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Around the NL East: Which teams are for real?

Apr 29, 2014, 12:45 PM EDT

Photo by USA Today Photo by USA Today

ATLANTA BRAVES

Winners of four straight, the Braves are now heading to Miami for a three-game set with the Marlins. Atlanta is 17-7 so far after 24 games, which is actually a better record than they had at this juncture last season. Somehow, some way, the Braves’ pitching staff has been even better despite losing both Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen during spring training.

Going down the line of team stats in MLB, it’s tough to find a pitching category the Braves aren’t leading in. They have the best staff ERA (2.04), rotation ERA (1.57), batting average against (.211), and they’ve given up the least amount of homers (9). Well, they only have the second-best team WHIP, so there’s a silver lining.

Honestly though, can they keep it up? How long is Aaron Harang going to pitch like Greg Maddux? How long is Ervin Santana going to pitch at the highest level perhaps he ever has? Remember last season Paul Maholm was one of the best pitchers in baseball with Atlanta through the first three weeks of 2013 and finished with a 4.41 ERA. Atlanta’s run of pitching almost certainly can’t last, can it?

MIAMI MARLINS

The Marlins have lost four of their last six as they head home to begin a nine-game homestand. It begins with the Braves, then they host the Dodgers before the surprising Mets come to town. Not an ideal stretch for the 11-14 Fish.

The weirdest thing, however, is the split between Miami’s record both at and away from Marlins Park. On the road they are among the worst teams in baseball with a 2-10 record through 12 games, but at home they are 9-2. That bizarre discrepancy has the Marlins searching for answers.

Jeff Baker had what I found to be a very interesting take on the subject. Here is what he told the Miami Herald:

I think the biggest thing — and it’s kind of a catch-22 with our ballpark — you’re not going to hit too many homers at home. So I think our approach is a little bit better at home. Sometimes it’s hard not to think about it just because as a hitter and a competitor you want to drive the ball and hit the ball out of the park.

You go on the road in some of these other parks and you kind of feel like you want to make up for it because you’re not going to get the power numbers, you’re not going to drive in the runs at home. I think we kind of fall into that a little bit instead of just trying to keep staying with our approach, grinding at-bats, seeing a lot of pitches, which at home we’re very, very good at doing. But I think it’s a combination between the two. I think as we get into a bigger chunk of the season and get going, I don’t think the numbers are going to be as dramatic as they are right now.

NEW YORK METS

After taking two of three against the Marlins this week, the Mets have now won six of their last eight games. Included in that stretch is a series win – three of four games – against the St. Louis Cardinals. This begs the obvious question about the now 14-11 Mets: are they legitimate?

Among team statistics, not much really jumps out about the Mets. They aren’t particularly good at pitching this season, or at scoring runs. But they do have a few surprise players performing very well, which could suggest they are in line for a breakout year.

Both Dillon Gee (2-1, 2.88) and Jon Niese (1-2, 2.45) have been outstanding through a combined 10 starts. Considering the preseason expectation was for Zack Wheeler and Bartolo Colon to lead their staff, that’s a good sign. Once they get the latter two going, and once they bring up top prospect Noah Syndergaard, the Mets’ starting rotation could stack up well against most teams.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

The 13-12 Phillies are coming off two road series wins against the Dodgers and Diamondbacks as they return home for a seven-game homestand. They begin with two games against the Mets before hosting the Nationals for the first series between the two this season.

The Phillies will have both Cliff Lee (3-2, 3.29) and A.J. Burnett (1-1, 2.15) ready for the second and third games of that series, setting them up well to challenge the Nats at Citizens Bank Park. It should be an interesting test for the Phillies who have come out of the gate a little better than many probably expected. They have seen Chase Utely carry over his strong 2013 season and Burnett slot nicely into their rotation.

The Phillies are, however, dealing with a disaster in their bullpen. They currently rank 28th out of 30 MLB teams – and last in the NL – with a 5.14 ERA from their relievers. Aside from Jonathan Papelbon and a decent start for Mike Adams, nearly everyone they throw out there late in games has proven a liability. Keep that in mind this week if the Nats enter the seventh, eighth or ninth innings only down a run or two.

  1. NatsLady - Apr 29, 2014 at 1:03 PM

    Remember late May-early June 2012? All the NL East teams were bunched up and it was a “FIVE” horse race. The Fish has the world’s hottest month. Yeah, well, teams fell by the wayside and by July the Fish were trading away major pieces.

    Moral: Look at the standings June 15.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Apr 29, 2014 at 1:47 PM

      Exactly (although my first meaningful ‘look at the standings’ marker is Memorial Day).

