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
ROBERT GSELLMAN (22)
SETH LUGO (18)
RAFAEL MONTERO (18)
MATT HARVEY (18)
ZACH WHEELER (17)
STEVEN MATZ (13)
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.
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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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.
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 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.
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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With the ALCS and NLCS around the corner and the 2017 fantasy baseball season officially in the books, it is time to assess the 2018 outlook for the following four players. They are all currently injured with fairly loose time tables for return, but also could be impact players next season.
Jimmy Nelson, Starting Pitcher, Milwaukee Brewers
Jimmy Nelson’s 2017 WAR of 4.9 ranks fourth in the MLB, only behind Chris Sale, Corey Kluber and Max Scherzer. (Photo by The News and Observer)
Nelson quietly emerged as one of the most dominant pitchers in Major League Baseball this season.
Yes, you heard me correctly. Jimmy Nelson. His 2017 WAR of 4.9 ranked eighth in the MLB. Nelson also finished in the top 10 in K/9 (10.21) and xFIP (3.15) to go with a 3.49 ERA. In 175.1 innings, Nelson fell only one strikeout short of 200, which was a huge improvement from his prior career high of 148 in 177.1 innings.
According to fangraphs.com, Nelson’s curveball in 2017 was valued at 9.2, where a value of zero represents average, a positive value represents above average and a negative value represents below. To put this in better perspective, Clayton Kershaw’s curveball has been valued at a total of 63.8 over the course of his career, with a high of 16.5 and a yearly average of 7.2, although his curveball is currently valued at 6.4 in 2017. This shows that Nelson’s stuff is similarly effective to the likes of Kershaw.
The 28-year-old suffered a partially torn labrum and a strained rotator cuff after sliding back head-first into first base on September 8. He underwent surgery on September 19, which will undoubtedly set him back at the start of the 2018 season. According to MLB.com, Nelson shouldn’t be expected to return until midseason.
Nelson is well worth a flyer in fantasy drafts next season, as his price is sure to be discounted due to his long-awaited return.
Adam Eaton, Outfielder, Washington Nationals
Adam Eaton tore his ACL and meniscus on April 28, causing him to miss the remainder of the 2017 MLB season. (Photo by the Cincinnati Enquirer)
In his first season in Washington after being traded for prospect pitchers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, Eaton had found himself in a fantasy friendly leadoff role. It was undeniable that he could score triple-digit runs and steal double-digit bases atop a loaded Nationals lineup.
Unfortunately, he tore his ACL and meniscus on April 28, causing him to miss the remainder of the 2017 season.
Eaton was batting .297 with two home runs, three stolen bases and 14 walks through 23 games this season. His combination of speed, plate discipline, contact hitting and opportunity in the Nationals’ lineup push me to compare him to the likes of his former teammate A.J. Pollock.
Pollock is a career .286 hitter with a 162-game average of 16 home runs and 28 stolen bases. Eaton’s 162-game average is .284, 11 home runs and 17 stolen bases, showing that he offers similar value to Pollack a much cheaper price.
Early reports this season suggested that there would be a possibility for Eaton to return at the end of the 2017 season if the Nationals were to make a deep postseason run. However, the Nationals were eliminated in the NLDS and Eaton did not enter a game. This indicates that Eaton should be ready to go by the start of 2018, and by his own account according to the Washington Post, he plans to return “a better player for sure.”
Eaton’s confidence in himself is reassuring for his fantasy value moving forward, although the current outfield situation in Washington is not. Superstar Bryce Harper is locked into right field as long as he remains a National. Michael Taylor has emerged as much more than a depth outfielder after batting .271 with 19 home runs and 17 stolen bases in Eaton’s absence. Veteran slugger Jayson Werth was on pace for 23 home runs through 162-games, but was plagued with injuries. Top prospect Victor Robles has also shown that he is deserving of MLB at-bats.
It is uncertain if and to what extent Eaton will play in 2018. If he returns to an everyday role, he will reemerge to fantasy relevance once again.
Troy Tulowitzki, Shortstop, Toronto Blue Jays
Troy Tulowitzki is only three seasons removed from when he batted .340 with 21 home runs in 91 games with the Colorado Rockies. (Photo by Zimbio.com)
Tulowitzki was placed on the 60-day disabled list on August 6 after suffering ligament damage in his ankle. The 33-year-old played in only 66 games, slashing a career worst .249/.300/.378. Despite his clear struggles and lack of durability, manager John Gibbons told MLB Network Radio that they are committed to Tulowitzki as their starting shortstop in 2018.
He is only three seasons removed from when he batted .340 with 21 home runs in 91 games with the Colorado Rockies. The once perennial National League MVP candidate has been reduced to a shell of his former self. In his three seasons as a Blue Jay, he has a combined .250 batting average and just 36 home runs in 238 games.
He spent the majority of the season batting either fifth or sixth. With the anticipated departure of Jose Bautista and the Josh Donaldson trade rumors, it is hard to identify where Tulowitzki will fit in the order or how productive the Blue Jays’ lineup can be.
His fantasy value moving forward is a conundrum, as no one knows what to expect at this point in his career. Will he resurrect his MVP form? Or will his skills and durability continue to diminish? Only time will tell, but his price on draft day in 2018 is sure to be a bargain.
Michael Conforto, Outfielder, New York Mets
Prior to the injury, Michael Conforto was slashing .279/.384/.55 with 27 home runs and 68 RBIs through 109 games. (Photo by NY Daily News)
Conforto underwent season ending surgery on September 6to repair a torn posterior capsule in his left shoulder. His anticipated return is around early March, although this only gives him a month to ramp up baseball activities before the start of the season in April, suggesting that he will miss the beginning of the 2018 regular season.
Prior to the injury, Conforto was slashing .279/.384/.555 with 27 home runs and 68 RBIs through 109 games. This rate of production put Conforto on pace to hit 40 home runs and drive in 101 RBIs.
Whether he is in left, right or center field, Corforto is a lock to be in the Mets’ lineup. He has proven that he is not just a left-handed side of a platoon, but yet a budding superstar, as he was playing nearly everyday in July and August. However, he still only bats a career .180 against lefties, so be weary.
