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Around the NL East: Now for the home stretch

Sep 10, 2013, 10:34 AM EDT

Photo by USA Today Photo by USA Today

There will be no drama for the NL teams listed below, as Atlanta has been a division lock for what feels like months, and the rest of the NL East has held firm at about .500 or below. Still, an examination of where the Braves have gleaned the most value reveals that there is more than one way to field a dominant team.

Atlanta Braves (86-57)

There’s always money in the banana stand, and there’s always value to be had on defense — and whether or not a team takes advantage of that can make the difference between a division crown and a season going up in flames. The Braves were never in any such danger, having had the division well in hand for months, but they have still benefitted tremendously from the defensive wizardry of Andrelton Simmons. The 23-year-old shortstop has been worth 5.2 defensive wins above replacement (Baseball Reference version), a full 1.2 above the next-most defensively valuable player, Manny Machado. His 40 runs saved effectively canceled out the defensive deficiencies of Dan Uggla, Justin Upton, Chris Johnson, Evan Gattis, Tim Hudson, and B.J. Upton — collectively worth -40 runs in the field. That’s serious value.

Simmons is no one-trick pony, having lashed 15 home runs to contribute to a lineup that features a balance of power; six players have at least 15 homers. None of the team’s 164 dingers have traveled as far as the absolute rocket launched by Evan Gattis a few days ago. Batting against Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels, Gattis’ bomb traveled an estimated 484 feet, the longest home run in the majors this year, and the deepest shot ever hit at Citizens Bank Park.

Player of the Week: Gattis, C/LF: 4 R, 3 HR, 5 RBI, .333 AVG

Miami Marlins (53-89)

The flipside of going defense-first at shortstop is that a few bad hops can put a serious dent into the level of contribution you’re getting from a key piece of your lineup. Case in point: the Marlins’ Adeiny Hechavarria. Acquired as part of the Jose Reyes trade with Toronto (it feels as though you could say that about 25% of the team, doesn’t it?), Hechavarria was coveted for his glove work, but he’s actually been one run below average in the field this season. Coincidentally, his .974 fielding percentage exactly matches that which his predecessor, Reyes, has produced in Toronto.

Mired in a 1-4 skid that has seen Giancarlo Stanton go down with a sore right foot, the Marlins are in full ‘wait ’til next year’ mode. Starter Jose Fernandez has been the brightest spot for the duration of the season, but even that beacon is about to be extinguished, as his next start will be his last before he is shut down. With an 11-6 record and phenomenal peripherals, he should be your NL Rookie of the Year.

Player of the Week: Fernandez, SP: 1-0, 7 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.43 WHIP, 9 K

New York Mets (64-78)

Much was made of this season’s lethargic non-waiver trade deadline, but it turns out that many general managers were merely holding their cards and rolling the dice that they would be able to work out waiver deals in August. Mets GM Sandy Alderson did just that, trading the inexplicable Marlon Byrd and homer-or-else catcher John Buck to Pittsburgh for a pair of nice prospects. Alderson was ripped, in this space and in others, for holding onto and pledging to build around Byrd, and it’s encouraging to see that he didn’t believe those words, either. The only bit of remaining comedy: Byrd was traded away on Marlon Byrd T-Shirt Day at Citi Field.

The Mets are also eyeing the end of the line. Resurgent first baseman Ike Davis was placed on the 60-day DL at the beginning of the month, David Wright has yet to return, and recent lineups have inspired fans and media members alike to Google ‘Josh Satin’. On a positive note, hitting savant Travis d’Arnaud has arrived, clubbing what figures to be the first of many big-league home runs.

Player of the Week: Daniel Murphy, INF/OF: 1 R, 3 XBH, 1 RBI, .316 AVG

Philadelphia Phillies (66-77)

Ryne Sandberg continues to steer the Phillies in the right direction, as Philadelphia just completed a surprising sweep of first-place Atlanta. All three games were hotly contested, with one-run margins each time and Cole Hamels performing a decent escaping act to survive a pair of El Oso Blanco home runs. Chase Utley continues to swing a hot bat, a necessity for a team missing almost every other intended regular due to injury or trade.