      • natsguy - Apr 29, 2014 at 1:59 PM

        Look after game 40 and multiply by 4. It is almost always accurate. Look at last year. Hoping but not expecting this year. Last year was expecting.

      • Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 29, 2014 at 2:12 PM

        Me too Eugene… Then I look again around July 4 and then again from Labor day on…

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Apr 29, 2014 at 3:42 PM

      “Everything before the All-Star break is just for pole position.”

  2. bowdenball - Apr 29, 2014 at 1:22 PM

    It’s possible that the Marlins home/road discrepancy is due to approach. However I think it’s more likely that it’s due to the fact that Fernandez and Eovaldi have both made 3 of their 5 starts to date at home. Also the quality of opponent faced and distance traveled- they’ve faced all four NL East teams on the road but have hosted the dregs of the NL West for 7 of their 13 at home and haven’t hosted the Braves yet. Also they’re 9-4 at home, not 9-2.

    • adcwonk - Apr 29, 2014 at 1:27 PM

      +1 – Excellent analysis

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Apr 29, 2014 at 3:45 PM

      “9-4, not 9-2″
      Mark reads the comments and corrects his postbwhen someone points out an error. Chase doesn’t appear to do either.

  3. adcwonk - Apr 29, 2014 at 1:27 PM

    Wonk’s Tuesday Tidbits

    Mike Trout hit a first inning triple last night — he’s now 12-for-24 with 9 XBH in the 1st inning this season; compare with, say, Seattle, which, in the first inning, has a grand total of 12 hits and 2 XBH as team for the entire season.

    Brewers’ Khris Davis stuck out four times over 10 innings against St. Louis. But in the 12th he hit a triple to drive in the winning run.

    Rendon is 10th in NL for total bases and RBI’s

    Tanner Roark is the only Nats pitcher to be in the NL top 10 in WAR for pitchers (according to B-R).

    Nats record for the season: 14-12
    Cards record for the season: 14-13
    Just sayin’

    • NatsLady - Apr 29, 2014 at 1:31 PM

      Dodgers record for the season: 14-12

    • nats106 - Apr 29, 2014 at 1:56 PM

      I know this has been hashed over as well, and injuries are part of the game, but missing a #4 pitcher, and at best, having only 75% of starting position available and still 14-12. We can still finish April 16-12, but wouldn’t be surprised with a split with the Astros.

      I was, of course, expecting better, but we’re still playing winning baseball despite injuries, excessive base running miscues and an absurd number of errors. We’re hitting the ball. Those will drop in at some point. We will get Fister back and Clippard will find his way.

      End of April and I still like our chances. Maybe it’s that Espinosa HR Ball I got last week. :-)

    • tcostant - Apr 29, 2014 at 1:57 PM

      As amazing as it is, Mike Trout is underpaid at $144M

  4. NatsLady - Apr 29, 2014 at 1:29 PM

    Injury Daze and Week 5 Preview. Bo has the Strohs fielding better than our boys.

    (Have to go to work, couldn’t wait for news on Danny–they must be sleeping late down there.)

  5. jd - Apr 29, 2014 at 1:44 PM

    Scathing analysis of Matt Williams handling of Bryce Harper by Keith Law”

    http://insider.espn.go.com/blog/keith-law/post?id=2286

    • David Proctor - Apr 29, 2014 at 1:54 PM

      There’s some truly awful logic used there. I agree with some of his points. I agree that benching Harper was mishandled. I think comparing that to guys making errors is ridiculous. An error isn’t usually for lack of effort–especially not from Desmond. I also think blaming the benching for Harper going for three there is absurd, but that’s been well-discussed.

      Look, Matt has made some mistakes. He’s also learned from them. When Harper did the same thing again against the Angels and the Pujols ball, Matt defended Bryce and handled it in a different way. All you can ask from a rookie manager is for him to learn from his mistakes.

      Law goes over the top.

      • nats106 - Apr 29, 2014 at 1:58 PM

        +1 and more. Managing in season still strikes me as a lot of OJT.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Apr 29, 2014 at 2:03 PM

        Concur on the OJT aspects. Most of us (all of us?) made mistakes in our first months of managing, whether we were managing an office, a Burger King, an embassy, or a platoon. It’s just that most of our mistakes weren’t covered and broadcast by beat reporters and over the internet.

      • jd - Apr 29, 2014 at 2:21 PM

        David,

        I agree that Law is over the top and in general is full of himself. I also think that the fact that he’s calling for MW dismissal after 1 month takes away whatever is left of his credibility. I also don’t agree with the criticism of moving Harper out of the catching position.