The soon-to-be 25-year-old is sure to be undervalued in fantasy circles next season. He is obviously coming off of an injury, but more importantly, he plays for the Mets, whose offense ranked in the bottom half of the league in runs, RBIs and batting average in 2017. With a healthy Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes, the Mets could easily become a top-15 offense in 2018, making Conforto’s fantasy value rise immensely.
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The following MLB hitters have officially broken out in 2017. This piece intends to inform fantasy baseball owners about whether these breakout performers will continue to achieve, or if their level of success is unsustainable.
Honorable mentions include: Whit Merrifield (KAN), Domingo Santana (MIL), Yonder Alonso (OAK), Alex Bregman (HOU), Paul DeJong (STL) and Andrelton Simmons (LAA).
Aaron Judge, Outfielder, New York Yankees
Judge has become the best power hitter in baseball in 2017. (Photo by The New York Daily News)
The Yankee slugger has officially broken out in 2017. Judge is the heavy front runner to win American League Rookie of the Year, as he has mashed 34 home runs and 75 RBIs while batting .300 so far this season.
According to the New York Daily News, Major League Baseball’s commissioner Rob Manfred described Judge’s performance as “phenomenal”, and added that Judge is “the kind of player that can become the face of the game.”
While this comment may be justified, Judge’s performance has significantly cooled off since it was made in mid-June.
In July, Judge batted merely .230 while striking out at an atrocious 36.4 percent clip. Also, his 39 strikeouts were the most by any player in July.
Selling Judge now may not be the best decision, as his value has declined in the last month. His fantasy value should be similar to that of fellow sluggers Giancarlo Stanton and Marcel Ozuna. His value would be closer to that of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout if it wasn’t for his lack of experience and elevated BABIP and strikeout rates, which all raise questions about his consistency.
Cody Bellinger, Outfielder/ First Baseman, Los Angeles Dodgers
Bellinger has been quite the producer since being called up in late April. In only 89 games, he has recorded 30 home runs and 71 RBIs, which puts him on pace to hit over 50 home runs and 129 RBIs over the course of a 162-game season.
The 22-year-old has noticeably changed his approach at the plate since the All-Star break, as his strikeout rate has dropped from 29.1 percent in the first half to 18.8 percent in the second. Bellinger slots into to the clean-up spot in the lineup behind the National League leader in batting average, Justin Turner, and 2016 NL Rookie of the Year, Corey Seager.
Bellinger has joined the ranks of elite young sluggers and should be valued similarly to Aaron Judge moving forward.
Justin Smoak, First Baseman, Toronto Blue Jays
Despite the Blue Jays’ struggles this season, Justin Smoak has emerged as a silver lining. He was voted an All-Star for the first time and is currently batting .301 with 31 home runs and 74 RBIs.
The 30-year-old has set career highs in all major hitting categories, while also dropping his strikeout rate from 32.8 last season to 19.7 percent in 2017.
In July, Smoak’s success continued, although it seems majorly due to his BABIP as he sported a .354 BABIP. Also, his strikeout rate has risen up to 23.1 percent which is a bit concerning.
Smoak should finish the year batting under .300, although chances that he hits 40 bombs and drives in 100 are very likely. He is firmly entrenched within the top 10 first baseman right now, although his value in keeper and dynasty formats is weaker than in standard re-draft due to lack of sample size and consistency.
Travis Shaw, First Baseman/ Third Baseman, Milwaukee Brewers
Travis Shaw was a first time All-Star in 2017. (Photo by Pintrest)
Shaw came over to the Brewers this offseason in a deal that sent reliever Tyler Thornburg to the Boston Red Sox. Thornburg has yet to pitch an inning for the Red Sox, whereas Shaw has become an All-Star.
The 27-year-old has found a home batting clean-up for Milwaukee, as he has hit a career-high 24 home runs while driving in a career-high 74 RBIs.
Shaw’s BABIP of .329 is significantly higher than last season’s .299 mark, although this may be due to an increase in hard contact, as he has raised his hard contact rate from 29 percent in 2015, to 33 percent in 2016 and now 37 percent this season.
His improved approach has allowed him to become an elite fantasy producer in 2017. His value moving forward is similar to the likes of Jake Lamb and Mike Moustakas, as his batting average is still extremely BABIP driven and his strikeout rates are high and continuously rising.
Chris Taylor, Outfielder/ Second Baseman, Los Angeles Dodgers
Taylor was a fifth-round pick by the Seattle Mariners in 2012. He was acquired by the Dodgers in a trade that sent prospect pitcher Zach Lee to Seattle in 2016.
Since arriving in Los Angeles, Taylor has stumbled upon some newfound success, as he has hit more home runs in 91 games this season than he did in 249 games at the AAA-level.
The 26-year-old has become the everyday lead-off hitter for the Dodgers, which bodes well for his fantasy value, although his rising strikeout rate and inflated BABIP are cause for concern.
Taylor, whose BABIP in July measured .523, has an unsustainable BABIP of .419 on the year. Also, his home run to fly ball rate of 18.7 percent is unsustainable, as that would put him the same conversation as Paul Goldschmidt and Logan Morrison in terms of HR/FB rates.
Taylor’s fantasy value seems to be at its peak, which makes this a prime time to sell high. He will continue to be a valuable asset as he bats lead-off for arguably the best team in baseball, although his BABIP and home run to fly ball rate are sure to plummet.
Michael Conforto, Outfielder, New York Mets
Conforto has been the lone bright spot for the Mets during thier abysmal 2017 season. He has batted primarily in the lead-off spot for New York, although due to a lack of talent around him, he has only scored 62 runs in his 91 games. His BABIP of .355 is very high, although his BABIP in July of .313 and batting average of .301 suggest that his .300 batting average may be sustainable over the course of a full season.
The 24-year-old is not in the upper echelon of outfielders just yet. It is fair to value him similarly to Corey Dickerson or Domingo Santana moving forward due to his lineup potential, production, upside and age.
Jonathan Schoop, Second Baseman, Baltimore Orioles
Jonathan Schoop has emerged as a center piece of the Orioles future. (Photo by Alchetron)
Schoop had a successful 2016 campaign, although he has taken his talents to the next level this season. He is a lock to set career bests in all major hitting categories, as he is on pace to hit 36 home runs and drive in 119 RBIs.
