May 4, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton (27) connects for a two run homer during the first inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Marlins Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

NL East race tightening up

Things have tightened up pretty quickly in the NL East over the past week.  That may be more to the bad play of the Atlanta Braves more so than the great play of the other teams.  Nevertheless, the division’s top and bottom teams are separated by a mere 1.5 games.  No team in the NL East has a losing record, the only division in baseball that can claim such a feat.

Atlanta Braves

Despite being the division leader by a half game, the Atlanta Braves are on a six-game losing streak.  Atlanta was swept by the Marlins and the Giants this week and have not won a game since last Sunday against the Cincinnati Reds.  Things don’t get much easier facing the Cardinals this week, but the Braves do host the last place Chicago Cubs at the end of the week.

Over the losing streak, the leading hitter was Jason Heyward.  He batted .333 (8-24) and helped raise his season average a bit.  Heyward still sits at .220 on the year, but if he can keep the hitting trend he has found, the Braves will be a better team because of it.

The rest of the team hasn’t had much luck with the bats though.  Six players have batting averages under .200 over the past week, including all-star first baseman Freddie Freeman (.087).  Slumps come and go, and the Braves are hoping this offensive skid ends abruptly.

Gavin Floyd is set to make his return Tuesday.  Atlanta optioned Ian Thomas to Triple-A to make room for Floyd, who will start in his first appearance but will likely be in the bullpen with the success that Atlanta has seen from its starters thus far.

Miami Marlins

The Miami Marlins are the best team in last place.  They are 1.5 games behind the division leader and sit pretty with a 16-15 record heading into this week.  After sweeping the Braves, Miami took two of three from the Los Angeles Dodgers at home.  The Marlins will try to move up in the standings with a three-game set against the Mets to start the week then begin an 11-game west coast road trip starting in San Diego on Thursday.

MVP candidate Giancarlo Stanton leads the league with 36 RBI and is tied for second in home runs with ten.  It seems like Stanton hits long balls every game.  The only downfall is his 41 strikeouts, but power hitters are prone to walking back to the bench as well.  I think the Marlins will take that trade-off every day with the production that their best player has.

Over the past six games, Stanton has a .348 average with three bombs and seven RBI.  The amazing thing is that there are eight players on the team with a higher batting average over that same span.  None of them have as many home runs or RBI as Stanton does, but when players are getting on base that often, it is only a matter of time before the right fielder finds a way to drive them home.

New York Mets

The New York Mets haven’t been mathematically eliminated from the playoff race… yet.  It’s hard to believe the Miracle Mets are still holding their own, although “miracle” might be a loose term until they prove they can sustain a winning record more than one month into the season.

New York lost three of four games to the Colorado Rockies last week, but did salvage a game four victory to avoid the sweep.  They have a tough contest playing the Marlins on the road to start this week and close out against the Phillies at home.  Miami is one of the best teams at home, boasting a 14-5 record, so the Mets will need to be sharp.  Luckily they aren’t scheduled to face Jose Fernandez, the league’s current strikeout leader.

The past week might not have resulted in many wins, but the offense is boom or bust right now for the Mets.  Six players had batting averages above .364 including four players at or above .400.  Five players had batting averages at or below .167 to keep New York from turning too many heads.  Those numbers come from only five games, including a 17-hit effort in a loss to the Rockies on Saturday.

The outfield has gotten a bit crowded since the return of Juan Lagares.  Lagares was the team’s leading hitter before his injury and is owed a spot in the lineup until his production proves otherwise.  Chris Young has emerged and has eight hits over the last five games.  The odd man out has been Eric Young Jr. who only saw six at-bats the past week and managed one hit.  Surprisingly, Bobby Abreu, yes THAT Bobby Abreu, also got a few ABs in a Mets’ uniform, including a double.

Philadelphia Phillies

A four-game week is rare in baseball, but the Phillies only managed four games last week with an off day Monday and Thursday and a postponed game Wednesday against the Mets.  Philadelphia ended the week with two wins and two losses including a series win against the Nationals.

Philadelphia plays the Toronto Blue Jays in a home and away series this week starting off at home and then traveling to Canada to wrap up the four-game set.  The Phillies play the Mets on the road to conclude the week.  Although Toronto is in last place, the Blue Jays are only a few game under .500.

Chase Utley is fifth in the league in batting average, sitting at .346, but the all-star second baseman was only 4-15 (.267) in the short week.  His double play partner, Jimmy Rollins, hit a respectable .357 (5-14) to raise his yearly average to .274.  Those numbers are so close yet so far apart.  Utley had one less hit and one more at-bat, yet his average on the week was almost a hundred points lower.  Funny how numbers work out that way.

It was a tale of two cities for Philadelphia’s top two pitchers last week.  Cole Hamels gave up six runs on eight hits and five walks over 4.2 innings.  Cliff Lee gave up two runs on four hits and two walks over 7.0 innings.  Hamels took a loss and Lee received a no-decision.  Lee has been prone to many of those during his time as a Phillie, but Hamels isn’t accustomed to being rocked like that.  Hamels needs to find his stuff as it looks like he isn’t 100 percent after coming off the DL.

Washington Nationals

Poised to take over the division lead, the Washington Nationals are only a half game out of first place.  They have a tough stretch this week if they are going to get that done though.  Washington hosts the Dodgers then travels to Oakland to take on the Athletics after an off day Thursday.  The A’s are one of the best teams in baseball at 19-12.

The Nationals have six home runs over the last week and each one came from a different player.  One of those players is reserve shortstop Zach Walters.  In only 15 at-bats this season, Walters has three home runs.  He also has seven strikeouts, which are power hitter ratios.  The problem is that he is a shortstop and also a backup.

Adam LaRoche continues to be the team’s best hitter.  He has a .317 batting average with a team-leading five home runs.  He also has a high walk rate with 19 free passes to 23 strikeouts on the season.  Compare that with Bryce Harper, who has only eight walks to 21 strikeouts, and it’s easy to see that Harper could learn a thing or two about plate discipline from the veteran first baseman.

Stephen Strasburg may not have the best record at only 2-2, but he is tied for third in the Major Leagues with 58 strikeouts.  He sits behind only Johnny Cueto and Jose Fernandez.  Strasburg has a 3.60 ERA and has opponents hitting .268 off him; both of those stats are bettered by the staff ace Gio Gonzalez who has a 2.91 ERA and .208 opponent BA.

Tags: Giancarlo Stanton NL East

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