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Around the NL East: Braves losing their grip?

Jun 10, 2014, 4:27 PM EDT

Photo by USA Today Photo by USA Today

ATLANTA BRAVES 

It was only a matter of time before the Braves’ inconsistent play caught up with them. We mentioned in this space over the last few weeks that if Atlanta did not take advantage of a mediocre division, that at least one the teams chasing them would eventually close the gap. That finally happened this past week after the Braves lost back-to-back series’ against the Mariners and Diamondbacks. Their recent struggles, in addition to the Nationals’ recent hot streak, means there’s now a tie atop the division, with the Marlins just a half game behind as well.

The Arizona series was especially tough, as Atlanta surrendered late-inning leads in consecutive games to suffer two brutal losses. As good as the starting rotation has pitched, the bullpen has faltered more often recently and the offense can’t seem to get the big hit. The team as a whole hasn’t been firing on all cylinders at any point this season, and it’s led to some questions about if the Braves are a true contender. They have plenty of time to prove that they are, but it’s clear at this point that this Atlanta club is not as good as last year’s team.

MIAMI MARLINS 

It’s taking some time to get used to the idea of the Marlins being contenders, but they continue to do what contenders are supposed to do. Last week they went on the road against a struggling Rays team and swept a four-game series, and later salvaged a game in a tough series against the Cubs. They now sit just a half game back of the Nationals and the Braves for first place.

Miami, surprisingly, continues to mash at the plate. They’re seventh in the majors in runs scored, sixth in average and 11th in slugging. That’s not too shabby, especially considering most outside observers believed this lineup wouldn’t have much punch to it outside of Giancarlo Stanton. Sure, Stanton is still putting up great numbers and leads the team in all the major offensive categories. But Miami’s seeing great contributions from the likes of center fielder Marcell Ozuna and third baseman Casey McGehee, who aren’t exactly household names. Combine that with a solid-if-unspectacular pitching staff, and it’s no wonder the Marlins have managed to hang around well into June.

NEW YORK METS 

New York had about as bad a week as you can have. Coming off a terrific stretch in which the Mets won six of seven games, not only did they lose each of their next six, but the teams ahead of them (especially the Nats) began heating up. To make matters worse, the Mets lost in classic 2014 Mets fashion — with five of their six defeats being charged to the bullpen, including two dispiriting walk-offs.

The performance of New York’s relief corps has to be equal parts frustrating and mind-numbing for fans of the Metropolitans. Time after time, the Mets get good enough starting pitching — they rank fourth in the majors in number of quality starts — only to see their leads get squandered late. It’s a trend that continues to confound, and one that’s hard to rectify. They tried doing so earlier in the season, releasing closer Jose Valverde — but he alone wasn’t the problem. It seems like a different reliever is coughing up a lead each game, and since you can’t get rid of them all, this is something the Mets will have to deal with all season.

All of the above adds up to New York now being 5.5 games out of first place, and sliding.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Philadelphia’s descent into the depths of the NL East basement continued this past week, losing five of six games to the Nationals and Reds. You could go through game-by-game recaps to figure out how they’re in this predicament, but the bottom line is that the Phillies’ biggest issue thus far has been the fact that they’ve been so pedestrian in almost every area of the game. If you take a look at the major offensive stats (runs, average, on-base percentage, slugging) and pitching (ERA, WHIP, BAA) categories, they don’t rank higher than 22nd in any of them. They just don’t do anything exceptionally well.

They’re now 7.5 games out of first place, but will have a chance to stay in it with a six-game home stand against the Padres and Cubs. Unfortunately, that’s about as easy as it’s going to get for the Phillies in June, so if they don’t make hay against those two teams they’ll be in real trouble. That’s because the rest of month they’ll play seven games against the Braves, four against the Cardinals and four against the Marlins. Ouch.

  1. Eugene in Oregon - Jun 10, 2014 at 4:31 PM

    Still 100 games to go.

    • veejh - Jun 10, 2014 at 5:13 PM

      You, sir, are correct. Lots of ball to be played and lots will happen.

