in 104 games, went 41-25 with a 3.35 ERA.
In 2016, Adam Conley posted a 3.85 ERA in 133.1 innings, which isn’t terrible, but he greatly regressed the following season. For his sake, he was a little banged up, but in 22 games, Conley had a 1.52 WHIP and a 6.14 ERA.
The most likely candidate for the fourth spot in the rotation is Dillon Peters. Peters didn’t do great in his six starts last year, posting a 5.17 ERA, but this kid has potential. In AA, during the 2017 season, Peters posted a 1.97 ERA in 45.2 innings. The 25-year-old threw 106 innings in his 2016 stint at A+, and posted a 11-6 record with a 2.46 ERA. He is just 5’9”, but we all know that height doesn’t measure heart (Thanks Marcus Stroman). Peters looks a lot like a young Wandy Rodriguez.
The fifth spot will belong to either Wei-Yin Chen, Justin Nicolino, Sandy Alcantara, Jacob Turner, or Odrisamer Despaigne. Alcantara has looked great this spring, giving up just four hits, and one run over five innings of work.
Brad Zielgler, who converted 10 of his 16 save opportunities in 2017, will start the season as the closer. Kyle Barraclough, a career 2.87 ERA in 163 innings, will serve as the set-up man.
Not counting Brinson, Miami has one other prospect that earned a spot in MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects list. An outfielder, No.71 on the list, Monte Harrison. Harrison is quick, with a great arm in the field. In 122 games between A/A+, he hit 21 home runs with 27 steals. The 2nd round pick in 2014, Harrison’s ceiling is most likely Carlos Gomez.
2018 Prediction: 64-98
Just like Philadelphia trusted the process with the 76ers, Miami must be patient with Jeter and their Marlins. This will be a very tough year, but you gotta have faith that the future first-ballot Hall of Famer can turn this team into a yearly contender.
Featured image by MLB.com
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From Eddie Mathews to Ron Santo, from Mike Schmidt to Wade Boggs, from Chipper Jones to Adrian Beltre; the hot corner has remained a staple of power and production for centuries. Third basemen made up ten of the top 50 fantasy hitters in 2016, including the 2015 AL and 2016 NL MVP’s. With so many options to choose from, third base is one of, if not, the deepest position in fantasy baseball.
The top 30 third basemen have been grouped into six tiers, with the top and bottom player of each tier profiled below.
Honorable mentions include: Brandon Drury (ARI), Yulieski Gurriel (HOU), Jose Reyes (NYM), Jedd Gyorko (STL), Ryan Schimpf (SD), Hernan Perez (MIL), Matt Duffy (TB), and Johnny Peralta (STL).
Can Kris Bryant be the first to win back to back MVP’s since Miguel Cabrera? (Courtesy of Chicagostylesports.com)
1. Kris Bryant CHC
2. Nolan Arenado COL
3. Josh Donaldson TOR
4. Manny Machado BAL
The reigning NL MVP, Kris Bryant, should be the first third basemen taken in 2017. Bryant was called up in 2015 after mashing 43 home runs at the AA and AAA levels. The minor-league player of the year impressed immediately in the majors, as he hit 26 home runs and drove in 99 RBI’s, resulting in him winning the Rookie of the Year.
The 24-year-old crushed 39 bombs with over 100 runs and RBI’s, which is easily repeatable for many years to come.
Two main reasons why Bryant lands atop this list is because of his steal upside and the lineup in which he plays in. Bryant is athletic for his 6-foot-5 230-pound stature. He stole 13 bases in 2015, and eight in 2016, which gives him a good floor of steals compared to Arenado, Donaldson, and Machado, who combined for nine.
Also, batting ahead of Anthony Rizzo and other elite hitters in the Chicago Cubs offense will give Bryant a great chance to, once again, lead the league in runs. These two factors will help propel him ahead of the other elite third base options.
Manny Machado has all of the potential in the world. After having back to back 35 plus home run and 100 run seasons, he remains in the elite category of third basemen.
Machado has batted primarily third in 2016, and still failed to reach the 100 RBI plateau, which is unnerving, as he is set to primarily bat second in 2017. Don’t get me wrong, Machado still has elite value in the two hole, as he will bat around .300, while being a great source of runs, but if you’re looking for 100 RBI’s, Machado may fall short once again.
