The National League East: A Slumbering Giant

National League East
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Before this season began, many in the baseball world had high hopes for the National League East. It was considered to be one of the most competitive divisions in the game. One part of that remains true, as the division is only separated by a game and a half. However, those high hopes have quickly diminished. Combined, the National League East has gone 57-67 so far. Offensively and defensively, it has been a struggle so far. That being said, there is still a lot to like here and the division will be fun to watch as the season unfolds. The opening salvo has not been all that terrific, however the battle is just beginning. It could be a fairly interesting one. Let’s dive in and see just why, starting with the current division leaders.

The National League East: A Slumbering Giant

Philadephia Phillies (13-14)

For the Philadelphia Phillies, life has not been easy. Injuries have been a bit of an issue; however, their offense is the true problem. On the positive side, Rhys Hoskins and Bryce Harper have combined for 14 homers. Jean Segura is hitting .333 and J.T. Realmuto has posted a 160 OPS+. That being said, their run differential is -16. A large part of that is due to underwhelming performances by Andrew McCutchen, Didi Gregorius, and Alec Bohm. McCutchen is hitting .175 with a 59 OPS+ so far. Gregorius is hitting .238 with a 67 OPS+. Bohm, formerly a major NL Rookie of the Year contender, is hitting .229 with three homers. He’s also shown severe impatience at the plate, walking a mere six times in 106 plate appearances (5.6% walk rate).

Pitching-wise, the Phillies have also experienced highs and lows. Their starting rotation has given them issues, while their bullpen has been mildly better than last year. The trio of Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, and Zach Eflin all have ERAs in the mid-threes. However, bad performances from Chase Anderson and Matt Moore have weighed the rotation down. Relief wise, Sam Coonrod, Jose Alvarado, and closer Hector Neris are all having fantastic seasons. Coonrod and Alvarado have ERAs below two. Neris has pitched to a 2.13 ERA with five saves and a 189 ERA+ so far. Unfortunately, Connor Brogdon and Brandon Kintzler have registered ERAs over five. If the Phillies want to retain a spot at the top of the National League East, their pitching has to balance. That being said, the offense is the true issue here. If that can solidify, this team has all the potential to contend.

Washington Nationals (11-12)

The Washington Nationals have been something of a major league hospital. Injuries have plagued them ever since the start of the season. An outbreak of COVID-19 forced them to cancel their opening series. Young superstar Juan Soto is hurt, along with rotation mainstay Stephen Strasburg. Relievers Luis Avilan, Wander Suero, and Ryne Harper are all out. That being said, some of the other guys have picked up the slack. The offense has the league’s best batting average (.252). Their trouble is bringing people home, as 84 runs puts them 14th in the league. Josh Harrison and Trea Turner have both proven their worth. However, bad seasons from Kyle Schwarber, Josh Bell, and Yan Gomes have the team behind the eight ball.

Their arms have not fared much better. A 4.11 ERA is eighth in the league. Max Scherzer has been their only reliable starter so far. Patrick Corbin has struggled (8.10 ERA in 23 1/3 IP). Before hitting the IL, Strasburg had his issues. Erick Fedde and Joe Ross have been average at best. However, their bullpen has been very good. Closer Brad Hand has yet to allow an earned run and has three saves. Kyle Finnegan and Daniel Hudson are also having good years. Suero and Austin Voth have ERAs under two. Paolo Espino has been effective in somewhat limited action (2.84 ERA). If the Nationals want to contend in the National League East, they simply need to stay healthy. They should also look for better production from some of their big bats.

New York Mets (10-11)

The New York Mets came out of the offseason with huge ambitions. In a major coup, they traded for superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor. Then they gave him a massive multi-year deal for well over $300 million. He’s returned all of this by hitting .182 with a 53 OPS+ in 77 at-bats. However, he’s not the only offensive problem. The normally consistent Jeff McNeil has struggled out of the starting blocks (.186 avg in 59 ABs). The team’s other big offseason acquisition, James McCann, is hitting .217 with a 59 OPS+. All that aside, there are some bright spots here. The third base tandem of J.D. Davis and Luis Guillorme are a big success. Both are hitting well over .300. Aside from that, Brandon Nimmo is hitting .318 (21-66) and Pete Alonso has five homers. That being said, overall, the offense has been subpar. McNeil and Lindor have to produce if they want any kind of a shot at the division title.

On the other hand, the pitching has been some of the best in baseball. The team’s 2.96 ERA is second in the league. Jacob deGrom is making a major case for his third Cy Young Award (0.50 ERA, 753 ERA+, 0.571 WHIP). He’s joined by Marcus Stroman (1.86 ERA, 208 ERA+, 0.931 WHIP) and Taijuan Walker (3.00 ERA, 130 ERA+, 1.259 WHIP). The bullpen has been outstanding. Closer Edwin Diaz has pitched to a 1.80 ERA with three saves. Aaron Loup has yet to allow an earned run. Miguel Castro, Trevor May, and Jeurys Familia have all been brilliant. In short, this is one of the best staffs in the game. If the offense could offer them vitally important run support, the Mets could dominate the National League East. Do not sleep on this team.