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 10, 2014 at 6:57 PM

      “There’s still a hundred games left. Do you know how many games that is? That’s a lot of games!”
      –Sparky Anderson

      • Eugene in Oregon - Jun 10, 2014 at 7:00 PM

        And he was right.

  2. Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 10, 2014 at 4:44 PM

    I believe the Marlins face 5 teams in their next 5 series that are teams under .500

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 10, 2014 at 6:57 PM

      Ah, but where? Road or home?

  3. rmoore446 - Jun 10, 2014 at 4:48 PM

    I’m not counting the Braves out as they have overcome a lot of injuries as have the Nationals and both teams are hanging tight. That said I probably worry more about the Marlins over the long season. That’s a team I’d like to see fade but that’s wishful thinking.

    • David Proctor - Jun 10, 2014 at 4:51 PM

      It’s not wishful thinking, they will fade.

      • veejh - Jun 10, 2014 at 5:14 PM

        Magic 8 ball!!

    • Eric - Jun 10, 2014 at 4:56 PM

      Someone please correct me if I’m wrong about anything below…but…

      The Braves have gone well beyond weathering their injuries, which are mostly–if not entirely–relegated to their starting pitching. As far as I know, their starting pitching has remained very strong even up until now.

      Their main problems would seem to be their offense and their ‘pen, and I don’t recall that there have been any significant injuries in either to speak of.

      So, I’m not counting them out (or us in), either, but there’s no cavalry coming to the rescue for them like there was for us…

      • chaz11963 - Jun 10, 2014 at 5:10 PM

        That’s largely right Eric. Their have been some injuries to their relievers (Venters and Walden) but nothing like the potentially wipeout injuries to their rotation, which they seem to have overcome. The big issue is their lack of offense, and I don’t think that’s going to change. We might also expect some regression in the starting pitching- I can’t see Harang pitching this well all year.

      • adcwonk - Jun 10, 2014 at 5:26 PM

        Bottom line on the Braves: they are 11th in NL in hitting (BA), and 13th in NL in runs per game.

        Good pitching can make up for mediocre hitting — but you can’t win a division with *bad* hitting — which is where they are right now.

      • therealjohnc - Jun 10, 2014 at 8:45 PM

        The Braves did suffered terrible starting pitching injuries, losing Medlen and Beachy for the season. But these injuries haven’t really hurt the Braves – yet – because when Medlen went down Ervin Santana was there to be picked up. And the Braves were doubly lucky, because the O’s had already taken the generally preferred target, Ubaldo Jiminez, who has been a train wreck at OPACY. And the Braves have been triply lucky, because free agent scrap heap pickup Aaron Harang has been amazingly (unbelievably, probably unsustainably) effective. So they haven’t really been hurt by losing Beachy either.

        Yet.

        Every team has a nightmare scenario, and the problem for the Braves is that their offense has been both healthy and ineffective, and their pitching has been fueled by some surprising performances by Santana and Harang. Santana may be able to sustain it – Fangraphs did an article positing that the changeup has been the difference for him this year – but Harang’s stuff and numbers don’t seem changed from that which has produced pretty lousy results the past few years. The Braves’ pitching won’t be a disaster – they’ve got Alex Wood in reserve now that Minor is back, and “Balking” Jordan Walden was activated today to help their bullpen. But it’s not likely to get much better, either.

  4. manassasnatsfan - Jun 10, 2014 at 4:52 PM

    Go Nats GO

  5. chaz11963 - Jun 10, 2014 at 5:00 PM

    So gratifying to see the Phillies in the NL East basement after all the years of torment from Phillie fans.

  6. texnat1 - Jun 10, 2014 at 5:07 PM

    This blog is getting a litlle jinxish with the headlines lately . . .

    To counter I suggest to you all that the Nats are DOOOOOMED to lose every game for the rest of this road trip and will probably suffer a fresh rash of injuries in the near future.