Machado also failed to steal a base in 2016, after stealing 20 bags in 2015. This may have been a way to limit the stress on his surgically repaired knee, or may have been due to the fact that the Baltimore Orioles were last in stolen base attempts per game, with .2.
The lack of stolen bases and RBI’s compared to Bryant, Donaldson, and Arenado forces me place Machado at the bottom of tier 1.
Will 2017 be a breakout season for veteran Kyle Seager? (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
5. Kyle Seager SEA
6. Jonathon Villar MIL
7. Adrian Beltre TEX
8. Matt Carpenter STL
9. Todd Frazier CWS
10. Evan Longoria TB
11. Anthony Rendon WAS
12. Justin Turner LAD
Kyle Seager has been a consistent source of 160 hits, .270 average, and 24 home runs per season, but 2017 will be the year he breaks out.
Seager will bat behind Jean Segura, Robinson Cano, and Nelson Cruz, which will give him a great chance to finally surpass the 100 RBI mark.
The 29-year-old’s isolated power numbers have jumped from .185 to .221, showing that he has the potential to increase his power numbers as he continues through his prime years.
According to fantasypros.com, he is being selected as the 59th player off the board, and the 6th third basemen. Although Seager’s value does warrant a pick at this position, there are many other third basemen that offer similar value at a much lesser cost.
Justin Turner exploded onto the scene in 2016, having a career year, batting .275 with 27 home runs, 79 runs, and 90 RBI’s. The 32-year-old inked a 4-year, $64 million deal, that will lock him in as the everyday third basemen and three-hitter of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the near and distant and future.
Turner provides a great floor of value, as he has a career batting average of .282, while managing to have respectable strikeout and walk rates. I believe Turner is more than likely to repeat his power numbers, and could be a sneaky source of 100 RBI’s come 2017.
Can Jake Lamb recover from his atrocious second half n 2016? (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
13. Jake Lamb ARI
14. Maikel Franco PHI
15. Alex Bregman HOU
16. Jose Ramirez CLE
Jake Lamb is currently being severally overlooked, as he is being selected as the 19th third basemen, and 165th overall player in drafts.
Lamb finished 2016 with a .249 batting average, 29 home runs, and 91 RBI’s. This stat line may seem underwhelming, but Lambs first half of .291, 20 home runs, and 61 RBI’s suggests that there is elite potential here.
The 26-year-old will join a healthy Arizona Diamondbacks lineup that includes A.J. Pollock, Paul Goldschmidt, and David Peralta, which will give him the opportunity to repeat or surpass his career high RBI total. Lamb will end up on the majority of my teams in 2017, as his ADP is much too low for his potential.
The sneaky top 20 MVP candidate in 2016, Jose Ramirez, will be another cheap source of production at third base in 2017. Ramirez is being selected as the 14th third basemen, which I believe is fairly high, although his ADP of 124 gives him significant value.
The 24-year-old will bat in the middle of the Cleveland Indians lineup, and depending on Michael Brantley’s health, may be behind Edwin Encarnacion, Francisco Lindor, and Jason Kipnis, which will give him an incredible opportunity to drive in runs.
Ramirez, a career .275 hitter, is continuously improving, as he batted .312 with 11 home runs, 76 RBI’s, and 22 stolen bases in 2016. Investing in the young Indian will be highly beneficial come 2017.
Miguel Sano’s strikeout rate is a red flag heading into 2017. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
17. Miguel Sano MIN
18. Jung-Ho Kang PIT
19. Eduardo Nunez SFG
20. Ryon Healy OAK
21. Yangervis Solarte SD
Miguel Sano is currently being selected as the 128th player, and 15th third basemen in 2017. After hitting 18 home runs in 80 games in 2015, Sano increased his totals to 25 in 116 games in 2016. Miguel Sano’s power potential is juicy, although his 2016 strike out rate of 36% is a huge red flag.
Sano’s strikeout rates have continuously increased, which suggests that Sano may strikeout at an obnoxious rate again in 2017. Sano, who has already had a problem finding a position, may experience serious issues if his bat continues to struggle. I believe Sano is being drafted to high, as you can draft safer options in Maikel Franco or Jake Lamb later in drafts.