He has found a fantasy friendly spot in the three-hole of a dangerous Baltimore lineup and promises to be a big part of their future moving forward.
His BABIP of .337 suggests that his batting average is in line for a small amount of regression, although his improved strikeout rate and incredible July totals insinuate that he is trending upward.
He ranks just below Jose Ramirez in terms of value due to a lack of steals and batting average, although his production puts him firmly in the top tier of second basemen, well behind Jose Altuve of course.
Marwin Gonzalez, First Baseman/ Third Baseman/ Shortstop/ Outfielder, Houston Astros
Marwin Gonzalez, once known as a backup utility player, has officially broken out. Many didn’t expect Gonzalez to receive everyday at-bats due to the Astros having such a deep roster, although due to injuries and his hot bat he has found himself in an everyday role.
The 28-year-old has set career highs in home runs and RBIs, while being on pace to set a career-high in batting average. Gonzalez is a great fantasy asset, as he has a multitude of position eligibilities and bats in the heart of the Astros’ dangerous lineup.
His BABIP is high, which does cause concern regarding his .300-plus average, although his production and power seem to be sustainable. His playing time shouldn’t falter even when stars Carlos Correa and George Springer return from the disabled list, as his production has been arguably the team’s best of late.
Featured image by SBNation
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Rookies are an anomaly in fantasy baseball, as it is difficult to predict their value due to a lack of minor and major league experience. In order to qualify as a rookie, a player must not have conceded 130 at bats or fifty innings pitched in the majors, and also must have fewer than 45 days on the active roster. Rookies tend to be undervalued in redraft leagues and over valued in keeper and dynasty formats, although in either format, they can make or break your fantasy season.
One rookie, Michael Conforto, who looked to contribute as a starting outfielder for the New York Mets in 2016, and after battling through injuries and demotions, finished the year as the 121st outfielder in fantasy. Conforto’s average draft position of 211, was much too high compared to his performance, as you could have waited and selected top 50 outfielders Odubel Herrera, Nick Markakis or Carlos Beltran.
There is always risk involved when drafting rookies, but the rewards can be plentiful.
In 2016, rookie short stops Corey Seager, Trevor Story and Aledmys Diaz exploded onto the scene, all finishing as top 10 short stops, while commonly being drafted 60th or later, occasionally going undrafted, depending on the date and number of teams in the draft.
AL Rookie of the year Michael Fulmer was another undrafted contributor, as he finished as a top 28th starting pitcher in 2016, after winning 11 games in 26 starts.
After being called up in June, Trea Turner of the Washington Nationals played in only 73 games, but managed to finish as the 10th second basemen, after batting .342 with 13 home runs and 33 stolen bases.
Many owners believe rookies are too risky to take chances on, especially in re-draft leagues, Even though the 2016 rookie class shined, many owners will continue to shy away from drafting rookies over established talent. In order to persuade owners to take a few more chances on rookies in 2017, they must understand what rookies are truly capable of.
Below are the greatest fantasy baseball seasons by a rookie at each position since the year 2000.
Notable rookies to keep your eye out for in 2017 include: Andrew Benintendi (BOS), Yoan Moncada (CWS), Dansby Swanson (ATL), Hunter Renfroe (SD), Tyler Glasnow (PIT), Aaron Judge (NYY), Yulieski Gurriel (HOU), Willson Contreras (CHC), Lucas Giolito (CWS), Bradley Zimmer (CLE), and Ozzie Albies (ATL).
Catcher: Geovany Soto, Chicago Cubs, 2008
2008 National League ROY, Geovany Soto, looks to break camp with the Los Angeles Angels in 2017. (Courtesy of Getty Images)
Honorable mentions include: Bengie Molina 2000 (ANA), Buster Posey 2010 (SFG), Wilson Ramos 2011 (WAS), Wilin Rosario 2012 (COL), and Gary Sanchez 2016 (NYY).
Geovany Soto, was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 11th round of the 2001 MLB draft. After totaling 25 home runs in six years of minor league baseball, Soto broke out, batting .353 with 26 home runs and 109 RBI’s for the Iowa Cubs of the Pacific Coast League in 2007.
The Chicago Cubs finished first in the National League Central in 2007, unfortunately getting swept by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL Division Series. The Cubs backstop remained a question mark heading into 2008, as veterans Michael Barrett and Jason Kendall departed. This was Soto’s chance.
His transition from the minors to the majors went smoothly, as he batted .285 with 23 home runs, 66 runs, and 86 RBI’s. Soto was named the NL’s starting catcher in the All-Star game, and was also awarded the 2008 NL Rookie of the Year while finishing 13th in NL MVP voting.
Unfortunately for Soto, injuries derailed his career. He has failed to surpass his career high of 141 games, which occurred in 2008.
The 12-year veteran has gone on to bounce around the American League, having brief stints with the Texas Rangers, Oakland Athletics, Chicago White Sox, and currently the Los Angeles Angels.
We could see a rookie season similar to Soto’s soon, as young catchers Gary Sanchez and Willson Contreras begin to emerge.
First Base: Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox, 2014
Jose Abreu continues to torment pitchers in the AL Central. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Honorable mentions include: Mark Teixeira 2003 (TEX), Ryan Howard 2005 (PHI), Prince Fielder 2006 (MIL), Joey Votto 2008 (CIN), Gaby Sanchez 2010 (FLA), Eric Hosmer 2011 (KC), and Freddie Freeman 2011 (ATL).
The Cuban first basemen signed a six-year deal with the Chicago White Sox worth $68 million, in 2013, which was the largest deal in club history.
In a Cuban professional league, Abreu batted .316 with 19 home runs and 60 RBI’s over an 83-game span. The White Sox took a risk, believing that his numbers in Cuba would translate to production in the American League.
The 27-year-old took over at first base for Chicago legend Paul Konerko in 2014, becoming a new corner stone of the White Sox lineup. Abreu didn’t disappoint, batting .317 with 36 home runs and 107 RBI’s. The 2014 All-Star managed to also win the AL Rookie of the Year and Silver Slugger awards, while finishing fourth in the AL MVP voting.