    • adcwonk - Jun 10, 2014 at 5:27 PM

      reverse lock! (or something ;-) )

  7. jd - Jun 10, 2014 at 5:14 PM

    Atlanta is playing a ton of 1 and 2 run games, that’s indicative of a team that’s basically a .500 team. Miami will stay afloat as long as their young pitchers let them. If all of Eovaldi, Alvarez, Koehler and Turner pitch well (I don’t think they all will) they’ll be tough. I don’t buy their pen and I think that Mc.Gehee and Jones are playing over their heads. I thought they’d end up around .500 with Fernandez, without him I don’t think they’ll get there.

    • veejh - Jun 10, 2014 at 5:24 PM

      I seem to remember a team in 2012 playing tons of 1 and 2 run games early in the season, and they went on to have the best record in the MLB.

      • jd - Jun 10, 2014 at 5:29 PM

        If you are talking about the Nats they ended up with the best run differential in the majors in 2012. They played very close games at the beginning of the year as injuries robbed their lineup of key contributors like Werth and Morse for long stretches.

        I stick with my point which is basically that 1 run games are crap shoots.

  8. Faraz Shaikh - Jun 10, 2014 at 5:14 PM

    ichiro’s secret
    re-posting from previous thread since it was all jumbled up.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Jun 10, 2014 at 6:33 PM

      Faraz,

      Thanks; great story. Kinda/sorta reminds me of a professional golfer — can’t remember which one — who used to close his eyes while practicing putts.

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 10, 2014 at 7:00 PM

      Reposting my thanks for posting that. Fascinating.

  9. veejh - Jun 10, 2014 at 5:16 PM

    We will win the division….and yes, DP, I in consulted with MY magic 8 ball.

  10. jd - Jun 10, 2014 at 5:23 PM

    The only think the Nats can control tonight is tonight’s game. After that we can focus on Cane vs. Roark. That’s why I’m not much into projecting 10 game sets.

    • adcwonk - Jun 10, 2014 at 5:29 PM

      OK, so for tonite:

      What I like is that the Nats absolutely mash lefties. Bumgarner is a lefty.

      GYFNG!

      • jd - Jun 10, 2014 at 5:31 PM

        There you go !!

      • veejh - Jun 10, 2014 at 5:41 PM

        I love that word “mash”. Tonight we mash.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Jun 10, 2014 at 5:45 PM

        MadBum is having his best season. He has given up 2 runs in last 3 starts, throwing 22 innings, striking out 25 while giving up 9 hits and one walk. I am just hoping that we don’t get no-hit.

      • adcwonk - Jun 10, 2014 at 6:22 PM

        I predict your hopes will be realized! ;-)

      • veejh - Jun 10, 2014 at 5:48 PM

        Faraz….you’ve been watching recently, right? No hit us right now? LOL

      • Doc - Jun 10, 2014 at 5:59 PM

        Righties are bummers for the Nats, and lefties aren’t.

        Madison is a bummer but he’s a leftie.

        It’s somewhat confusing, but I think that we’ll beat the soma***** tonight!

      • knoxvillenat - Jun 10, 2014 at 6:27 PM

        Take a look at Bumgarner’s splits home and away. For some reason he has had better numbers when pitching on the road instead of at home. Therefore the combination of his being a lefty and pitching at home leads me to conclude that tonight’s game results in another Nationals victory.

        GYFNG!

  11. jd - Jun 10, 2014 at 5:44 PM

    I’ve been trying to get my head around the Nats lineup when Harper returns and I really wonder what Rizzo’s master plan is, it’s fascinating:

    1) Harper, Span, Zim and Werth are unquestionably every day players.
    2) I may be wrong but I get the sense that the Nats have turned the page on Zim as an everyday 3rd baseman.
    3) We won’t trade Harper and Zim and Werth are pretty much untradeable contracts.

    Could Span be the odd man out? do we want to put Harper back in center?

    I don’t believe Rizzo is playing this by ear. I’m sure he has a plan.

    One wonders !!

