The State of the NL Eastby Matt Filippi
April 30, 2012
Heading into this season, the most interesting division in baseball was going to be the National League East. There was a lot of movement to this division with Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson going to Washington and Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell heading to Miami. With this, we may see a four-team race for much of the year. And with the extra wild card now in place, we should expect another fun ending to this season.
The Phillies are hoping to keep their dominance up and win their sixth straight division title to prove their age hasn’t caught up with them yet. The Braves are trying to rebound from an awful collapse behind their young and plentiful pitching. The Marlins, with a new name, a new stadium, and new uniforms, are attempting to turn around their franchise, especially with the signings of Reyes and Buehrle.
With their new acquisitions and a new manager, the Marlins were seen by many as a legitimate contender to make the playoffs this year. They’ve struggled in the early-going and gotten off to a cold start at 8-12. Part of that has to with their hitting, which ranks in the bottom half of the National League in wOBA, wRC+, ISO, and runs scored.
The problem is that some of their bigger bats haven’t warmed up yet. Reyes and Hanley Ramirez have on-base percentages under .315, and Giancarlo Stanton and Gaby Sanchez are both slugging under .400. Meanwhile, Emilio Bonifacio and Logan Morrison have been their most consistent hitters.
The starting pitching, on the other hand, has been very good. They are in the top half of the NL in ERA, FIP, and innings pitched. Josh Johnson is actually the only starter with an ERA above 4.. (4.63 before Sunday's meltdown), but Anibal Sanchez has been one of the guys who’s picked up the slack, as he’s struck out 33 batters in his 26.1 innings. We knew they would have a strong rotation, and it has certainly lived up to its billing through a month of play.
The Miami pen has been a mixed bag. They are in the bottom half of the league in strikeouts, walks, and FIP. Their middle-relief corps has been pretty good, starting with Ryan Webb, Steve Cishek, and Randy Choate, but the back end has been pretty weak. Heath Bell already has three losses and an ERA close to 10. I expect the pen to turn it around, but it’s a little bit discerning.
Once their bats start to heat up, I think they’ll take off and be near the top of the division.
Ryan Howard and Chase Utley were out to start the season, so the Phillies pitching was going to have to really carry them early on, and so far they have. Their starters are in the top half of the NL in strikeouts, walks, innings pitched, ERA, and FIP. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Vance Worley have all been sensational while Joe Blanton has been a very viable No. 5 starter. Everything has gone according to plan here so far.
The new bullpen has been okay too (3.74 FIP), led by new closer Jonathan Papelbon, who has been perfect in save opportunities and has allowed only one run. However, besides Chad Qualls, almost everyone else has struggled.
With Howard and Utley out, the Phils were going to rely heavily on Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino, and Carlos Ruiz to produce offensively. The only one who has is Ruiz, who has an .858 OPS, although Ty Wiggington (.844 OPS) and Laynce Nix (.943 OPS) have been big surprises and are helping the team tread water.
The team just needs to stay in it until the two big bats get back. The pitching needs keep it up, and Pence starting to hit would help a lot.
New York Mets
The Mets have been arguably the most surprising team of the young season. They stand at 13-9 and in third place in the division. Expectations were just about as low as they could be with the combination of still rebuilding and the overall improvement of the division, but so far they’ve been proving everyone wrong who thought they were going to be historically bad (not that it means much since we’re only a month in).
Offensively, David Wright has been leading the way, hitting to a .385/.481/.569 slash line. He’s followed by Josh Thole (.851 OPS), David Murphy (.310 AVG), and Captain Kirk Nieuwenhuis (.829 OPS). Nieuwenhuis was the first of many call-ups we're sure to see. Jordany Valdespin has also gotten a look because of the injured Jason Bay, as has Zach Lutz.
The pitching has been decent with a rotation led by Johan Santanana and his surgically replaced shoulder. He’s been a pleasant surprise, striking out 29 and walking 11 over 24 frames. They did lose Mike Pelfrey to Tommy John surgery, but Jonathon Niese and R.A. Dickey have also been pretty solid. Despite signing Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch this off-season, the bullpen has been sub-par. Manny Acosta, Miguel Batista, Francisco, and Ramon Ramirez all have ERAs over three.
The Mets have surprised many and are right in the middle of things, but we’ll see how long it lasts.
After a horrible collapse last season in which they lost out on the playoffs on the last day of season, the Braves have gotten off to a nice start. They did lose their first four, but since then have won fourteen of eighteen. Atlanta has had a very nice balanced team on both offense and the mound.
Even though Jair Jurrjens had to be sent Triple-A due to ineffectiveness, they’ve still been able to get by due to their depth. Brandon Beachy has been superb, pitching to a 1.05 ERA over four starts and 25.2 innings. Tommy Hanson and Mike Minor have also been very good, and they just got Tim Hudson back from injury. In the pen, Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters have picked up from where they left off last season, allowing only two runs between them in 17.2 frames.
The lineup has also been very good, too, with Michael Bourn and Chipper Jones both wOBAing (yep, that’s the verb form) over .355 and Martin Prado, Jason Heyward, and Dan Uggla each adding OBPs above .340. You’d also have to think, even though they have gotten off to tough starts, Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman will pick it up at some point.
A solid roster has gotten off to a solid start and will be very much in the thick of things throughout the summer barring injuries.
The Nats are off to a great beginning thanks to their re-vamped pitching staff. Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez have pitched to sub-2.00 FIPs, while Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson have kept theirs below three. Ross Detwiler has also been an effective fifth starter, pitching to a 1.64 ERA and striking out 19 and walking just six over 22 frames. One through five, they have been as strong as anyone.
Ryan Zimmerman was just placed on the disabled list, although he may not be missed as much since his slash line only sits at .224/.324/.345 with one homer. Adam LaRoche (.964 OPS) and Jayson Werth (.806 OPS) have been a spark, though, as guys like Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, and Wilson Ramos have yet to heat up. Also, Bryce Harper has just been called up. The 19 year old will try to provide a jolt playing every day in the outfield.
With an exciting offseason and lots of young talent, this may be the year they put it together and make a legitimate run at the division title. So far it looks like they could.
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