Abreu has remained an elite first basemen throughout his three-year career, having a 162-game average of .299, 32 home runs, and 109 RBI’s. His rookie season remains nearly unrepeatable.
Second Base: Dan Uggla, Florida Marlins, 2006
Dan Uggla looks to make an MLB comeback in 2017. (Courtesy of Onlineathens.com)
Honorable mentions include: Robinson Cano 2005 (NYY), Dustin Pedroia 2007 (BOS), Danny Espinosa 2011 (WAS), and Trea Turner 2016 (WAS).
Dan Uggla remains one my favorite players to this day. He mashed 21 home runs in 2005 at the AA level for the Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate, the Tennessee Smokies. Fortunately for Uggla, he failed to make the Diamondbacks 40-man roster in 2005, and was drafted by the Florida Marlins in the rule-5 draft, forcing the Marlins to keep him on the 40-man roster.
The 5-foot-11, 210-pound second basemen took this opportunity and ran with it, hitting 27 home runs with 90 RBI’s while batting a very respectable .287. The 26-year-old made his first of three All-Star appearances in 2006, while finishing third in NL Rookie of the Year.
Uggla’s career remained explosive, as he managed to hit 30 or more home runs in his following five seasons, finishing 17th in NL MVP voting in 2010.
After two and half inconsistent seasons with the Atlanta Braves from 2011-2013, he has bounced around the minor leagues. The 35-year old is coming off of stints with the San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals, as he continues to try to make an impact for a big-league club in 2017.
Third Base: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers, 2007
Ryan Braun’s rookie season remains unmatched. (Courtesy of Youtube.com)
Honorable mentions include: Eric Hinske 2002 (TOR), Garrett Atkins 2005 (COL), Ryan Zimmerman 2006 (WAS), Evan Longoria 2008 (TB), Kris Bryant 2015 (CHC), and Matt Duffy 2015 (SFG).
Ryan Braun was the 5th overall pick by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2005. From 2005-2007, he batted .313, while hitting 32 home runs in 165 minor league games. The highly touted prospect had matching expectations when he was called up to take over for veteran Jeff Cirillo in May of 2007.
The 23-yaer-old impressed, batted an astounding .324, with 34 home runs, and 97 RBI’s. Braun went on to win NL Rookie of the Year, while finishing top 25 in NL MVP voting. The fact that Braun only played in 113 games goes completely overlooked, as he was on pace to hit 41 home runs and 118 RBI’s over a 600-plate appearance season. Although there have been some stellar rookie seasons by third basemen in the last two decades, Braun’s stands alone.
Short Stop: Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins, 2006
Hanley Ramirez may be back in Boston, but no one forgets his MVP caliber days in Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Honorable mentions include: Jimmy Rollins 2001 (PHI), Angel Berroa 2003 (KAN), Troy Tulowitzki 2007 (COL), Alexie Ramirez 2008 (CWS), Carlos Correa 2015 (HOU), Francisco Lindor 2015 (CLE), Corey Seager 2016 (LAD), Trevor Story 2016 (COL), and Aledmys Diaz 2016 (STL).
The former and current Boston Red Sox, Hanley Ramirez, signed with the team in 2000 as an amateur free agent. He began to soar up the ranks, making his way from low-A minor league ball to the majors in only three years. Ramirez was traded to the Florida Marlins in November of 2005, in a deal involving World Series champs Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell.
As a 22-year old, Ramirez won the 2006 NL Rookie of the Year, batting .292 with 17 home runs, 119 runs, 59 RBI’s, and 51 stolen bases. Hanley’s production goes unmatched, as the only other rookie to score over 115 runs in the modern era is Ichiro Suzuki.
Hanley’s career has been an interesting ride so far, as he has battled through some serious injuries that has caused him to lose his MVP form. He has transformed from a perennial .300 hitter with 20 plus steals to a .270 hitter with single-digit steals, which, along with his improved power stroke, is still a very productive player.
Left Field: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals, 2001
Albert Pujols is the greatest player of his generation. (Courtesy of Lehighvalleylive.com)
Honorable mentions include: Hideki Matsui 2003 (NYY), Jason Bay 2004 (PIT), Chris Coghlan 2009 (FLA), Yoenis Cespedes 2012 (OAK).
Arguably the greatest player of his generation, Albert Pujols was drafted in the 13th round of the 1999 MLB draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. He accelerated up the minor-league ladder, batting .314 with 19 home runs and 96 RBI’s in 133 games at three different levels in 2000.
The Machine exploded onto the scene in 2001, batting .329 with 37 home runs, 112 runs, and 130 RBI’s. Pujols went on to become an All-Star, win Rookie of the Year and Silver Slugger awards, and finish top five in NL MVP voting. Prince Albert’s 2001 campaign sparked a hall of fame career which included three MVP’s and two World Series rings.
Center Field: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, 2012
Mike Trout or Micky Mantle? (Courtesy of the Huffington Post)
Honorable mentions include: Terrance Long 2000 (OAK), Rocco Baldelli 2003 (TB), Scott Podsednik 2003 (MIL), Willy Tavares 2005 (HOU), Jacoby Ellsbury 2008 (BOS), Austin Jackson 2010 (DET), and Billy Hamilton 2014 (CIN).
This generations Mikey Mantle began as a first-round selection by the Los Angles Angels in 2009. In three minor league season Trout batted well over .300, but lacked the power that we are all used to seeing today, as he hit only 23 home runs in 291 games.
Trout started his rookie season after being called up in April of 2012. He went on to play 139 games, batting .326, while mashing 30 home runs, scoring 129 runs, driving in 83 RBI’s, and stealing 49 bases in 56 attempts.
The two-time MVP had the highest WAR ever by a rookie, with 10.0. It may be a long time until we see another 30/40 season by a rookie.
Right Field: Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners, 2001
Ichiro refuses to quit as he enters his 17th Major League season. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
The 27-year old rookie was purchased from the Orix BlueWave for $13 million in 2000. In nine seasons in Japan, Ichiro batted .313, with 658 runs, 118 home runs, and 508 stolen bases. After winning seven batting titles and three MVP awards in Japan, Ichiro decided to make the transition to the MLB.