    • Joe Seamhead - Jun 10, 2014 at 5:57 PM

      Matt Williams has stated twice during this impressive run that Denard Span has been the catalyst for the offense’s success. Denard is the guy Rizzo wanted for a couple of years. Read into it what you want. Maybe they trade Span, but a Nats outfield of Zimm, Harp, and Jayson would be good enough to lose with. I’m telling you right now: the pitcher’s ERAs would go up a lot more then many of you think.

      • jd - Jun 10, 2014 at 6:03 PM

        Joe,

        Good points but to play devil’s advocate for a minute:

        1) Span has only started hitting well about 3 weeks ago. He has been very streaky for a couple of years now.
        2) Harper played a very good center field in 2012.

        If Span isn’t the odd man out then how do you see it playing out?

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 10, 2014 at 6:06 PM

        Things change quickly. Can’t trade DSpan with as inept as McLouth has been.

    • chaz11963 - Jun 10, 2014 at 6:13 PM

      I agree the math does not add up when Harper gets back, especially with McLouth as the 4th OFer. Who wil be moved off the 25 man roster? Does anyone realistically see Rizzo trading Span? Although, it clearly makes sense especially with Span’s stock currently high, I just don’t see it.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Jun 10, 2014 at 6:40 PM

        (1) A lot can happen between now and Bryce Harper’s return.

        (2) Denard Span’s stock would only be high to a contending team that needs a CF. Apart from the Braves (with BJ Upton having another woeful year at the plate) — to whom the Nats wouldn’t trade Mr. Span on several levels — which other contending teams are weak in CF?

  12. ehay2k - Jun 10, 2014 at 5:45 PM

    The most impressive thing about the Barves, to me anyway, was how well they handled the loss of their aces. I think someone here posted about “anyone in a Braves uniform can pitch” and for a while, it sure seemed that way.

    But the rest of the team, were they ever really very good? Freeman is a very good player, but everyone else seems so inconsistent. I always had a feeling they were playing above their abilities, and now they appear to be regressing towards their true level. I will be very interested to see how they handle a little adversity in terms of losing. The Nats weathered some tough losses and kept it all together, and I have to give MW a lot of credit for handling the clubhouse. I like what I have seen so far, certainly better than Riggleman or DJ showed me. Can Fredi do his job as well as MW has his?

    On Morse and his comments: What was he thinking?!? Where was he going (with his comments)!?!? The Nats ballclub MADE him, and then Rizzo LET him go get a big paycheck when he could have kept him as a bench player. He needs to show a little gratitude.

    As for tonite, I will try to watch again, but I am sure I will doze off on the couch again. Thank Moto for the DVR!!

    GYFNG!

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 10, 2014 at 7:02 PM

      More to the point, who gets drilled tonight, Werth or Zimmerman?

      • ehay2k - Jun 10, 2014 at 7:15 PM

        McClouth

      • ehay2k - Jun 10, 2014 at 7:53 PM

        Actually, Desi – he slammed his bat after a 5 RBI night.

  13. Steady Eddie - Jun 10, 2014 at 5:51 PM

    Don’t forget we’ve got Fister going for us tonight. Since his first game misfire, he has dominated in every game he pitched. And has a defense behind him (assuming ARen is back) made to support his ground ball-generating tendencies.

    Mash and dominate. This feels like what we did in SF in 2012.

    • David Proctor - Jun 10, 2014 at 6:13 PM

      For those who forgot, in 2012, we knocked around Vogelsong in Game 1. Scored 14 runs. Then Bumgarner beat us in Game 2. Then we beat Lincecum in Game 3.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Jun 10, 2014 at 6:17 PM

        Thank you David.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Jun 10, 2014 at 6:41 PM

        I was at those games; great series.

      • veejh - Jun 10, 2014 at 7:36 PM

        Eugene…me too!

  14. Faraz Shaikh - Jun 10, 2014 at 6:02 PM

    Marlins, cardinals, and reds were his last 3 opponents. I am.not as comfortable as everyone else is.

