Sep 19, 2013, 1:27 PM EDT
The National League East has been one of the more competitive divisions in baseball since the turn of the century, fielding at least three 80-plus win teams in every season but one since 2001. Four of the division’s five teams have finished atop the standings in that time period, with Eastern parity reaching its height in 2005, when all five teams finished .500 or better. That bit of history makes this season’s iteration of the NL East all the more surprising, as not only has Atlanta lead almost wire-to-wire, but never were they seriously challenged for supremacy.
Atlanta Braves (90-62)
The outlook for the Braves is a positive one, and not just because they’re trotting into the playoffs with the NL’s best record. This team is set up to contend for a long time, with 100-RBI man Freddie Freeman at the heart of things. Still just 23, Freeman should soon be in the conversation for best first baseman in the NL (if he isn’t already). Dan Uggla is a drain at second base, as he hasn’t hit above .233 in any year with Atlanta — and is hitting an abysmal .188 this year — but the rest of the lineup offers either steady production or strong potential. Jason Heyward was turning the corner before breaking his jaw, Justin Upton should benefit from the familiarity of playing in Atlanta next season, and brother B.J. can’t possibly be this bad again…right?
Rotation-wise, consider that the Braves played this season almost entirely without Brandon Beachy, considered by many to be their best pitcher. Beachy, Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, and Kris Medlen will all be between the ages of 23-28 next year, and hopefully all fully healthy by Opening Day (still not a certainty with Beachy). They also fielded one of the best bullpens in the game without two of their three best relievers. The Braves could be the team to beat next season as well.
Player of the Week: Freeman, 1B: 7 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI, .406 AVG
Miami Marlins (56-96)
The Marlins have slogged through a season that is forgettable in every way but one: the emergence of Jose Fernandez. His 12-6 record, 2.19 ERA, and nearly 200 strikeouts in just over 170 innings represent one of the great rookie seasons for a starter in history, validate the decision to place him on the Opening Day roster with no experience above A-ball, and represent great hope for the future. If all progress as they are capable of, Jacob Turner, Henderson Alvarez, Nathan Eovaldi, and perhaps Brad Hand could represent the next wave of effective young Marlins pitching.
In the field, it would be a crime for Placido Polanco, Juan Pierre, and Justin Ruggiano to continue to syphon at-bats from their younger and more talented counterparts. Colin Moran, the No. 6 overall selection in June’s draft, may be ready to take over third base for good at some point next season after acquitting himself well in 42 games in Single-A. It’s aggressive, sure, but see above about Fernandez — and really all of their prospects. There’s an embarrassment of riches in the outfield, as Marcell Ozuna, Jake Marisnick, and Christian Yelich all flashed their immense potential in varying stretches with the big club this season. Logan Morrison and Giancarlo Stanton — who is ending the season on a very encouraging high note — are the established holdovers, and should form the heart of a more formidable lineup. Miami could be upwardly mobile soon enough.
Player of the Week: Stanton, OF: 5 R, 4 HR, 9 RBI, .278 AVG
New York Mets (68-83)
David Wright may be activated for tomorrow’s game against the Giants, but that’s just about the only good news this team will hear until the Hot Stove season begins. Sandy Alderson may choose to follow the model set by the Red Sox last offseason — add second-tier free agent to short-term contracts to tide the team over until the youth movement arrives in earnest. As seen there, that approach has the chance to pay immediate dividends.
As previously stated, the greatest hope in Queens lies with the rotation, even with the likely absence of Matt Harvey for part or all of next year (depending on whether Harvey actually has Tommy John surgery). Zack Wheeler has looked every bit the front-of-the-rotation starter he’s been billed as, and Noah Syndergaard should join him soon enough. Travis d’Arnaud has all the tools to become a star behind the dish, given a full healthy season to perform.
Player of the Week: Dillon Gee, SP: 0-1, 13.2 IP, 2.63 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 13 K
Philadelphia Phillies (71-81)
Ah, the Phillies. Philadelphia’s brightest up-and-comer may be interim manager Ryne Sandberg. Seemingly always a bridesmaid and never a bride for several years as a Triple-A manager, Sandberg has finally gotten his chance to call the shots in The Show, and has led Philly to a minor late-season uptick. Ruben Amaro absolutely should keep him on.
As far as coming help, this team will likely resemble last season’s Opening Day roster, for better or for worse. A healthy squad boasts bigger names than talent at this point, but that theoretical healthy squad is obviously more talented than the one taking the field right now. Cody Asche will likely be entrenched as the everyday third baseman, representing one of the few new young faces. The biggest question mark may be, once again, Domonic Brown — is the one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball, as he was for about six weeks this season, or not?
Player of the Week: Chase Utley, 2B: 5 R, 2 HR, 14 RBI, .323 AVG
NL EAST STANDINGS
THU: Phillies at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
FRI: Phillies at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
SAT: Phillies at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
SUN: Phillies at Nats, 1:35 p.m.
MON: Orioles at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
TUE: Mets at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
WED: Mets at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
Full season schedule
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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