NL East updateby Brad Johnson
July 05, 2011
The first half of the season is complete and the National League East has its share of story lines.
Solace for Marlins fans
The Florida Marlins finished May within shouting distance of first place. Then June happened. They lost 23 of 28 games. The month began with an eight-game losing streak which was immediately followed by an 11-game losing streak.
Franchise superstar Hanley Ramirez has played poorly all season, though he has been performing well since returning from the disabled list. And with Josh Johnson still on the disabled list with shoulder discomfort, it's small wonder that the Marlins find themselves in the basement of the division.
Finding the silver lining after such a poor month is an onerous chore. Fish fans may want to look to a rival club for a smile.
Over the offseason, the Marlins dealt second baseman Dan Uggla to the Atlanta Braves for utility fielder Omar Infante and lefty reliever Mike Dunn. The Marlins' side of the trade hasn't been fantastic. Infante has been dismal at the plate with a .255/.299/.312 batting line. His fielding and utility have allowed him to remain useful to the club. Mike Dunn has performed as expected, combining middling control with big swing-and-miss stuff to provide the Marlins with a reliable if inconsistent reliever.
Although that duo hasn't set the world afire, compared to Dan Uggla they look like perennial All-Stars. Uggla's nightmare season comes on the heels of a five-year, $62 million contract extension that was signed shortly after the Braves acquired him. The deal looked questionable for the Braves when it was signed. Uggla's mix of old player skills wasn't expected to age well. Still, the Braves probably counted on a few more All-Star-caliber seasons before his skill set took a nose dive. Instead, they have received a roster-sapping .175/.241/.330 triple slash from the slugger.
There's little reason to expect Uggla to remain this bad. According to his batted-ball profile, he should have reached base on over 30 percent of his balls in play. In that context, his current 19 percent rate is glaringly low. Uggla's at rock bottom, so a bounce back looks likely.
The Phantastic Phour Update
Haters of Phillies phans' penchant phor turning "f" into "ph" are probably pleased by Roy Oswalt's talk of retirement even if it is just talk.
While Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels have held up their end of the ace bargain, back pain has sapped Oswalt of the ability to keep pace. His numbers are still solid and speak to the quality of pitcher he is. Having completely lost his swing-and-miss stuff, Oswalt pitched to contact with great effect, keeping his ERA and FIP to an identical 3.79.
Some alarmist Phillies fans took Oswalt's talk of possible retirement as a sign that his head is no longer in the game. His comments can just as easily be interpreted as frustration with a painful back. After getting a second opinion, Oswalt has begun a rehab program and is expected to rejoin the team sometime in August.
The Nationals continue to improve
The Washington Nationals are becoming more and more interesting to follow.
The club is 43-43 despite three of their best players—Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, and Stephen Strasburg—contributing very little to the club.
Since his unexpected signing with the Nationals, Jayson Werth has seen a good chunk of his power disappear. Nationals stadium is a bigger home field than Citizens Bank Park, but Werth has never been a "just enough" kind of home run hitter. At this juncture, it's tough to tell if his power will return or if this is a sign of things to come. He continues to walk at a good pace, so the Nationals should still be able to get plenty of value out of him.
Part of the Nationals' success can be attributed to the continued emergence of Michael Morse. He had a slow start to the season but really picked up the slack once Adam LaRoche hit the disabled list. He's walked in just 5 percent of his plate appearances, which is low for a slugger like Morse. He also swings at a lot of pitches out of the strike zone: 39 percent compared to a league average of 30 percent. Opposing pitchers might find a way to exploit that eagerness, but so far Morse has met the challenge.
Of course, the Nationals also own two of the most exciting prospects in baseball. Stephen Strasburg has been proceeding nicely in his rehab from Tommy John surgery. He recently started throwing his curveball again and could begin a rehab assignment soon.
Meanwhile, Bryce Harper earned a promotion to Double-A. As an 18-year-old in Hagerstown, he put together a .318/.423/.554 line with 14 home runs and 19 stolen bases. That kind of production from such a young player is jaw dropping. Baseball fans counting down the days to Harper's debut should remember his recent "blown kiss." That wasn't the first time his attitude showed up on the field; hopefully he learned a valuable lesson.
Follow Brad on Twitter @baseballAteam. Email him at pitchin432 AT Yahoo.com
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