    • jd - Jun 10, 2014 at 6:05 PM

      Faraz,

      He’s a great pitcher. I am not at all sure we will ‘mash’ either but at the same time we are a pretty good team with a very good pitcher going so we have a shot.

      A fan is never comfortable. It’s against the rules to be comfortable.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Jun 10, 2014 at 6:15 PM

        I totally get that we are swinging good bat but let’s not forget that darvish did to us. And that was his first start back from DL I believe. What makes everyone think that we will easily mash against MadBum.

      • chaz11963 - Jun 10, 2014 at 6:23 PM

        Giants are favored tonight (unlike last night). Oddly enough the Las Vegas over/under is the same as last night- 6. Seems likely to be around that tonight than last night with Vogelsong.

      • Steady Eddie - Jun 10, 2014 at 6:26 PM

        I don’t know about that. I’m feeling plenty comfortable right now — at least, until the game starts….

        Interesting to look back at the series we won in SF in 2012 — Bumgarner pitched and win the only game we lost in that series. JZimm gave up only 2 but in 5.2 innings, and Storen melted down for 3hits and a walk in the 8th, but it was getting only 5 hits and one run that did us in. But it was NOT a Nats lineup that day built to mash lefties. Danny LED OFF (!!, hitting all of .252 at the time), and the only established lefty-mashers in the lineup, RZim and JW (hitting 3&4) went 2 for 7 with a single and triple. Harp and ALR bracketed those two and were followed by TMo (whose splits that year were far better vs RHPs than LHPs, .286 vs .247), Flores, and Lombo.

        So with a hot Rendon (I’ll be optimistic), Desi and Ramos as well as RZim and Werth in the lineup tonight — and Fister dealing — I think we’ll do fine whether or not we mash.

  15. Eric - Jun 10, 2014 at 6:27 PM

    So, yeah, check the gif of Morse getting beaned at the bottom of this page.

    That’s a rather suspicious mistake if you ask me.

    • David Proctor - Jun 10, 2014 at 6:30 PM

      0-2 pitch against a guy who was well-liked in the clubhouse. The entire game Strasburg pounded him inside. That’s how you get him out. Barrett has had command issues. It makes no sense to hit Morse there.

      • Eric - Jun 10, 2014 at 6:35 PM

        I agree in all respects, which makes it the perfect cover ;).

        No, but seriously, it’s mostly about the location of the pitch and, as NL pointed out, his otherwise solid command that inning. It’s totally circumstantial.

        Also, I just recently read an interesting article re: the unwritten rules of the game, and that pitch got me thinking.

      • Eric - Jun 10, 2014 at 6:37 PM

        Well, that pitch and Morse’s imo recent comments that might be interpreted as backbiting.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 10, 2014 at 7:14 PM

        So maybe Werth or Zim gets one tonight, just cuz.

        But since Eric brings it up, I’m looking at Ramos on that pitch. If it was a called hit, he would probably know, and maybe tip it off. Catchers sometimes do that when they give a target, if they already know the ball is going somewhere they can’t catch it.

        Just based on that gif, I can’t see much, but Ramos did make what might be called a fairly cursory move to catch that. Of course, with nobody on base, he only has to protect the umpire, no wild pitch possible.

      • Eric - Jun 10, 2014 at 7:20 PM

        Interesting re: the catcher, Sofa.

        The whole “unwritten” rules aspect is pretty fascinating, especially now that it’s more necessary to fly under the radar with vigilante enforcement.

    • Faraz Shaikh - Jun 10, 2014 at 6:41 PM

      You are over thinking it. Whatever comments he made (I haven’t read those), I don’t think nationals would just go back to retaliating like that. There are enough leaders on this club that would have said something. I always thought that his beef was with Davey, not rizzo.

    • Hiram Hover - Jun 10, 2014 at 7:03 PM

      Eric

      You really, really care about this, don’t you?

      • Eric - Jun 10, 2014 at 7:13 PM

        No.