Atlanta Braves (12-15)

The Atlanta Braves are a team that continues to be an anomaly. On one day, they will look like the World Series contenders many pegged them as. On another, they will seem to return to their rebuilding years. Saying that this season has been a roller coaster would be an understatement. Fortunately for Braves fans, there’s still a lot to like here. Ronald Acuna Jr. is one of the front runners for league MVP. He’s already crushed nine homers and is hitting well above .350. April revelation Guillermo Heredia hit .300 with a couple of homers. The recent resurgence of Austin Riley has also helped inject some life into a relatively dead offense. Reigning MVP Freddie Freeman has had a rough go of it, as have Marcell Ozuna and Ozzie Albies. That being said, if this offense clicks, it’s one of the best around.

When it comes to the pitching, they need help. A 4.96 ERA is fifteenth in the league. Young hurlers Ian Anderson and Huascar Ynoa are the only bright spots right now. Both have ERAs under three and Ynoa is proving himself offensively, as well. The same cannot be said for the rest of the staff. Offseason acquisitions Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly are struggling. Smyly, in particular, cannot seem to keep opposing hitters in the ballpark (nine homers in 19 IP). The bullpen has had its fair share of issues as well. Normally reliable guys like Tyler Matzek and Josh Tomlin have faltered. A.J. Minter struggled out of the gate but has improved. Closer Will Smith has five saves. As with the Phillies, it’s all about balance in Atlanta. If they can find that, they are in terrific shape. If not, it could be a very long season.

Miami Marlins (11-15)

Finally, we shift south and examine the Miami Marlins. Much like the Nationals, injuries have plagued them. Offensive anchors Jazz Chisholm and Starling Marte are out. However, other guys have stepped in and are supporting the team. Jesus Aguilar is surging (.298 average, six homers, 23 RBI, 163 OPS+). Catcher Chad Wallach has been doing well (.282), along with outfielder Corey Dickerson (.316). However, bad performances from Garrett Cooper (.187),  Brian Anderson (.200), and Adam Duvall (.182) have put the team in a negative position. Their .227 team average is 12th in the league. They’ve only managed to hit 22 homers and have a collective 100 RBI. In other words, the offense has been very weak so far.

The same cannot be said of their pitching staff. While not at the Mets level, they have been respectable so far. A 3.51 ERA is sixth in the league. Young hurler Trevor Rogers is making his own Cy Young case (1.29 ERA, 315 ERA+, 1.000 WHIP). Meanwhile, Pablo Lopez and Sandy Alcantara are each having solid campaigns. The bullpen has been very good, with John Curtiss, Dylan Floro, and closer Yimi Garcia leading the way. The issue here is that, as of now, the rotation is incomplete. If the team can find reliable fourth and fifth starters, this staff has all the potential in the world. It may not be enough to get Miami back to the playoffs, but there’s at least some hope here for Marlins fans. All the team’s problems lie in their offense. If that can get going, the Marlins could make things very interesting.

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Players/managers mentioned:

Rhys Hoskins, Bryce Harper, Jean Segura, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, Didi Gregorius, Alec Bohm, Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Zach Eflin, Chase Anderson, Matt Moore, Sam Coonrod, Jose Alvarado, Hector Neris, Connor Brogdon, Brandon Kintzler, Juan Soto, Stephen Strasburg, Luis Avilan, Wander Suero, Ryne Harper, Josh Harrison, Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, Josh Bell, Yan Gomes, Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, Erick Fedde, Joe Ross, Brad Hand, Kyle Finnegan, Daniel Hudson, Austin Voth, Paolo Espino, Francisco Lindor, Jeff McNeil, James McCann, J.D. Davis, Luis Guillorme, Brandon Nimmo, Pete Alonso, Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, Taijuan Walker, Edwin Diaz, Aaron Loup, Miguel Castro, Trevor May, Jeurys Familia, Ronald Acuna Jr., Guillermo Heredia, Austin Riley, Freddie Freeman, Marcell Ozuna, Ozzie Albies, Ian Anderson, Huascar Ynoa, Charlie Morton, Drew Smyly, Tyler Matzek, Josh Tomlin, A.J. Minter, Will Smith, Jazz Chisholm, Starling Marte, Jesus Aguilar, Chad Wallach, Corey Dickerson, Garrett Cooper, Brian Anderson, Adam Duvall, Trevor Rogers, Pablo Lopez, Sandy Alcantara, John Curtiss, Dylan Floro, Yimi Garcia