Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

NL East update: April 14


Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The NL East is starting to take shape after a week and a half of games.  With only 3.5 games between the first and last place teams, everyone is still in the hunt to start the season.  Each team has gotten to where they are in different ways, so we’ll take a look at who’s doing what and how the upcoming week will fare for the Braves, Marlins, Mets, Phillies, and Nationals.

Atlanta Braves

The Atlanta Braves are off to a hot start.  They sit at 8-4 and in first place in the NL East.  What is impressive is the fact that two other hot teams, the Washington Nationals and Milwaukee Brewers have lost a combined seven games.  All seven losses have come at the hands of the Braves.  Atlanta has four losses, but they have shown that they can win even without the services of some of their players who are out with injuries.

Atlanta will take on the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets this week.  The seven-game road trip will likely assert the Braves as the division’s top team or let the Phillies and Mets ease their way back into early contention.  The Braves are 4-2 on the road so far, and this week looks to produce more wins than losses given the opponents.

Freddie Freeman is the Braves’ leading hitter at .442 and four home runs.  Justin Upton has been on a tear recently getting his home run total on the season up to four as well.  Upton’s brother, B.J., is still struggling at .191.  Free agent Aaron Harang has been arguably Atlanta’s best pitcher, going 2-1 with a 0.96 ERA in just over 18 innings of work in three starts.

Miami Marlins

The Marlins currently are in last place in the NL East.  They have yet to win a game on the road but are an impressive 5-2 at home.  Unfortunately, they have to keep playing road games or else this team might have a winning record.  After winning three out of four vs the Rockies and sweeping the Padres, Miami got swept at Washington and at Philadelphia.

This week’s schedule for the Marlins could be favorable as they begin a six-game home stand.  They take on the Nationals for the second time this season, have an off day on Thursday, then play the Seattle Mariners over the weekend.  We’ll see whether the Marlins’ home-field advantage prevails or if Washington can keep up their winning ways against the Marlins.

Ginacarlo Stanton has four home runs but has seen his average dip down to .291.  Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria currently leads the team with a .353 average, and rookie Christian Yelich has a team-leading three stolen bases.  The Marlins have some respectable batting averages throughout the lineup, with first baseman Garret Jones being the lowest of their everyday starters at .224.

Pitcher Jose Fernandez came back to reality against the Phillies in his last start.  The 2013 NL Rookie of the Year gave up six earned runs in four innings while taking the loss.  He did tally six strikeouts.  Closer Steve Cishek is two for two in save opportunities so far and has not allowed a run.  If Miami can find a way to get leads going into the ninth inning, he is doing a great job in shutting down opponents to end the game.

New York Mets

A half-game ahead of the Marlins, the New York Mets are 5-7 and in 4th place in the NL East.  They are 5-5 over their last ten games and did manage to win two out of three from the first-place Braves in Atlanta’s opening series at home.

New York will take on the Arizona Diamondbacks on the road to start the week and then finish with Atlanta at home to begin a ten-game stretch at home.  The Mets have lost two of three so far on their West Coast trip, falling to the Angels with some dismal pitching performances.  If they can get the bullpen in check, New York could use the momentum heading into a tough stretch of games this weekend and next week.

Four of the Mets’ five starters have an ERA over 4.00.  Only two wins have come via the starters as well.  This is a major problem if the Mets are going to contend this season.  Newcomer Bartolo Colon is not having the kind of all-star performance he put up a year ago in Oakland, as he has a 6.00 ERA and is giving up a .325 batting average to opposing hitters including six home runs in just three starts.  The long ball has been a problem for the Mets’ staff as they have given up 21 home runs so far this season.

The only Mets’ hitter over the .300 mark is Juan Lagares.  He sits at .319 with a team-leading seven RBI.  Lagares has been the surprising leader for New York especially in the outfield.  Curtis Granderson has struggled so far for New York; he has only one home run and three RBI with a .159 average.  The offense needs to pick things up quickly to give some breathing room to the pitching staff.

Philadelphia Phillies

Philadelphia was swept by the red hot Brewers last week, but then bounced back to sweep the Marlins in a three-game series.  The Phillies currently are at .500 with a 6-6 record, and they have not established a true identity as a team with their flip-flopping of winning and losing.

This week’s opponents are the Braves and Rockies.  Philadelphia will take on Atlanta at home and then start a 10-game West Coast road trip.  The Phillies are 3-3 both at home and on the road, so the next few series should help determine what kind of ball club they are going to be for the rest of the season.  They take on the NL East leader in Atlanta then face the good, the bad, and the worst of the NL West.

Good news for Phillies’ fans: Chase Utley is hitting an unbelievable .500 in 40 at-bats.  He is tied with Jimmy Rollins for the team-lead in RBI with ten and has an on-base percentage of .565.  Utley could be the lead-off man with those kinds of numbers, but Philadelphia needs men on base for Utley to drive them in with the success he is having so far.  Ryan Howard, on the other hand, is struggling with a .222 BA.  He does have two home runs but leads the team with 15 strikeouts.  Power hitters are known to have high strikeout numbers, but Howard’s average needs to improve to warrant his numbers.

The pitching staff has been good and bad.  They have mediocre numbers with starters having an ERA between 3.50 and 5.50.  Surprisingly, the highest ERA comes courtesy of ace Cliff LeeJonathan Pettibone has a 1.80 ERA but only has one start so far this season.  Cole Hamels should be returning soon which will be a warm welcome.  If the Phillies hope to get over the .500 hump, Hamels will need to come in and find his groove right away.

Washington Nationals

One game out of the division lead, the Washington Nationals are at 7-5.  The problem is that they have lost all five games to the Atlanta Braves.  Washington will need to find a way to beat the Braves the rest of the season if they hope to contend for the NL East lead.  Come playoff time, the division winner will garner a bye right into the divisional series and not have to play the wild-card play-in game.  After seeing the new playoff system for two years, it has been proven that anything can happen in a one-game playoff.

Washington will take on the Marlins to start the week and start a 10-game home stretch to end the week.  They take on the Cardinals beginning on Thursday, so the Nationals need to win the series against Miami as they prepare to take on one of the best teams in baseball in St. Louis.  With a 4-2 record at home, the Nationals could be sitting in first place by the end of next week after their home stretch.

Offense has not been a problem for the Nationals thus far.  They have six starters hitting over .300.  One of them is first baseman Adam LaRoche, who is batting .311 with a team-leading 10 RBI and three home runs.  Bryce Harper has struggled of late; he has been hitting in the six spot in the lineup and only has four RBI on the year.  He has one home run on the year, the same amount as starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez.  I’m sure Harper has been hearing about that in the clubhouse and from opposing fans.

Gonzalez has been the Nationals’ best pitcher as well racking up a 3.50 ERA in 18 innings pitched in three starts.  Stephen Strasburg leads the staff with 28 strikeouts and is giving up only a .239 average to opposing hitters.  Closer Rafael Soriano is two for two in save opportunities and has yet to give up a run on the season.  Ross Detwiler has also not given up a run so far in 8.2 innings pitched.

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