NL East division update: June editionby Brad Johnson
June 10, 2013
Entering the season, the National League East was expected to feature two powerhouse rosters. As of June 9, the Atlanta Braves have an imposing lead on the rest of the division. Coolstandings.com rates their odds of winning the division at over 93 percent.
The Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals have done their best to tread water, but both teams are currently below .500. The Miami Marlins and New York Mets have drowned and are no longer relevant.
Miami Marlins (17-44)
For those who insist upon watching the Marlins, there are still a few things about which to be excited. Giancarlo Stanton is expected to return as soon as today. With Logan Morrison back in the lineup and Marcell Ozuna holding his own, the lineup finally may contribute enough to capture some wins. Jose Fernandez's performance has exceeded expectations, with the bumps being more of the exception than the rule.
Going forward, keep an eye on five-tool outfielder Christian Yelich. The 21-year-old prospect is putting up solid numbers in Double-A. As Fernandez and Ozuna have demonstrated, the Marlins are not being bashful about promoting prospects aggressively. Injuries, poor performance, or a trade will be required to open up playing time for Yelich, but a promotion is possible.
New York Mets (23-34)
The wheels have fallen off the bus for the Mets. A roster that has more patchwork pieces than core contributors was bound to crack, and that's just what has happened.
The pitching staff has been a letdown, contributing the second-worst ERA in the NL. This despite a FIP that rates as the seventh-best. Shaun Marcum accounts for a good chunk of that discrepancy. Over 49 innings, Marcum features a 4.96 ERA and 2.90 FIP.
The top story for the Mets is the inspirational performance of Matt Harvey. In 90 innings, he has a 2.10 ERA with excellent peripherals. He seemingly has arrived on the scene as an elite, young ace.
On the farm, Zack Wheeler is expected to make one more start in the minors before moving into the major league rotation. The Mets received Wheeler in return for Carlos Beltran in 2011. Wheeler's stuff currently plays like a conventional mid-rotation pitcher, with a high strikeout rate partially offset by a moderately high walk rate. If his command improves, Wheeler should help form an exceptional young duo with Harvey.
Washington Nationals (29-31)
What was considered the strongest roster in baseball headed into the season has been decimated by injuries and poor performances. As they say, this is why we play the games.
Stephen Strasburg (oblique) and Bryce Harper (knee) are currently on the disabled list. They both should return in time to give the Nationals a fighting chance at a Wild Card berth, but it will be an uphill battle.
The pitching staff has performed ably, but it's also an area of concern. Spots starts have been made by Zach Duke and Nate Karns, the latter of whom will fill in for Strasburg until he returns. The club lacks any notable pitching prospects, so they may need to add depth via trade. The decision on whether or not to make a deal may depend on what the club thinks of Dan Haren. He currently sports an excellent 5.89 K:BB ratio over 13 starts, but his ERA is an unfriendly 5.45.
Position players also have been giving the club fits. Danny Espinosa's offensive performance has been untenable, and a demotion to Triple-A appears increasingly likely. The club is trying to groom top prospect Anthony Rendon to take over, but his conversion to second base remains a work in progress. Meanwhile, at Rendon's natural position, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman continues to work through fielding woes that may force him to move to first base eventually.
More than anything, the Nationals need the talent currently on the roster to perform at the levels at which they are capable. With Jayson Werth returning from injury, the lineup appears sufficiently formidable to support their above-average pitching staff. Expect this team to contend despite the tepid start.
Philadelphia Phillies (31-32)
The Phillies have been treading water at zero to three games below .500 for most of the season. Much of their recent success is owed to the emergence of Domonic Brown. His .293/.333/.604 batting line befits his former (brief) status as the game's top prospect more than his recent reputation as a potential bust. It will be interesting to see how the league adjusts to Brown and how he adjusts in turn.
With Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz on the disabled list, the Phillies lineup has been Brown, Brown, and only Brown. According to wRC+, John Mayberry Jr. is the only healthy, semi-regular with an above-average offensive contribution (Jimmy Rollins has been exactly average).
The club has several problem areas that potentially could be addressed in-season. First and foremost is the terrible performance of Ben Revere. While the club cannot afford to give up on the young speedster, it's looking increasingly likely that Revere is more of a fourth outfielder than feature center fielder. The issue is his inability to leverage his speed. Defensive gaffes erode the value of his huge range, while his inability to reach base prevents him from disrupting opposing pitchers.
In right field and first base, the Phillies are starting two players who need to be in strict handedness platoons. In fact, a joint platoon at first base would be advisable. Both Ryan Howard and Delmon Young are capable of feasting on opposite-handed pitchers, and both hit like scrubs against same-handed opponents. The club is patiently giving both hitters full time reps, mostly because there are no better options available.
Despite currently owning the second-best record in the NL East, the Phillies appear built to sell at the trade deadline. They will look to convert players like Delmon Young, Michael Young, and Ruiz into younger talent.
Atlanta Braves (38-24)
Despite an easy lead over the competition, the Braves have not been firing on all cylinders. The club was expected to feature a feast-or-famine offense, but certain Braves have been on a hunger strike, most notably B.J. Upton, Jason Heyward, and Dan Uggla.
Uggla's performance is not unexpected. He's hitting for power with 11 home runs and walking frequently. His .185/.310/.385 batting line is actually respectable for a major league second baseman, although his typically poor defense makes that line look a bit worse.
Heyward (.189/.305/.303) and Upton (.158/.257/.277) are more surprising. Upton's numbers are most disturbing. Over a quarter of Upton's balls in play are infield fly balls, which are every bit as automatic an out as a strikeout. Speaking of which, he's striking out 33.5 percent of the time. Thus, over half of his plate appearances have been of the automatic out variety.
Heyward missed time with appendicitis, so the Braves likely are hoping he begins reaching base more frequently—and soon. He has solid walk and strikeout rates while posting a fairly average infield-flyball rate, so positive regression is likely.
The pitching staff has been superb. Only Tim Hudson has an ERA over 4.00, and only Kris Medlen has a FIP over 4.00. Nevertheless, tune in over the next five to 10 days as the Braves work out a roster crunch.
Brandon Beachy is expected to make one more rehab start before returning to the rotation. Julio Teheran is most likely to be demoted, but Medlen could be moved to the bullpen, or Beachy might be optioned rather than activated. You may recall that Teheran's last outing was a dominant eight-inning, one-hit performance against an effective Pirates lineup.
The only other issue the Braves face is the loss of their top two left-handed relievers. Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty both suffered elbow injuries that required Tommy John surgery. This is likely to be the only area that the Braves address via trade this season, though they also may add a bench bat to upgrade Ramiro Pena or Reed Johnson.
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