The NL East: Three big surprises

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So this is it. We’re coming down to the final month and our final division report and it’s been fun to see how things have turned out not according to plan, with the young Nationals emerging as the best team in the division, the Phillies falling off earlier than expected, and the Marlins’ winter spending going to waste. Let’s take a closer look.

Marlins

To say that this season hasn’t gone as planned for the Marlins is an understatement. A new manager, a new stadium, and a few new players were supposed to help turn the culture of the team around and put the Marlins back on the map. Instead, they are sitting in the cellar of the NL East and have started to sell. Hanley Ramirez and Randy Choate are now in Los Angeles, Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez are in Detroit and Gaby Sanchez in Pittsburgh.

Going forward, they have Jose Reyes, Logan Morrison, Emilio Bonafacio, Giancarlo Stanton and Mark Buehrle. That’s a good core to build around, but they need to spend smartly if they want to be in the discussion next year for a playoff spot. Also, the prospects they acquired, like Jacob Turner and Zack Cox, would have to step up.

It wouldn’t be impossible for this team to contend in 2013, but it’s going to take a smart winter and some luck.

Mets

The last time I wrote one of these, the Mets were struggling out of the All-Star break, but were still kind of hanging around in the Wild Card race. We’re now in early September and all playoff hopes have vanished. The team has free fallen through the end of July and August. Even though hope is gone, it was fun for Mets fans while it lasted.

One bright spot has been Matt Harvey, who made his big league debut back in July and has pitched to a 3.06 FIP over 42.1 innings and seven starts. With him, young gun Zack Wheeler down in Triple-A and Jon Niese extended, New York has a nice core of starters for the future. The Mets will probably try to extend David Wright over the winter and keep him long term. Despite a big drop-off in the second half, the team has direction, which is always good, but is still another year or two from really competing.

Phillies

The Phils have been able to work themselves back up to third place and only five games below .500. This does have to do with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley coming back from injury; Howard has been an above average player (106 wRC+) and Utley has produced a .348 wOBA. They had given up on playoff hopes before then, trading Hunter Pence to the Giants, Shane Victorino to the Dodgers, and Jim Thome to the Orioles.

The future is a little foggy because they still have a lot of big contracts going forward and not much of a farm. With a full a season of healthy Howard and Utley, they could find themselves at least competing throughout the season. The problem is that there isn’t much depth here, so injuries could really hurt them.

What you see is what you get; there’s not going to be much spending in the near future. Fans have to hope for health and some players (cough, Domonic Brown) have to step up.

Braves

The Braves have probably been the only team that has lived up to expectations. Many,including me, thought they would be the second best team in the division, and they’ve done exactly that while being on top of the Wild Card. They’ve gotten some consistent starting pitching from Tim Hudson and Mike Minor since June, while Kris Medlan has been fantastic since he joined the staff. The offense has also been solid along with Craig Kimbrel in the back of the pen. They haven’t been playing great baseball of late, but I still see them winning a playoff spot.

They have a nice core of young talent in Mike Minor, Medlan, Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann, so they should be able to stay near the top of the division and be playoff contenders for the next few years if they continue to put good pieces around them.

Nationals

Everyone seemed to think that the Nationals were a year a way from being a great team and that they had a decent shot at a Wild Card, but they’ve burst on to the scene in 2012 with the best record in the majors. They’ve had stellar pitching from Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez, while Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler have held down the back end just fine. Offensively, Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche have all been very good, while Bryce Harper, at the age of 19, has been an above-average offensive player (105 wRC+).

The big story line surrounding this team continues to be the shutting down of Strasburg. This is his first full season back from Tommy John surgery so the Nats don’t want to push him too hard and have him get injured again. He will be shut down after his start on Sept. 12 and will not pitch in the playoffs.

On one hand, I can see why people don’t think this is a good idea since the Nats may not have another shot at the World Series any time soon, but I definitely get it. Strasburg is this team’s future and there’s clearly something to this 160-180 innings limit for pitchers coming off this surgery. Washington did the same thing with Zimmermann and he’s been great this year, and the Braves are currently doing a similar thing with Medlan.

Part of the reason why I like it is because I feel this team is built to last. The Nationals have a lot of young talent is under control for the next few years and even if they don’t win it this year, I think they can be a World Series contender in the coming years. Also, Zimmerman, Gonzalez and Jackson make a very good trio for a playoff rotation. It’s not like you’d be replacing him with a replacement level pitcher.

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Comments

  1. Tom B said...

    Losing Strasburg is one problem… I think the bigger story with the Nats should be the horrendous downfall of Zimmermann, a pitcher that will still have to pitch for them for the remainder of this season.

    With Stras… Why don’t teams skimp on innings early in the year (don’t let a guy pitch 7+ innings in april/may, skip a start… something) so that he will still have innings left for (at the very least) the entirety of the regular season?  What good does it do them to have him help them up until the end of Augst and then become dead weight on the roster? 

    Also… Do they send him down or are they now also short a player on the 25-man roster for the rest of the year?

  2. Matt Filippi said...

    Well, the way I understand is that they didn’t want Strasburg to do anything out of the ordinary with him. They wanted him on a regular routine and wanted him doing nothing different from a regular year.

    And on the last question, rosters have expanded to 40 men so they don’t really need to do anything with him.

  3. Paul G. said...

    As to the Strasburg irregular schedule idea, this was tried before.  It was called the “Joba Rules.”  The Yankees managed to turn a beloved, basically unhittable relief pitcher into a mediocre starter and then into an ineffective, often injured reliever who gets booed.  I’m sure that some pitchers thrive with irregular work, but some clearly do not.  The franchise pitcher would be an odd place to experiment.

  4. Tom B said...

    Paul G… The “Joba rules” have little to nothing to do with what I’m talking about.  That was made up by a newspaper in NY and repeated ad nauseum.

    Nothing turned Joba into a mediocre starter other than his mediocre repertoire.  Calling someone “un-hittable” in 30 IP of work is also amusing.

  5. Tom B said...

    Bottom line is if they knew they were going to be toting a hard line on his innings, they should have done “anything” or “at least something” to start saving him bullets for later in the season.

    Looking at his game log, he hasn’t even been going late in games at all this season.  Skipping a start or two at any point during the season could have pushed Strasburg’s innings limit to the end of the year.  A third start and he could be pitching in the postseason.

    Just seems like a misapplication of resources.

  6. Paul G. said...

    Tom B: No, the “Joba Rules” were quite real.  The Yankees brain trust may not have referred to them by that particular name, but it was common knowledge that they were going to limit Joba’s workload as to protect him from injury.  Not exactly the same thing as Strasburg but similar.

    And do keep in mind that Joba had an excellent sophomore season with over 100 IP, a 170 ERA+, just about as effective as a starter as a reliever, and he was 22-years-old.  Yeah, no one really expected a repeat of 2007 but he looked like an elite talent nonetheless.  Then in 2009 it is decided he will be a starter but with an innings limit and he never seemed to click.  As the limit approached Joba seemed to unravel, and then there was just the silliness of letting him to continue to start but with absurdly low pitch counts which just seemed to make things worse.  Joba, we hardly knew ye.  Are the Joba Rules to blame?  *shrug*  They sure didn’t help.

    I’m not saying that the Nats handled this the ideal way, but if they think that messing around with his routine to stretch him is going to do serious damage, I can respect their decision.

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