Yangervis Solarte is my sleeper of the year. The 29-year-old is primed for a breakout season, as he will have an everyday role for the first time in his career. He totaled 15 home runs and 71 RBI’s in just 109 games, which would have put him on pace for 22 home runs and 105 RBI’s.
Solarte will be the starting third basemen and cleanup hitter for the San Diego Padres in 2017. This will give him plenty of opportunity for RBI’s and runs, as this young Padres lineup could surprise people.
The ascension of young studs Wil Myers, Hunter Renfroe, and Manny Margot, can immensely improve the Friars underwhelming offense, which will positively impact Solarte’s stats.
His ADP of 319 makes him the 32nd third basemen taken off the board, which means he is currently going undrafted in majority of leagues. Solarte will make an incredible late round pick if you miss early on a third basemen.
Nick Castellanos’ fractured hand held him back in 2016, so will he improve in 2017? (Courtesy MLive.com)
22. Nick Castellanos DET
23. Mike Moustakas KAN
24. Adonis Garcia ATL
25. Eugenio Suarez CIN
26. Pablo Sandoval BOS
27. Travis Shaw MIL
28. Martin Prado MIA
29. Danny Valencia SEA
30. Yunel Escobar LAA
Nick Castellanos had his 2016 cut short due to a fractured left hand, although in 110 games, he managed to hit 18 home runs, while scoring 54 runs, and driving in 58 RBI’s. The Tigers six-hitter remains a solid source of runs and RBI’s while sporting a respectable career average of .265.
Castellanos is very safe option for later in the draft, and if he continues to progress, could be a top 15 third basemen. His current ADP of 239 makes his the 25th third basemen selected, which would be a price well worth paying.
Yunel Escobar has quietly been a solid fantasy producer his entire career, as he has a career batting average of .283, and has batted .314 and .304 in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Escobar hasn’t managed to play over 140 games since 2013, but if he can make that happen in 2017, he will be a great fantasy asset.
The 34-year-old will bat leadoff for the Mike Trout lead Los Angeles Angels. The talent behind him along with his great batting average gives him a chance to be an above average run scorer in 2017.
His ADP of 366 makes him the 37th third basemen being selected, which in my mind is astronomical. He will go undrafted in almost all leagues, although he offers great value in deeper leagues with large rosters.
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The Marlins race for the postseason just got significantly tougher, as they will be making it without right fielder, Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton left Saturday’s game against the Chicago White Sox with a groin injury, and will miss the rest of the season. Stanton hit .244 with a team-leading 25 home runs and 70 RBIs in 103 games played this year. He’d been on the upswing, however, after a rough May and June. He’d hit 12 homers and driven in 38 RBIs in his last 41 games, and taken over as the Marlins top run producer during Marcell Ozuna’s slump.
Stanton will be missed at the plate, suffering his second major injury in as many years, but I don’t think losing him knocks Miami out of playoff contention entirely. While they will be missing Stanton’s power at the plate, his replacement, Ichiro Suzuki still offers plenty of Big League experience, and has looked solid at the plate this year, despite being 42 years old. Suzuki knocked his 3,000th Major League hit against the Rockies last Sunday, and has since passed Roberto Clemente on the career hits list. Ichiro doesn’t have the same stamina that he did when he entered the League 15 years ago, however, and won’t be able to start every game. Luckily, Marlins third baseman Martin Prado has over 200 career games of outfield experience, according to ESPN’s David Schoenfield. So, Prado can fill in at outfield and third base can be picked up by Derek Dietrich, who has been a bench player since Dee Gordon’s return from suspension.
While the offense has looked decent in some categories, ranking third in the MLB in batting average and sixth in OBP, it has struggled to bring home runs, averaging 4.28 runs-per-game (21st in the MLB). The team has seen different guys take on the bulk of the run production this season, with Marcell Ozuna leading the team into the All-Star Break, and Stanton taking over during Ozuna’s slump afterwards. Christian Yelich looks to be taking up the mantle now, batting .320 in his last 30 games with 5 homers and 23 RBIs. He’s currently second on the team with 67 RBIS this year.