        Family
        .
        .
        .
        .
        .
        .
        Friends.
        .
        .
        .
        .
        Making music.
        .
        .
        .
        .
        .
        .
        .Job.
        .
        .
        .
        .
        .
        .
        .
        .
        .
        .
        .
        Baseball
        . (x1000)
        .interest in possible intentional plunking

        Sometimes I just wonder about insanely trivial things.

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 10, 2014 at 7:06 PM

      He didn’t get beaned. The ball hit him in the ribs.
      bean = head

  16. veejh - Jun 10, 2014 at 6:33 PM

    Current “mash” index at 9, I believe.

  17. David Proctor - Jun 10, 2014 at 6:34 PM

    Washington Nationals ‏@Nationals 9s
    #Nats lineup @ #SFGiants: Span CF, Rendon 3B, Werth RF, LaRoche 1B, Zimmerman LF, Ramos C, Desmond SS, Espinosa 2B, Fister P

    Rendon is back

    • Eric - Jun 10, 2014 at 6:35 PM

      Phew!

    • veejh - Jun 10, 2014 at 6:37 PM

      Woooooooooo!!!!! Mash!

  18. realdealnats - Jun 10, 2014 at 6:40 PM

    Zim in LF is interesting, but when Harper comes back, Zim returns to 3B and Espi sits. But I think everyone will get a lot more rest the remainder of the season barring injuries. Meaning there will be days Zim returns to LF and Espi plays 2B again. Days Harper plays right and Werth sits. Days Span sits and Harp plays CF. But the default will be Harp in LF and Zim at 3B. Span is going nowhere. He is too important for lots of reasons. In a way it’s too bad in that Zimm seems so carefree out there that it appears to be helping him rake.

    Also, I date this resurgence to Fister’s return. Sure, Zim had a great effect, but once Fister got that first bad game out of his system, the pitching staff started to slowly straighten out. He has that kind of effect. He makes Stras and JZimm tighten up their games, and Roark is always gritty. Oddly the loose cannon is Gio. And I think Fister will have a bracingly positive affect on him.

    Okay bye bye for another two months…

    • chaz11963 - Jun 10, 2014 at 6:45 PM

      That makes sense, but if you look at Zim’s recent comments, he’s not comfortable at 3B any more. I wonder how much that will play into MW’s decision making.

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 10, 2014 at 7:05 PM

      Safe travels, RDN.

  19. realdealnats - Jun 10, 2014 at 6:46 PM

    I hope they let Rendon play awhile and then let Frandsen finish out. Ease Rendon back into things and keep Kevin fresh as well. I liked the rest everyone got towards the end of last nights game. Gotta keep Nate fresh as well. Loved that MW made Det live with his mistakes. I’ve always had great hopes for Det and still do. But when will he develop a potent offspeed pitch to keep batters honest?

  20. waddueyeno - Jun 10, 2014 at 7:23 PM

    “As good as the starting rotation has pitched, ”

    Not good. Well. Good is an adjective, well is an adverb. Professional writer?

    GYFNG

Archives

NL EAST STANDINGS

W L GB
x-WASHINGTON 91 64 --
ATLANTA 76 80 15.5
NEW YORK 76 80 15.5
MIAMI 74 81 17.0
PHILADELPHIA 71 85 20.5
x-Clinched NL East title
Through Monday's games

NL PLAYOFFS STANDINGS

W L GB WCGB
x-WASHINGTON (4) 91 64 --
y-LOS ANGELES 89 67 2.5
y-ST. LOUIS 88 69 4.0
-------------------------
PITTSBURGH 85 71 +0.5
SAN FRANCISCO 84 71 --
MILWAUKEE 80 76 4.5
x-Clinched division title
y-Clinched playoff berth
Through Monday's early games

UPCOMING SCHEDULE
TUE: Mets at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
WED: Mets at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
THU: Mets at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
FRI: Marlins at Nats (DH), 1:05 p.m., 7:05 p.m.
SAT: Marlins at Nats, 4:05 p.m.
SUN: Marlins at Nats, 1:35 p.m.
(End of regular season)
MON: OFF
Full season schedule

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