In 2001, he set the record for the most hits ever by a rookie with 242. The Rookie of the Year finished the season batting .350, while scoring 127 runs, driving in 69 RBI’s, and stealing 56 bases. He was subsequently rewarded the AL MVP.
Suzuki’s career is well known as he has surpassed the 3000-hit plateau and has a career average of .313. Ichiro will remain with the Miami Marlins in 2017, where he will continue to add to his historical career.
Starting Pitcher: Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins, 2013
Jose Fernandez, what could have been?(Findagrave.com)
Honorable mentions include: Rick Ankiel 2000 (STL), Roy Oswalt 2001 (HOU), Dontrelle Willis 2003 (FLA), Francisco Liriano 2006 (MIN), Daisuke Matsuzaka 2007 (BOS), Edinson Volquez 2008 (CIN), J.A. Happ 2009 (PHI), Jaime Garcia 2010 (STL), Jeremy Hellickson 2011 (TB), Yu Darvish 2012 (TEX), Wade Miley 2012 (ARI), Shelby Miller 2013 (ATL), Hyun-Jin Ryo 2013 (LAD), Julio Teheran 2013 (ATL), Matt Shoemaker 2014 (LAA), Jacob deGrom 2014 (NYM), Noah Syndergaard 2015 (NYM), Michael Fulmer 2016 (DET), Kenta Maeda 2016 (LAD), and Jon Gray 2016 (COL).
In 2013, the late, great, Jose Fernandez, managed to out-perform all other rookie starters since the year 2000. After being selected as the 14th pick of the 2011 MLB draft, Fernandez pitched one full season in the minors, going 14-1 with a 1.75 ERA, while striking out 158 batters in 134 innings pitched.
The young hurler started 28 games in his rookie season, going 12-6 with a 2.19, while striking out 187 batters in 172.2 innings. The 20-year old lead the league in hits per nine in 2013, which helped him earn the NL Rookie of the Year award, his first All-Star appearance, and a 3rd place finish in NL Cy Young.
In 2016, Fernandez lead the league in K/9, with 12.5, as he had 253 strikeouts in only 182.1 innings. Unfortunately, Fernandez’ life was cut short in boating accident, so we can only speculate to what could have been. Rest in peace.
Releif Pitcher: Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves, 2011
Craig Kimbrel may be in a new uniform, but his antics remain as they did in Atlanta. (Courtesy of Jeffschultz.blog.myajc.com)
Honorable mentions include: Kazuhiro Sasaki 2000 (SEA), Huston Street 2005 (OAK), Jonathan Papelbon 2006 (BOS), Andrew Bailey 2009 (OAK), and Neftali Feliz 2010 (TEX), Jordan Walden 2010 (LAA), Dellin Betances 2014 (NYY), Roberto Osuna 2015 (TOR), Edwin Diaz 2016 (SEA), and Seung-hwan Oh 2016 (STL).
After being drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 33rd round of the 2007 MLB draft, Craig Kimbrel decided to forgo the MLB, and attend Wallace State Community College in Hanceville, Alabama. He finished the 2007-2008 collegiate season with a 2.89 ERA, while striking out 123 batters in 81 innings.
Kimbrel went on the be re-drafted by the Braves in the third round of the 2008 MLB draft. He had some slight struggles in the minors, sporting a 3.97 ERA in 70.1 innings pitched at four different levels in 2009, but recovered in 2010, where he had a 1.62 ERA at the AAA level.
Kimbrel received the official call up in 2010, where he recorded 46 saves, struck out 127 batters, and lead the league in games finished with 64. The 23-year old went on to win NL Rookie of the Year, make his first All-Star appearance, all while receiving votes for the Cy Young and MVP.
The flamethrower has managed to improve on his rookie season, as he has had an illustrious seven-year career with a career ERA of 1.86 and over 250 career saves.
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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.
As the trade deadline approaches, the picture of who could be making a playoff push and who should be preparing for next season is beginning to take form. Lower teams on the totem pole should begin looking to see what they can do to make the most of the remaining season, while the higher teams begin thinking about what areas they can shore up in to further their playoff hopes and dreams. The NL East trade situation is beginning to take shape.
In the East, I’d argue that it’s beginning to look like the two teams everyone expected to be at the bottom fall into the first category, while the two everyone thought would be at the top fall into the latter. The Marlins remain in limbo, because while they’re just a game back of the second place Mets, they’re still a full six behind the Nats at the moment and, in my opinion, are unlikely to solve all of their needs (mainly in the pitching category) within the next few weeks and make a serious run.
With that in mind, we’ll take a look who the potential buyers and sellers, as well as what may be on the table, as we near the 2016 trade deadline (August 1).
Buyers: Washington Nationals, New York Mets, Miami Marlins
Papelbon’s DL visit and his rather lackluster stuff on the mound could make the Nats willing to shop for another closer as the deadline approaches. Photo courtesy of foxsports.com
Nationals: The Nationals are in a pretty good spot compared to the rest of these teams right now. While the other four teams in the division all have offenses in the bottom ten of the MLB in runs, Washington sits in the top ten. But with recent performances bringing questions, Washington may be looking for some new arms to toss in the bullpen. Jonathan Papelbon hasn’t been as crisp at the closing role, surrendering runs in two of his three in June. On the season, he’s allowed baserunners in 17 of 25 appearances, and multiple runners in ten of those games. Papelbon has been having one of the most underwhelming seasons of his career, so even when he returns, the Nats might be looking for, at the very least, a plan B at closer. Former setup man Shawn Kelly struck out four of the five Cubs he faced, grabbing his first save of 2016 on Tuesday against the Cubs.
So who will the Nats look for out of the bullpen? It’s difficult to tell, if they go for anyone at all, since Papelbon is quite a pricey guy to not have at closer, and limits the money available to give to new guys. Aroldis Chapman, currently with the Yankees, is a closer who is up on the market, and would definitely provide the heat and power that Papelbon has been lacking this year. Another guy from New York who sits deep in the bullpen, Andrew Miller, could also garner some attention from the Nationals. With closers always being a hot commodity with playoff contending teams, Chapman’s destination could come down to who makes the offer that most tempts the Yankees organization.