There have also been rumors that this injury opens up doorways for Alex Rodriguez, who Miami is reportedly interested in pursuing. A-Rod played his last game in New York on Friday, but he never said he was retiring. If Rodriguez is interested, Miami may be too good of a story for him to pass up. He’d come to a team that’s in contention for a playoff spot, and have a chance to hit his 700th career homer (he currently has 696) in his hometown. He would probably share time with current first baseman, Chris Johnson, since there’s no reason to take out Martin Prado, who leads the team in BA at .320. Rodriguez has been flexible with his defensive position in the past, transitioning to third base when joining the Yankees, and Johnson is hitting just .227 with four homers and 19 RBIs this year.
Adam Conley has shown vast improvement over the past months, but now finds himself on the 15-day DL with finger tendinitis. Photo courtesy of fishstripes.com
No matter what happens on the offensive side of things, the Marlins also have to find a way to cope with the loss of Adam Conley, who is on the 15-day DL with finger tendinitis. While his injury may not remove him for the rest of 2016, the Marlins will have to find a way to survive with already slim pickings on the rotation after Jose Fernandez. Conley had a red hot July, posting a 3-0 record and a 1.82 ERA in five starts. In August, he’s struggled, mainly due to the tendinitis, which was reported as hand soreness over his past three starts.
The Marlins rotation has been their weaker spot in 2016, even with the acquisition of Andrew Cashner at the trade deadline, but Conley had shown remarkable improvement over the course of this year. Hopefully, this injury is just a bump in the road for Conley, and doesn’t hinder his long-term growth as a pitcher. In the meantime, the rest of Miami’s rotation will have to step up, because Jose Fernandez can only pitch so many games between now and the end of the regular season.
Information from ESPN.com was used in this report.
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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.
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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What a crazy week this was for the NL East. The Phillies of all teams went unbeaten, the Nationals got swept, there was almost a no-hitter, and Dee Gordon was suspended for PED usage. This division has seen the rift that the Nationals had formed just 2 weeks ago all but evaporate, as the Mets are looking to be in prime form. May is shaping up to be a lot more competitive than might have been predicted a month ago, and the Phillies may be more of a contender than some people (myself included) gave them credit for at the start of the year.
It’s hard to gauge what will happen as the season rolls on. The deeper teams go into the season, the more likely players (especially young pitchers) are to suffer critical injuries, players may begin to start slumping or streaking, and teams may begin to start making trades to fill vacancies that have become apparent.
I think the biggest surprise for me was the Phillies this week. They swept (record-wise), the best team in the National League on the road, and pitched two straight shutouts. The bullpen in particular stepped up for Philadelphia this week, and it will be interesting to see if they can continue to build on this momentum on their 10 game road streak, starting Monday in St. Louis.
On the other side of that sweep, I think the Nationals offense must have forgotten they had to come home before heading to St. Louis. They put up three runs in three games, all of them in game one. Luckily for them, they were able to rebound with a sweep of their own in St. Louis and keep the division lead, but they lost a lot of ground this week to both New York and Philly, raising the stakes for their first series of 2016 against the Mets later this month. Without further ado, let’s continue to break down these teams more in depth, continuing with Washington.
1. Washington Nationals (17-7)
The Nationals bats were silent at home when the Phillies came to town to start the week. Bryce Harper’s bat was silent all week, hitting just .105 (but drawing 7 seven walks, giving him a .346 OBP). Danny Espinosa finally had a standout series in St. Louis, hitting two big home runs in two straight games against the Cards. Hopefully this leads to bigger things from his bat in May, as he hit just .188 through the month of April. Other than that, it was a plethora of Nationals stepping up to provide run support. Jayson Werth led the way with five on the week and he’s again showing that, despite his inconsistencies, he can provide at times when the Nats need him to.
The pitching was the real source of the wins this week. With the way their offense had been playing, the Nationals very easily could have gone undefeated this week. Despite going 0-3 in the Phillies series, the Nats arms held them to no more than four runs a game. All five of the starters had a sub-3.00 ERA on the week. Max Scherzer’s outing vs. the Phillies wasn’t what Nats fans were hoping for to break Scherzer out of his funk, but his seven innings of four hit ball against the Cardinals showed that he still has the potential to be as good as he was last season. Gio Gonzalez was the tough luck loser against the Phils, allowing just one earned run, but not getting any runs of support.