Speaking of general managers belatedly making good on trading their veterans, Ruben Amaro Jr. finally shipped out Michael Young. The Los Angeles Dodgers, who are seemingly bent on acquiring every quasi-useful veteran player that they can, eagerly scooped him up for the price of minor league pitcher Rob Rasmussen. Rasmussen, 24, has split this year between Double-A and Triple-A with mixed results; he’s 0-7 at the Triple-A level, and seems to be a non-prospect. Still, it’s good that Amaro could get something for Young, who for $16,000,000 this season has been about replacement-level.

Player of the Week: Utley, 2B: 2 R, 2 XBH, 2 RBI, .471 AVG

  1. Section 222 - Sep 10, 2013 at 12:02 PM

    I hope everyone is aware that the NIDO spreadsheet with all its associated Nats wisdom can be easily accessed here if you haven’t bookmarked its direct link:

    http://prettyfrickenbueno.wordpress.com/

    h/t again to Sofa for all his efforts to preserve this unique and valuable resource. The Glossary now has 45 entries. Lots of great memories there that might help with the depression. And new arrivals to our merry gang can quickly get up to speed.

  2. Section 222 - Sep 10, 2013 at 12:05 PM

    The Phillies sweep 3 one-run against the Braves. The Nats lost 3 straight one run games in early August. Go figure.

  3. Theophilus T.S. - Sep 10, 2013 at 1:20 PM

    I got roasted in the last thread so I’m going to fire everybody up again by reposting this defense of myself. NatsJack can skip this, as he says he will, to spare him the possibility that I might say something he agrees with, as happened last week.

    I have been a baseball fan for almost sixty years. I rooted for the Tigers in hope of some reward until I realized in the 70s that (A) I was living in DC and (B) the Orioles, not the Tigers, were playing the game the right way. I loved watching the Nats in 2005 when they were playing over their heads (but not enough to go to RFK) and in 2010 and 20ll when they were improving and in 2012 when they were good. This year, everybody in my household agreed in May-June there was no point in spending $150 to go a Nats game if there was a reasonable probability they were going to stink — meaning not only lose but also play bad baseball. I’ve turned off any number of games when they puked on the field in the first three innings and turned to NCIS rather than self-immolation by a team playing not only poorly but below the level of their ability and nonetheless denying there was anything fundamentally wrong.

    I’m dee-lighted, as HHH would say, they are now playing better baseball but it is a hollow thrill, because the object of the season appears to be lost. There is reason to be optimistic about next season, especially if Zimmerman finds his throwing arm where he left it and management refocuses on developing the whole roster not just one or two pieces at a time.

    My theory of games was formed by Bo Schembechler: you beat the crap out of the teams that are crappy and any game you lose is a tragedy, particularly if you are partly responsible through poor play, poor preparation. The notion that losing is acceptable just because you’re not going to go 162-0 is NOT acceptable if the reason is you played poorly and have no idea how you’re going to get better. Sometimes you play well and lose — that is why no team wins 116 games. But far too many of this season’s losses are traceable to a point in the game where someone has a brain fart — even in the midst of an otherwise acceptable performance — as in the game (Marlins?) where Gonzalez stared into the ether while the go-ahead run stole second base.

    Beating the Mets lineup they fielded yesterday — not speaking necessarily of the team but the eight guys that trotted out to the field — ain’t exactly a big deal. Gonzalez’s starts against the Reds in April and the Giants in May stand out more, to me. I admit I’m not a big fan of his — he’s going to finish the year with, probably, fewer than 200 innings again and he’s one of the players with the biggest gap between his talent and what he produces. Great arm, great motion — one of the best in baseball — and great stuff but there are bugs in his software. Every time he goes out however, I root hard for him to have a good game, like yesterday. When he does it’s cause for celebration if not necessarily champagne.

    And I’ll bet the Braves, collectively, were embarrassed about losing two out of three to the Mets, except they were/are so far out in front that it didn’t make any difference.

    • Sec 309 - Sep 10, 2013 at 2:10 PM

      College football is a terrible metaphor for baseball. In MLB, some days you eat Bear Bryant and some days Bear Bryant eats you.

      • adcwonk - Sep 10, 2013 at 2:45 PM

        additionally, in many years, you can’t win the Nat’l championship without going undefeated. Playing for the long run (e.g., giving a guy reps in the hope he gets on track) doesn’t make sense in college football, but it makes a lot of sense in a 162-game season.

        Nevertheless, I generally agree with Theo’s comments in this thread.

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