Mets: The Mets are a team that might find themselves forced to make some moves at the deadline in order to stay in the fight in the East. They’ve currently dropped three straight games, and while a lot of things can change in the next month and a half, injuries are currently a noticeable problem for New York. Captain David Wright, first baseman Lucas Duda, and catcher Travis D’Arnaud are all currently on the DL; Neil Walker and Michael Conforto are still active, but also battling injuries. The offense has been the major weakness of this Mets team anyways. Sure some of their starters have struggled this year, but I don’t think New York sees itself in a selling position at this point in the season, and definitely has faith that its young rotation will fix itself in time. Currently, the Mets don’t have any big name guys to fill the voids left at the various positions littered with injuries. James Loney is currently filling in for first base, and while he’s not a bad player, I don’t think he’s going to carry this Mets team to another shot at the World Series. The same goes for Rene Rivera at catcher.
Jonathan Lucroy is a player who is projected to find himself in another jersey by the trade deadline. It might just be a Mets jersey. Photo courtesy of foxsports.com
So who will the Mets look for? As a team that seems to love power, the Mets might find themselves reuniting with long-time Met, Carlos Beltran, who is currently playing with the Yankees. Beltran, despite his age, has hit 16 homers so far this year, which ties with the Mets’ homer leader Yoenis Cespedes. Beltran certainly wouldn’t be a long-term fix, but if the Mets moves from last year are any indication (when they acquired Juan Uribe, Tyler Clippard, Addison Reed, Kelly Johnson and Yoenis Cespedes) the organization is willing to take on players for only a brief time, so long as they feel it will help them make a playoff run. Of the five players they acquired last year, only Cespedes and Reed still wear a Mets jersey. Another guy who the Mets may look for is Jonathan Lucroy. While Travis D’Arnaud is slated to return from the DL next week, it never hurts to have multiple catchers on standby, especially when Lucroy is one of them. Lucroy currently has ten homers are 31 RBIs this year.
Marlins: I currently have the Marlins as a buyer, although by the time August rolls around they could very well end up being a seller. So I’ll try my best to run through both scenarios as best as I can. If the Marlins are able to begin making headway in the division or wildcard picture, then they will want some more starting pitching. Jose Fernandez cannot single-handedly carry this team to the postseason, and the rest of the arms in the rotation are struggling to provide much support. I personally don’t believe that the Marlins will have enough of a shot in the playoff race to deem making a big trade, but I don’t think they will be in the market to sell anything either (unless a team is willing to break the bank for Jose Fernandez, I give it a 1% chance of happening).
Rich Hill is one of the bigger starting pitchers currently on the trade market, will the Marlins buy? Photo courtesy of sfgate.com
But let’s say the Marlins do hang around, and they’re in the thick of the playoff race: who would they look for on the mound? I think the biggest name circling around the MLB currently is the A’s Rich Hill. This does depend a lot on how Hill recovers from his current visit to the DL, but he’s 8-3 with 74 strikeouts and a 2.25 ERA so far in 2016. Another guy who could be on the market, depending on how the Braves are feeling, is starter Julio Teheran. Teheran doesn’t have the same flashy record as Hill, but he has been impressive with Atlanta despite the pitiful amount of offense around him. Teheran is just 2-7, but has a 2.93 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 14 starts this year.
As a final bit regarding the Marlins and Mets: Cuban defector Yulieski Gourriel has been granted free agency by the MLB. Gourriel is considered a potentially valuable infielder for any team that is willing to take a risk on him. Mets GM Sandy Alderson told ESPN’s Adam Rubin in a report that the Mets are hesitant to take a chance on Gourriel because he did not regularly see quality pitching in the Cuban League, and it’s a lot harder to scout guys in Cuba, especially give the United States’ relationship with the country over the years. With that said, both the Mets and the Marlins might find themselves needing to take a chance on an infielder with a bat like Gourriel.
Seller: Atlanta Braves
Braves: The Braves have claimed that they’ll be willing to discuss trading anybody on their roster not named Freddie Freeman. With Jason Grilli gone to Toronto, Julio Teheran is now their most lucrative piece on the table. Teheran will pull a fair price, though, and if the Braves’ recent moves have been any indication, the teams willing to talk Teheran better have a lot of young pitching prospects to offer.
Teheran is probably the guy who is most likely to be a headline trade offer come late July, but some young bats like Mallex Smith or Chase D’Arnaud might find their ways to other teams as pieces of a deal if they continue to perform at the plate.
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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For the first time in two weeks, there was no lead change in the NL East. The Nationals remain atop the division. They didn’t gain too much headway in the division, as every team won at least three games last week, aside from Miami.
One of the bigger news stories from the East last week was the Braves firing manager Fredi Gonzalez. The move was inevitable with the way the Braves had been playing, and with the plans have for the future, but it’s always hard to gauge exactly when a manager is going to bite the dust. The Braves did win their second series on the year, their first since April 17th, under interim manager Brian Snitker against the Phillies over the weekend. While I doubt there was a whole lot of correlation between the two events, it is good to see the Braves young pitching is starting to show more life.
Jose Fernandez ended up in handcuffs last week. That’s right, the young Marlins ace stole the keys to Phillie Phanatic’s ATV prior to Wednesday’s game, and ended up being cuffed by the Phanatic and led back to the Miami dugout. One thing’s for certain, guys need to stop messing with the Phanatic’s ATV. Another guy in Miami that may as well be batting with handcuffs on is Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton recorded just one hit in 21 at-bats last week, striking out 17 times. Stanton became just the second batter in the modern era to strike out 15 times over a five game span, and the first position player to do so.
I guess the bright side (if you’re one of those optimists who absolutely has to find one) was that Stanton’s one hit came off of Nats ace Max Scherzer, who has looked extremely dominant in his last three starts, combining for 38 strikeouts over that time. Scherzer wasn’t the only one looking dominant on the mound for Washington, as the entire bullpen combined to post a 0.00 ERA last week. Any fans would be ecstatic to see those kind of numbers put up by their bullpen, Nats fans particularly so, given how the bullpen has been one of their sore spots over the past years.