        Having said that I do wish that MW would plant Harper at the top of the order and leave him there. He is our best hitter and we will miss his bat terribly over the next 2 months.

      • 6ID20 - Apr 29, 2014 at 4:25 PM

        Harper was benched for turning off and not running through to first, not for how fast he was running. This is the same behavior he was called out on by Randy Knorr last season, who said then that if Harper didn’t change his ways they would eventually have to pull him from a game. He didn’t change, and Williams pulled him from the game.

        The Pujols play is no comparison. Harper ran through to first there, which is all Williams wants him to do – but he needs to do that ALWAYS.

    • tcostant - Apr 29, 2014 at 2:00 PM

      I more worried about Matt Williams learning how to manage a MLB pen, because right now I’d rather have Riggleman may bullpen moves rather than MW (I’ll take Matt for the rest).

      • Eugene in Oregon - Apr 29, 2014 at 2:06 PM

        Let me start by saying that I don’t necessarily believe ERA is a great way to measure a bullpen’s effectiveness, but FWIW during last night’s Cardinals-Brewers game they put up a graphic that had the Nats’ bullpen as having the third best ERA among NL clubs.

      • Hiram Hover - Apr 29, 2014 at 2:12 PM

        Not every reliever is going to perform perfectly every time. That’s not the manager’s fault. The best he can hope to do is play match ups, averages, etc., while applying what he knows about the rest and state of his starters and relievers, past usage and upcoming schedule, etc.

        Judging on those grounds, I’m not seeing a lot of consistent errors in MW’s choices.

        Eugene – I prefer WHIP to ERA to measure the BP – Nats are 6th best in that regard.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Apr 29, 2014 at 2:22 PM

        HH – Exactly; ERA doesn’t capture inherited runners allowed to score, among other things.

      • tcostant - Apr 29, 2014 at 3:27 PM

        Eugene that because of all the unearned runs. Said toung in cheek, but their might be something to it.

      • natsjackinfl - Apr 29, 2014 at 3:34 PM

        I’m a WHIP and inherited runners lob guy. Those two plus my relievers have to be strike throwers.

      • jd - Apr 29, 2014 at 3:58 PM

        K to BB ratio is key.

    • Hiram Hover - Apr 29, 2014 at 2:07 PM

      As I said on the last thread where that column was brought up, when KLaw discusses Matt Williams, he turns into the subscription only equivalent of a troll.

      Nice work if you can get it…

    • adcwonk - Apr 29, 2014 at 2:24 PM

      I also think blaming the benching for Harper going for three there is absurd, but that’s been well-discussed.

      Best comment I heard on that — from a co-worker of mine who was incensed by the article, and wrote an email to KLaw, which included:

      “Did you happen to notice that Harper was safe at third on the play?”

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Apr 29, 2014 at 3:49 PM

        Matty was a slow learner as a player; he was up and down for three years learning how to hit or lay off a curve. I fully expect him to make mistakes, and not just because everybody does, but I also think he’ll figure it out this season.

  6. Eric - Apr 29, 2014 at 1:54 PM

    Hey, if the Fish sweep the Braves and we sweep the Astros and win the first game in Philly we’ll suddenly be only one game back, and will have the same number of wins!

    Go Fish! Go Nats!
    ;)

    • tcostant - Apr 29, 2014 at 2:00 PM

      LOL

      • nats106 - Apr 29, 2014 at 2:10 PM

        I like the Marlins. They are a 3, 5 and 5 starter and a bullpen away from contending. Their young pitchers are improving. Not this year, but next they will be a team to contend with.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Apr 29, 2014 at 2:24 PM

        Given the Marlins’ ownership, who can tell who’ll be around next year?

  7. unterp - Apr 29, 2014 at 2:39 PM

    In Fish I Trust…

  8. veejh - Apr 29, 2014 at 3:17 PM

    If we dont sweep the Stros, we’re in trouble.

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Apr 29, 2014 at 3:51 PM

      Well, if that’s true, you’re too late. If you have to sweep somebody in April, you’re already in trouble.

      • adcwonk - Apr 29, 2014 at 4:11 PM

        Especially if it’s a two game series!

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Apr 29, 2014 at 4:18 PM

        Well then, this is exciting! Playoff baseball in April-who knew?

    • therealjohnc - Apr 29, 2014 at 7:31 PM

      Nonsense. The Nats are in a concerning, but not insurmountable, level of trouble right now because of all the injuries. That status won’t change much no matter what happens in Houston.

  9. Joe Seamhead - Apr 29, 2014 at 5:08 PM

    Keith Law’s entire column is ignorant.

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