Joe Ross and Tanner Roark continue to impress. While Roark didn’t get the win, he didn’t allow any runs through seven innings in game three against the Phillies. Roark is just 2-2 on the season, but is sporting an ERA of just 2.03. Ross is even more impressive numerically, a 3-0 record and a 0.79 ERA. A lot of people mention the depth that the New York Mets have in their rotation, but I honestly think that this Nats rotation has the potential to go toe-to-toe with them.
The bullpen suffered two of the three losses against the Phillies, but the game can’t stay 0-0 forever, and the Nationals bats just couldn’t get it going in time that series. Overall on the week, however, they bounced back quite impressively against the Cardinals, sweeping them in St. Louis. They do need to be careful, as their once four-game lead has shrunk to just 1.5 games over two weeks.
The Nationals play a very tough schedule this week, with three games in Kansas City before playing four games in Chicago against the Cubbies.
2. New York Mets (15-8) 1.5 GB
The Mets are now 13-3 after opening the 2016 season off with a 2-5 record. They had a near-perfect week yet again, with a hiccup against the Giants on Sunday being the only blemish. Yoenis Cespedes led the team with nine RBI, three of them on a game-tying, three-run, pinch hit homer in the 7th inning of game two against the Reds. The Mets offense continues to churn out runs, which has proven invaluable for an ace still trying to find his footing in Matt Harvey. Three different Mets had multi-homer weeks, as left fielder Michael Conforto and second baseman Neil Walker continue to produce at the plate, along with Cespedes. Conforto, Cespedes, and Walker combined for 24 RBI over the past week, the rest of the team had just nine. With those three producing the way they are, and Curtis Granderson getting on base more often (he’s hitting .316 in his last 15 games after going .097 in his first eight) this Mets offense is looking very good.
The pitching is also looking better. Jacob deGrom seems to be pitching just fine now that he’s back on a regular rotation, posting a big fat goose egg in 6 innings against the Giants. Steven Matz has now turned in three straight quality starts after also going six scoreless against the Giants. Matz allowed seven runs in his season opener against the Marlins; he’s allowed just two in his three starts since then. Matt Harvey continues to trend in the right direction with a quality start against the Reds along with seven Ks: he now has two wins in his last two starts. It was Thor who proved mortal this week, as Bruce Bochy turned on the green light for base runners against Noah Syndergaard this week. Brandon Crawford stole second once, while Matt Duffy took it twice. Syndergaard’s biggest weakness thus far has been holding runners, who are 12 for 13 stealing on him so far. The outing itself isn’t anything to be concerned with, nobody is going to go unbeaten on the mound, and the Giants just got the better of Syndergaard that night.
The Mets host the Braves for three games before heading to San Diego for a four-game series against the Padres, so the Mets have a real shot to be atop the NL East by the end of next week.
3. Philadelphia Phillies (15-10) 2.5 GB
Jeanmar Gomez was one of many in the Phillies bullpen to not surrender a run this week. He also had 4 saves. Photo courtesy of csnphilly.com
The Phillies offense is bottom five in the MLB in runs scored. Yet they’ve been one of the biggest surprises in all of the MLB this year with a 15-10 record after a month of play. The Phillies went 6-0 last week, sweeping the Nationals and the Indians behind some great stuff from the starters and the bullpen. Only four guys on the staff allowed a run this week, and three of them were starters (one of those being Vince Velazquez, who still went 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA). The bullpen posted a 0.47 ERA in 19 innings of work this week and opponents his just .160 off of them. That’s remarkable, and a huge part in why this team went unbeaten despite some lackluster performances offensively. Jeanmar Gomez recorded four saves on the week, and David Hernandez picked up one win while throwing five innings over three games and allowing just two hits.
While I don’t believe a “fluke” is the right term for what is happening in Philly, (they’ve certainly played good baseball and earned every single one of those wins) I do think that it won’t continue unless the Phillies’ offense gets things sorted out. They remain one of the weakest offenses in the game with just 82 runs scored so far. They’re in the top third of the league when it comes to strikeouts (top meaning most strikeouts) and bottom third when it comes to walks, so their approaches at the plate just aren’t what they need to be. It probably isn’t the best influence for the young guys when your team’s most experienced hitter, Ryan Howard, is hitting below the Mendoza line, but this team needs to take better approaches at the plate (averaging just 2.64 walks a game as well).