Since we’re already on the topic of the Nats, let’s dive a bit deeper into them as we take a closer look at how the NL East teams fared last week.
1. Washington Nationals 27-17
Max Scherzer was great, the bullpen was great, and the offense also looked very strong for Washington last week. The Nationals outscored their opponents 30-8 over sox games last week, whose offensive production compared to the rest of the division is why they’re still my favorites in the East (injuries not withstanding). The Nationals bats were hot last week, and they’re continuing to show that they aren’t a one-man Bryce Harper show like some were claiming them to be in April. While Harper continues to pile up the walks, Wilson Ramos continues to drive in runs, totaling six RBI on the week. Ramos is having a standout season through the first two months, and while there’s still a long way to go, Ramos is on the way to having a career year if he continues producing at this rate. The career .264 hitter is almost .100 points higher in 2016, hitting .347.
Anthony Rendon led the team in hitting last week, batting an even .500 and bringing in seven runs in six games. Coming into the year, the biggest problem concerning Rendon was his health, after missing extended time in 2015. Weeks like this show why: it’s obvious that Rendon has the tools necessary to provide in this Nationals lineup if he can stay healthy. A guy who has already spent time on the DL in 2016, Ben Revere, is beginning to turn into the weapon Dusty Baker wanted him to be before his injury. He stole his first two bases and drove in four runs last week. Revere has still been recovering from an oblique injury suffered on Opening Day, but this week’s performance looked reassuring as he looks to return to full form as the Nats leadoff man.
While Max Scherzer struck out 18 men in his two outings last week, he still took the loss in a 2-0 pitcher’s duel against Noah Syndergaard and the Mets on Tuesday. Scherzer allowed just four runs over two starts, with all of them coming off of homers. Solo shots by Curtis Granderson and the hot hitting Michael Conforto were enough to down the Nats, who couldn’t get anything going against Noah Syndergaard. The offense made it up to him on Sunday, however, giving him eight runs of support against the Marlins in the rubber match of that series.
Another guy who (finally) found success vs. Miami was Tanner Roark. Roark was 0-3 against Miami before Friday’s start in which he went 6.2 innings and allowed just one run. Gio Gonzalez continues to fly under the radar on the mound for the Nats. While he is just 3-1 in eight starts, Gonzalez has struck out 40 men in 48.1 innings and posted an impressive 1.86 ERA. Gonzalez picked up his third win in a strong 6.1 inning, one run start against the Mets on Wednesday.
The bullpen deserves a lot of credit on the mound this week as well. Seven men combined for zero earned runs allowed in 13 innings of work last week. Jonathan Papelbon had been looking more suspect than Nats fans had hoped in the past weeks, but he was able to convert his only save opportunity flawlessly on Thursday.
The Nationals are at home all week, with three games against New York before a four game set against the Cards beginning on Thursday.
2. New York Mets (25-18) 1.5 GB
While Noah Syndergaard was able to out-duel Max Scherzer on Tuesday, the rest of the Mets arms were overwhelmed by Washington’s offense in games two and three of the series. The Mets were able to rebound, however, with a sweep of the Brewers over the weekend to keep things interesting in the East.
The Mets offense, while still producing with the long ball, looked much more dormant last week compared to weeks prior. Obviously, the Mets strong pitching staff can make up for some lack of offense, but Syndergaard cannot pitch every game, and even if he did he can’t be expected to put up double-digit strikeouts and give up two runs or less in every start. While Michael Conforto has been fantastic for the Mets offense in recent weeks, belting some balls that still haven’t landed, the Mets appear to have lost first baseman Lucas Duda right before a key series against the Nats. Duda currently has seven homers and 19 RBI on the season, but had to see a doctor on Sunday in regards to an ailing back.
Curtis Granderson is still in the midst of a May slump, hitting just .151 with an OBP of .235. While he did hit two more home runs last week, Granderson is going to need to find himself on base more frequently, and provide opportunities for the men behind him to bring him in. Yoenis Cespedes has proven himself more than capable of doing so. While he didn’t homer last week, his 3 RBI increased his season total to 35, which leads the National League. If Granderson is able to get on base more often, Michael Conforto can begin turning those solo shots into multi-run homers, which can both solidify leads and spark comebacks.
When you look at the Mets’ starting pitcher performances this week, we’re reminded that everybody is human. Except Noah Syndergaard, who is making a very strong case for actually being a demigod. He posted 21 Ks in two scoreless outings, improving his season line to 5-2 with a 1.94 ERA and 76 strikeouts. Thor doesn’t even have the best record on the Mets staff, however. That honor belongs to Steven Matz, who is now 6-1 in seven starts (6-0 in his last six). While he isn’t striking out as many guys as Syndergaard, he’s been just as productive on the hill.
The surprising troubles for the Mets have come from their one and two spots in the rotation, Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey, both of which were hit well in their appearances last week. Harvey lasted just 2.2 innings against the Nationals. Harvey threw a simulated game at Citi Field Saturday in hopes he can work his way out of the worst slump of his young career. He’ll get a shot at redemption against the Nats on Tuesday. DeGrom didn’t suffer a loss in his five innings against the Brewers, and still struck out seven men, but he, admittedly, still isn’t quite back to the form he was in 2015.
The Mets won a number of close game this week, in large part to the efforts of closer, Jeurys Familia. Familia converted three of three save opportunities and notched himself a win last week, all without surrendering a single run. Familia ranks second in the MLB in saves, only behind Jeanmar Gomez of the Phillies. Logan Verrett, after being roughed up in a start filling in for Steven Matz, continues to look more at home in the bullpen, not allowing a run through 2.2 innings of work.
The Mets plays three games in Washington before hosting the Dodgers for three games over the weekend.
3. Philadelphia Phillies (25-19) 2 GB
The Phils missed an opportunity to take second place in the division last week, dropping two of three games to the Braves over the weekend. Despite that, they’re still very much in the conversation in the division. The offense continues to show that it needs some serious help, however, as the Braves young arms held the Phils to just one run in the first two games of the series in Philly.
