The human-highlight reel in Bryce Harper has hit the disabled list again. This time it is courtesy of a sprained left thumb. With Harper joining the list of the injury ridden Washington Nationals, there could be some movement this week with the division standings. Here’s a breakdown of what’s happening around the NL East.
The Atlanta Braves capped off an impressive week by winning two of three from the New York Mets and sweep the Cincinnati Reds. Freddie Freeman had a walk-off hit in extra innings and David Hale threw a gem this week against the Big Red Machine. Atlanta continues to stay hot and leads the division by 3.5 games as they are building an early lead.
Freeman leads the team with an impressive .344 average followed closely by Justin Upton at .330. Jason Heyward has gotten off to a slow start this year hitting only .194, an awfully low batting average for a team’s leadoff hitter. One of the better stat lines comes from Evan Gattis, who has taken on a larger role this season behind the plate, as he has six home runs and 13 RBI.
Atlanta takes on the Miami Marlins on the road and the San Francisco Giants at home this week.
Things are still fishy in Miami; the Marlins are in last place and have had little success on the road. They are 2-10 away from Marlins Park. The good news is that the team has a nine-game home stretch beginning Tuesday. The bad news is that they play the Braves, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Mets in those games, all of whom have winning records.
The rotation for the Marlins isn’t much of a problem. Their top four starters all have an ERA under 2.98. Cy Young candidate and last year’s Rookie of the Year, Jose Fernandez, has an ERA of 1.99 and has 47 strikeouts to only six walks so far. Those same four starters, Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi, Tom Koehler, and Henderson Alvarez, also are going deep into ball games. If the Marlins can get some run production from someone other than Giancarlo Stanton, Miami could find itself winning more games and on the right side of the .500 mark soon.
New York Mets
After going 5-2 this past week, the Mets find themselves in an unusual position: second place in the NL East. New York won three games against the Cardinals and two games vs the Marlins. They now embark on a nine-game road trip that includes stops in Philadelphia (2 games), Colorado (4 games), and Miami (3 games). The Mets have an impressive 6-3 road record thus far, and it will be interesting to see if they can keep up their winning ways.
With Juan Lagares still on the DL, the team’s leading hitter is Daniel Murphy at .289. I’m sure the odds on that to begin the year were about 289-to-1. Murphy doesn’t have any home runs and has only eight RBI though. No surprise, the RBI leader in New York is team captain David Wright with 15. The replacement at first base for Ike Davis, Lucas Dada, is the only other player on the team with a double-digit RBI total. New York has been winning some low scoring ball games but living dangerously without more run support.
Jenrry Meija has gotten off to a surprisingly good start this season. The young right-hander is 3-0 with a 3.49 ERA and 31 strikeouts. His only downfall has been giving hitters a free pass to first base, as he has 15 walks on the season in just 28.1 innings pitched.
The enigma that is the Phillies are sitting one game over .500 at 13-12. They won both their series last week against the Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks to wrap up their West Coast swing. They now prepare to take on the Mets, Nationals, and Toronto Blue Jays at home where they are only 4-5 so far this season.
Cole Hamels gave up two runs on six hits in six innings of work in his 2014 debut. The highly-paid all-star came off the DL finally and looked to be in good form despite getting the loss in his first game back. With Hamels, Cliff Lee, and A.J. Burnett, the Phillies have a solid 1-2-3 punch in their rotation that could keep Philadelphia relevant in the NL East throughout the rest of the season.
Chase Utley continues to tear the cover off the ball as the veteran is batting .360 with 14 RBI. The Phillies have just 18 home runs as a team however. Only four players currently have multiple home runs. One of those players, Marlon Byrd, also has 30 strikeouts, which is one more than Ryan Howard. Anyone who strikes out more than Howard is walking back to the bench way too much. The Phillies can’t afford to not be at least putting the ball in play that often.
Picked by many to be the NL East favorite, the Nationals are in third place at 14-12. They are quickly losing pace with the Braves and will need to find some fire power with the loss of Harper. In their four losses last week, Washington scored only nine runs. In their three wins, they scored 20 runs. Big games are great, but they will need to find some more consistency in the coming weeks.
The Nationals only have five games this week as they travel to Houston and then to Philadelphia. The more off days the better to allow Harper and the rest of their injured players time to recover.
Washington’s best hitters right now are not Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, or Ian Desmond. It fact, the two best hitters are Adam LaRoche and Anthony Rendon. LaRoche is hitting .307 with four home runs and 15 RBI. He also has 16 walks to boost his OBP to .413. Rendon is sitting at .298 with three bombs and a team-leading 17 RBI. If these guys keep playing like this once the rest of the National’s stars get healthy and start hitting like they can, Washington will be a dangerous team once again and ready to challenge Atlanta for the top spot in the division.