The state of the NL East: July updateby Matt Filippi
July 23, 2012
This was supposed to be a four-dog race, but so far it’s been mostly the Nationals in charge with a few other scattered headlines, mostly about not living up to expectations. It’s been a crazy year, making it tons of fun, and you can’t help but look forward to the ending.
Philadelphia Phillies (42-54 with 0.5% playoff odds)
The biggest question surrounding the Phillies at this point is whether they will buy or sell at the trade deadline. They sit in fifth place in the National League East and 14 games back and 10-1/2 back of the second wild card spot. They have recently gotten healthy but haven’t been able to improve much since Chase Utley and Ryan Howard returned. So where do they go from here?
Well, Howard has been solid since his return, posting a .381 wOBA, but he’s only had 35 plate appearances, which is not many to judge him by. Utley, on the other hand, hasn’t been great, with only a .279 wOBA to his name. The Phils have been waiting all year for these guys, and it’s about time for them to come through and get them back in the race.
Carlos Ruiz continues to absolutely rake, posting a 166 wRC+, and Hunter Pence (116) has certainly stepped things up since the beginning of the season while Shane Victorino and Jimmy Rollins have been right around average (96 each). If you couple these guys together for a longer period of time and Utley starts to hit, we could see a change in tides.
The starting pitching has been what you would expect. Of course, not having Roy Halladay hurt, but they held up pitching to a 3.99/3.67/3.47 ERA/FIP/xFIP line while logging the most innings (614) of any starting rotation in the majors. Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Vance Worley have all been great while Kyle Kendrick and Joe Blanton have been mediocre, holding their own as back-end guys.
With the players they are getting back on the field and 39 of their remaining 66 games against division opponents, you have to think they have a shot at coming back. Crazier things have happened.
Miami Marlins (44-51 with 0.6% playoff odds)
The Marlins were surrounded by great expectations heading into the year, but it just seems like no one has lived up. They had a new city, new uniforms, a new manager, and a bunch of new players, but it hasn’t clicked.
On offense, Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, and Logan Morrison have been mediocre, and according to wRC+, the only one who has been above average is Ramirez. Gaby Sanchez has been demoted to Triple-A and their best hitter, Giancarlo Stanton, just landed on the disabled list due to knee surgery. It’s been a rough year, and if you had Justin Ruggiano as one of the bright spots, put your hand in the air. (Don’t you dare.)
The rotation has been only okay with Anibal Sanchez and Mark Buehrle being the only starters with ERAs under four. The good news is that they’ve all stayed healthy. One of the bigger offseason acquisitions, Heath Bell, has lost his closer’s role thanks to an ERA above six in 44 appearances. Randy Choate and Steve Cishek have been solid, at least.
There are no big moves the Marlins can make; they just need to wait things out and hope the current guys can make a comeback, which certainly is possible.
New York Mets (47-48 with 12.6% playoff odds)
The fact that the Mets have found themselves in a position to be buyers is actually pretty funny, and it's one of the reasons we all love baseball. Everyone wrote them off as the punching bag of this division, yet they have stayed right in the thick of things through almost 100 games. However, there is a bit of a cause for concern.
The Mets' starting pitching has been very good, pitching to a 3.76 FIP as a unit. R.A. Dickey has, of course, led the way with his 2.72 ERA while striking out almost a batter per inning. However, he hasn’t pitching as well of late; there was no way he was going to continue pitching the way he was. With this being said, and the fact that other effective starters Johan Santana and Dillon Gee have gone on the disabled list, a lack of starting pitching depth has been exposed.
The bullpen has also been just awful with closer Frank Francisco on the shelf. They don’t have that one go-to guy who can shut things down. Tim Byrdak is a fine LOOGY, and Ramon Ramirez, Bobby Parnell, and Jon Rauch are decent pieces, but you can’t rely on them like the Mets have to. If they’re serious about contending, they need to find some bullpen help and fast because it’s already cost them a few games out of the break.
The offense has been what has carried the Mets, and it will have to continue to do so. David Wright continues to be a monster with a .422 wOBA and a 171 wRC+ while Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy have been solid everyday bats, as well. Ike Davis has picked it up since a horrendous start and now has 14 dingers while Jordany Valdespin has been quite the spark plug off the bench with four pinch-hit homers.
The question here is whether the pitching can hold up. The rotation’s lack of depth is starting to be exposed, and New York needs major help in the pen. If Sandy Alderson can find a market for these things, maybe he’ll patch up the holes and keep them in the mix.
Atlanta Braves (52-43 with 52% playoff odds)
I thought the Braves were the most solid team in this division during spring training, and solid they certainly have been, due in large part to their offense. Their pitching has been good, too, but it’s really been their hitters who have carried them.
The Atlanta outfield has really been the key to success as Michael Bourn, Martin Prado, and Jason Heyward all have wRC tallies over 120. Chipper Jones also has been quite the story in his last season in baseball, posting a .388 wOBA. Freddie Freeman (.346), Brian McCann (.324), and Dan Uggla (.323) have all been good contributors, too.
On the pitching side of things, the guy to look out for is Ben Sheets. This bullpen is very good, as we all know, and the rotation has been solid, but Sheets was picked up off the scrap heap and has been terrific in his first couple of starts. If he can continue throwing the ball well and be a viable middle-to-back-of-the-rotation guy, he could be one of the best midseason free agent pickups of the year.
They may not catch the Nats, but the Braves have been a good team all around, and you gotta expect them to be in play for at least the second wild card.
Washington Nationals (55-39 with 85.7% playoff odds)
I had the Nationals pegged as a second wild card team coming into the year because I figured they were still young and another year or two from being the dominant team in this division, but it looks like I may have been wrong.
The starting rotation has continued to carry them, pitching to a 3.37 FIP, good for the best in the majors. Stephen Strasburg has been the unquestioned ace, striking out more than eleven per nine innings and keeping his ERA below three. Jordan Zimmermann also has been fantastic despite not missing a ton of bats, while Gio Gonzalez has fallen off after a hot first 10 starts. Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler have done a great job rounding things out, too. Combining this with a solid pen (3.63 FIP), they’ve been very tough to beat on this side of the ball.
On offense, they’ve also been strong. Ryan Zimmerman (.333 wOBA) and Adam LaRouche (.341) have been heating up recently, as has Michael Morse since he came of the disabled list. Roger Bernadina has been performing well after stepping in for the injured Jayson Werth. They’ve been getting some type of production from everywhere, even with a slumping Bryce Harper. If Washington gets Werth and Ian Desmond back when they’re supposed to, the Nats will be set for the stretch.
This team just needs to keep playing the way they have and get those two guys healthy. There’s been a lot of inconsistency in this division, so if the Nationals can catch fire, they could run away with it.