With all of that said, this team still deserves kudos for going undefeated in week four, especially sweeping one of the top teams in the National League and holding their offense to basically nothing. Some of the young hitters had good weeks, Odubel Herrera now has a batting average of over .300, and Freddy Galvis drove in another four RBI this week. I think it would be great if this team can keep shocking people and playing good baseball. The pitching very strong, and if the offense can find its stride, they could surprise some people this year.
The Phillies play four games at St. Louis before a three-game set in Miami.
4. Miami Marlins (12-12) 5 GB
Despite Dee Gordon’s suspension hanging casting a shadow over the Marlins right now, they had a heck of a week. They swept the Dodgers on the road before taking two of three in Milwaukee to turn in a 5-1 performance. Martin Prado is one guy I haven’t given nearly enough kudos to this year. He hit .536 this week and his batting average is sitting at a whopping .410 right now. Prado has never been a guy who is going to blow people away with his power, but baseball isn’t all about the long ball. Having a guy hitting .410 at the top half of your lineup sets your offense up for success when you have guys hitting as well as Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich behind him. Stanton crushed four homers last week and now has five (as in, the amount that the Braves have hit all year) in his last seven games. This entire Marlins club hit very well in the month of April, sitting at 3rd in the MLB with a .277 team average. The trick for them has been finding ways to get guys home, but they did a much better job of that last week.
Adam Conley had a no-hitter through 7.2 innings before being taken out of the game on Friday. Photo courtesy of fishstripes.com
The pitching has also been a tricky spot for the Marlins. I said this weekend series could be a confidence builder for some of these Marlins starters who were struggling. I was halfway correct there. Adam Conley threw a no-hitter in his 7.2 innings against the Brewers, but I guess manager Don Mattingly saw that ESPN’s social media mentioned it, so he pulled him before he could get jinxed. In all seriousness, Conley was the guy at the back of this Marlins rotation who had really impressed me up to this point in the season, and that outing just showed why. While he did tie a season high four walks, he also struck out seven Brewers in 7.2 innings. Tom Koehler didn’t have such a smooth go of things on Sunday, getting shelled for eight runs in just 2.1 innings. He had a much better outing against the Dodgers earlier in the week, though, so consistency remains the name of the game for the back of this Marlins rotation. Justin Nicolino made his first start of 2016, replacing Jared Cosart in the rotation, and he looked stellar against the Dodgers, giving up two hits and no runs in 7.1 innings against the Dodgers.
Also, if you’re looking for a guy to replace Dee Gordon with at second base, look no further than Derek Dietrich (and yes, as a Georgia Tech student, this is a completely biased choice). But in all seriousness, Dietrich is hitting .325 on the year and has en route to what could very easily be his best year statistically. While he doesn’t have the same type of speed that Dee Gordon had (to be fair, very few in all the MLB do) he’s been just as consistent at the plate so far.
The Marlins are at home all week, with a three-game set against the D-Backs before hosting the Phillies over the weekend for three games.
5. Atlanta Braves (6-18) 11 GB
Well, at least Saturday’s game against the Cubs got postponed so Braves fans can say that didn’t lose the series over the weekend. Other than that it was more of the same from Atlanta, losses. They managed to scrape game four from the Red Sox and game two from the Cubs to go 2-4 on the week. It’s a wonder I’m able to type this article up with the apparent power outage still going on in Atlanta, hitting just five homers in the month of April. On the bright side, Freddie Freeman turned in his best week by far, hitting two homers and batting .455. Malex Smith was six for 10 on the week with three doubles, and is showing that there are some potential stars in Atlanta if they’re given some time to develop. Smith was off to a slow start, but is now hitting .389 in his last seven games. Other than that, it was more of the same from Nick Markakis, who continues to rack up the RBI. He is 6th in the NL with 20 on the season. Markakis is really the only source of RBI this season for the Braves, unfortunately, his 20 almost outscores the next three combined (Freeman, Garcia, and Smith combine for 21).