Tommy Joseph is finally seeing Big League action in Philly, hitting his first homer off of Wei-Yin Chen last week. Photo courtesy of articles.philly.com
We’ll start with the positives surrounding the offense. New first baseman Tommy Joseph is looking primed to produce at the plate. While he is currently splitting starts with Ryan Howard, Joseph hit his first big league homer on Tuesday against the Marlins. Joseph is currently hitting .250 in 2016, and while that isn’t earth shattering, it’s a step up from Howard’s .161. One other thing I like about the Phils is their gameplan at catcher. Both Cameron Rupp and Carlos Ruiz started three games behind the plate last week. Alternating catchers ensures that both remain fresh when it’s their turn to start, which has really paid dividends for Rupp, who hit .545 with a homer and three RBI last week.
What Philadelphia really isn’t doing at the plate is getting on base and manufacturing runs. They’re 13th in the NL in on-base percentage, with a team .292; 14th in walks, with just 111; and dead last in stolen base percentage, converting a steal just 50% of the time. When you have a young, developing offense like the Phils, small ball is usually the more conducive way to produce runs, especially when you have talented pitching. That isn’t saying the Phillies should forego the long ball entirely, they have some guys, like Maikel Franco, who can produce in that category. But they also have guys like Freddy Galvis, who can fly on the basepaths, and I feel that Philadelphia isn’t really taking advantage of that.
None of the Phils arms looked particularly bad this week, despite their starters suffering three losses. Aaron Nola suffered from three unearned runs in what would have otherwise been a quality, two-run start in seven innings against the Braves. The loss ends Nola’s streak of unbeaten starts at five. Jerad Eickhoff had to make two starts this week, and looked strong in both. The lack of run support hurt in his six inning, three run loss to Miami on Monday. But he returned with a strong seven scoreless innings against the Braves on Sunday. Jeanmar Gomez continues to lead the MLB in saves, converting numbers 15 and 16 last week.
The Phillies begin a road trip on Monday in Detroit for three games, before playing the Cubs in Chicago for three more over the weekend.
4. Miami Marlins (22-21) 4.5 GB
The Marlins lost the most ground last week, but they’re still within striking distance in the East. With that in mind, they have to find a way to help slugger Giancarlo Stanton out of one of the worst slumps in baseball. Stanton struck out 15 times in five games last week, before finally recording a hit in Sunday’s game against Washington.
Christian Yelich, despite missing two games for back spasms, posted a strong .412 batting average last week. But the real surprise came from his replacement, Ichiro Suzuki. The 42 year old showed he’s still got it, going hitting .667 in the weekend series against Washington, hitting from the three-hole. Justin Bour was able to pick up some of Stanton’s slack in the power department, hitting three homers and notching five RBI. Marcell Ozuna hit the only other two homers for the Marlins last week, and brought home three runners himself.
Jose Fernandez delivered another strong outing against the Nationals on Saturday, striking out nine in six innings of work and allowing just one run. Hernandez was the Nats’ worst nightmare in his starts. In three starts against them, he allowed just three runs combined while striking out 29. Fernandez is also 4-0 in the month of May and hasn’t lost a game in over a month, since April 23 against the Giants.
The only other Marlins starter to pick up a win last week was Adam Conley, who tossed six innings of one run ball against the Phils, before being hit hard by Washington on Sunday. Tom Koehler and Wei-Yin Chen both were stiffed offensively, allowing just two earned runs in seven and six innings respectively, but ending up being dealt the loss. While Koehler is 0-1 in his past three starts, he has surrendered just four earned runs over 19.2 innings of work, and has struck out 16 men. Hopefully for Marlins fans, he’ll continue to trend in this direction while Adam Conley tries to work out of his consistency issues at the bottom of the rotation.
The Marlins play a four game series against the Rays, two games at home before heading to Tampa for the last two. They then head to Atlanta for three games over the weekend.
5. Atlanta Braves (12-31) 14.5 GB
While the firing of Fredi Gonzalez cast a shadow over the Braves this week, it was a good week for them overall. They picked up their first series win in over a month against the Phillies over the weekend, and more guys are starting to relax and find their power swings. Mallex Smith, Jeff Francoeur, and Freddie Freeman all turned in multi-homer weeks; meanwhile Nick Markakis, Kelly Johnson, and Tyler Flowers all hit their first dingers of 2016.
This is a good sign for the Braves, not because it means they’re going to miraculously turn their season around and make a postseason run, but because it means their young pitchers can finally start playing with some run support. When pitchers have run support, they’re able to be more relaxed on the mound and throw their game. Particularly for younger guys, this can play a huge role in a pitcher’s confidence when they take the mound. When pitchers know they will get some run support, they won’t put so much pressure on themselves when they’re on the mound, which can lead to more quality outings. That’s not to say that Braves starters are going to begin routinely throwing seven scoreless innings every time they take the hill, but it will help further their development and maturation on the mound.
Freddie Freeman continues, as expected, to be the top producer for this Atlanta offense, while Mallex Smith continues to solidify his position as a promising player down the road. Jeff Francoeur came out of nowhere last week, with two homers and four RBI. Francoeur is another guy who can provide a lot of veteran knowledge to some of the younger players around him on this Braves roster. The Braves are finally starting to get back into the groove on the basepaths as well, as new third baseman Chase D’Arnaud and Ender Inciarte both swiped two bags last week. D’Arnaud hit a loud .412, and looks to be another strong candidate in the Braves leadoff spot.
Julio Teheran finally got a win in 2016. He tossed a 7.2 inning shutout against the Pirates. Photo courtesy of totalprosports.com
Julio Teheran finally snagged his first win of 2016, turning in 7.2 scoreless innings against the Pirates on Wednesday. Teheran has allowed just two earned runs in four starts this month, but is still just 1-1 over that period. Matt Wisler also turned in another strong start, surrendering just one run to the Phillies in 6.2 innings of work. Wisler, also, has been strong in the month of May; he’s allowed just six runs in four starts and has a 2-1 record. Aaron Blair continues to struggle the most of any of the young Braves starters, getting roughed up in Pittsburgh. Blair lasted just 1.1 innings and gave up nine earned runs over that time. The silver lining for Blair is that there’s nowhere to go but up from here, as he’ll have some time to recover some confidence with triple-A Gwinnett.
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.