Unlike the Phillies, the Braves don’t have the pitching to salvage an under-performing offense. Julio Teheran turned in, arguably, his best two outings of the year, however, allowing one run in seven innings against Boston (but taking the hard-luck loss) and shutting out an explosive Cubs offense through seven innings (no decision). Aaron Blair made his second career start against the Cubs this weekend, and turned in a strong six innings of one-run ball. Blair is just one of the plethora of young arms the Braves have available to them, and will begin to groom over the next few seasons. Bud Norris continues to be a liability on the mound (putting it mildly), giving up six runs in 1.1 innings in Boston. His season ERA now sits at a whopping 8.74 on the year. Don’t be surprised if Norris gets bumped down to the bullpen soon and another young guy comes up for some big league action.
The Braves play three games in New York against the Mets and then host the Diamondbacks for a three-game series.
The Marlins are consistently the hardest team to predict in the NL East, in my humble opinion. They consistently come into seasons with eyebrow-raising lineups riddled with talent, but always seem to fall well-short of their ceiling. The Marlins went just 71-91 last season, taking 3rd place in the division.
Coming into this season, the Marlins make a strong case offensively, with their top three hitters from last season all returning from last season. You can’t talk about the Marlins offense without mentioning Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton belted 27 homers last season in just 74 games. Analysts everywhere (including TGH’s own Scott Taylor) believe Giancarlo Stanton is poised to help the Marlins to a big year.
Stanton’s partner in the middle of the order, first baseman Justin Bour, who led the team with 73 RBI in 2015, is also returning to the Marlins in 2016. If Stanton lives up to expectations, and Dee Gordon can continue his success in the leadoff position (posting a .333 batting average in 145 games last season) Bour should have plenty of opportunities to drive in runs throughout the year. It’s definitely worth noting that Gordon swiped a monstrous 58 bases last year, so he’ll be in the back of pitchers’ minds every time he’s on base.
The rest of the Marlins’ batting order is nothing to scoff at, with a lot of very impressive young talent. Left fielder Christian Yelich posted a .300 batting average around the top of the order, further enabling Stanton and Bour. Another frequent two-hole hitter was Martin Prado, the veteran of this Marlins offense. After being a long-time staple for Atlanta, Prado found himself back in the NL East with the Marlins last season, where he hit .288. A lot of this young roster has only improved as they’ve progressed throughout their careers, if they are able to continue this trend and big bats Justin Bour and Giancarlo Stanton are able to produce, the Marlins could be a scary team.
A lot of the hype surrounding the Marlins’ pitching staff is centered around their young ace Jose Fernandez. While the Marlins have been careful with him, not allowing him to pitch a full season since 2013, his performances have been fantastic. He went 6-1 last year in 11 starts with a 2.92 ERA and 79 strikeouts. The young phenom has a lot of hype surrounding him, and with the offense looking stronger around him, he may be poised for yet another standout year.
The rest of the rotation does not have quite the same track record as Fernandez, but still consists of a lot of young pitchers who have the potential to succeed. Wei-Yin Chen was snagged over the offseason after four years with the Orioles. Chen continues the Marlins’ trend of having young talent that has only gotten better since entering the league. Chen posted a 3.34 ERA in 191.1 innings last season for the O’s.
One other starter worth mentioning is Edwin Jackson. Jackson has been on nine different teams throughout his 13 year career (the Marlins being his tenth) with mixed success seen throughout. Last year Jackson spent time with both the Cubs and the Braves, but only saw bullpen action. The biggest struggle for Jackson has always been his consistency, posting a sub 2 strikeout to walk ratio. Marlins fans can only hope that his restoration into the starter role restores some confidence in the veteran, and that the (potential) increased offensive production means Jackson will be able to paint the plate with more authority in 2016.
I think the Marlins have the potential to surprise a lot of teams this year. The biggest issue for them always seems to be translating their ability on paper into tangible results. It will be interesting to see if new hitting coach Barry Bonds (yes, the one that has the career most home runs in MLB history) can help this offense live up to its full potential. If the offense can provide run support for pitchers like Jared Cosart and Tom Koehler, it could do wonders for their confidence.