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Around the NL East: Surprise contenders?

Aug 19, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT

Photo by USA Today Photo by USA Today

ATLANTA BRAVES 

The good news for the Braves is that, after suffering through a brutal stretch, they’ve managed to rebound nicely by winning four straight games that included a sweep of the MLB-best Oakland Athletics. The bad news? The Nationals, the team they’re chasing in the division, have been scorching-hot and have won seven in a row. So even after a bounce-back week, the Braves gained a grand total of zero games in the NL East standings. Bad timing, yeah?

However, not all is lost in Atlanta. Their solid weekend puts the Braves a game-and-a-half back of a wild card spot, with three of their next four series matchups pitting them against the Pirates, Reds and Marlins — all of whom are direct competitors. So after all the talk about the Braves fading away for good, perhaps they’re not done just yet.

MIAMI MARLINS 

We can’t believe we’re saying this, but it’s true: The Miami Marlins are officially contenders for a postseason berth. This has technically been the case throughout most of the season, but the majority of pundits around baseball believed the Marlins would suffer a second-half collapse at some point. It just hasn’t happened, and it’s so late in the season that it makes you wonder if it ever will happen. They’ve overachieved in so many ways that it’s stunning. Even at .500, they’re 3.5 games back in the wild card standings.

Perhaps it’s unfair to the Marlins to say that Giancarlo Stanton is carrying them, but it’s pretty close to being true. He leads the team in nearly every offensive category (home runs, RBI, on-base percentage, OPS, runs scored) by a wide margin, and it seems like he’s always in the middle of every Miami rally. As a defender, he routinely makes highlight-reel worthy catches in right field, showing that he’s every bit the five-tool player most scouts thought he’d be when he was first promoted to the big leagues four years ago. Maybe it’s a bit of an overstatement, but he’s willing a scrappy Marlins team (without its best starting pitcher in Jose Fernandez, no less) to what should be an intriguing last six weeks of the season.

NEW YORK METS 

On the field, it was a mostly forgettable week for the Metropolitans. They went 2-5 against the Nationals and Cubs, dropped to 59-67 and are now just trying to provide fans hope for a much-improved 2015. In that regard, it’s been the same old same old for New York.

But the lone drama from last week came when manager Terry Collins reportedly told Matt Harvey — still recovering from Tommy John’s surgery performed in October of last year — that he will not be pitching this season despite his repeated requests to do so. Harvey is apparently rushing his rehab process and wanted to make it back by the end of the year, however unrealistic as that may sound. But Collins is doing the prudent thing in keeping Harvey out; no need to risk another big injury in the midst of a lost season.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Now that the trade deadline has come and gone with little movement, the Phillies still have to play out the string with six weeks left in the season. Perhaps there’ll be a move made before the non-waiver deadline at the end of the month, but anything big at this point would be considered a surprise for Ruben Amaro and company. After a 2-4 week, they still reside comfortably in the basement of the NL East at 55-70.

  1. bowdenball - Aug 19, 2014 at 2:18 PM

    A bit of perspective on the Marlins: they have a -26 run differential, good for fourth in the NL East (they’re worse than the Mets) and just 11th of the 15 teams in the National League. Their run differential is closer to the Cubs than the other teams in the wild card chase. They’ve been lucky, not good.

    Stanton has been amazing to watch, but perhaps the expectation he’s exceeded more than any other is his health. If he stays healthy he’ll reach a career high in plate appearances by the end of August. He’s already played more games in 2014 than he did in 2012 or 2013.

  2. Section 222 - Aug 19, 2014 at 2:32 PM

    “The Phillies reside comfortably in the basement.” Hard to think of seven sweeter words that could be written.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 19, 2014 at 2:35 PM

      They will occupy that spot for a long time by most reasonable projections.

      • adcwonk - Aug 19, 2014 at 2:43 PM

        And we all saw it coming, too.

        You would think that if you saw a disaster a few years in advance you would do something about it, but . . . .

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 19, 2014 at 2:46 PM

        adcwonk, what became evident in 2012 was ignored, their opportunity to trade several players at the deadline was their chance to get younger and they ignored it TWO years in a row.

      • adcwonk - Aug 19, 2014 at 2:51 PM

        adcwonk, what became evident in 2012 was ignored, their opportunity to trade several players at the deadline was their chance to get younger and they ignored it TWO years in a row.

        Exactly. Us Nats fans have been saying “tick tock” about them since the end of 2011.

        Now, I am rarely one to second guess _any_ GM. They know tons more stuff than any of us do.

        But in this case . . . ?

        For Amaro not to do anything about a problem that even Nats fans saw years ago is pure negligence. Why has he not been fired yet? (Not that I’m complaining!)

  3. Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 19, 2014 at 2:37 PM

    I still think the Marlins can finish this season ahead of the Barves.

    That would be fun to watch.

    • rayvil01 - Aug 19, 2014 at 2:54 PM

      My theory iscthat the Braves will run off a nice heater then have another slide

      That pattern has happened twice so far this season. The fact they are not gaining on the Nats and haven’t separated from the Marlins while on this run makes your scenario very possible.

      ATL doesn’t seem to be capable of playing steady ball. Hot or cold but not much else.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:00 PM

        The Barves took how long to change their batting order and remove BJ from leadoff? That has cost them dearly.

      • rayvil01 - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:38 PM

        That’s Fredi “…managing by his gut.”
        LOL.

  4. adcwonk - Aug 19, 2014 at 2:42 PM

    Off topic, but repeating because I got new-posted:

    ==================

    Here’s a great question that would explode the minds of those who insisted that Span was just another in a long line of loser CF’s: Dukes, Millege, Nyjer:

    Do the Nats have the best (or close to the best) leadoff hitter in the NL?

    Consider: Span is in the top 10 in BA, Runs, hits, 2b, 3b, SB, SB%, AB/K

    In the last 365 days, Span has played in 151 games, scored 100 runs, batted .308. Only 67 K’s in 679 plate appearances. 34/40 SB. .359 OBP.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:36 PM

      Thank you. One of the things I’ve tried to point out both last season and earlier this season was that Denard Span was — at a minimum — a better than average CF and lead-off hitter. Using just two stats for comparison, consider:

      Denard Span (so far in 2014): .760 OPS and 111 OPS+
      Average NL lead-off hitter (2014): .712 OPS and 105 OPS+
      Average NL CF (so far in 2014): .722 OPS and 108 OPS+

      And remember that ‘average’ already puts a player well above replacement value.

    • Soul Possession, Sec 3 My Sofa - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:37 PM

      Here’s a great question that would explode the minds of those who insisted that Span was just another in a long line of loser CF’s

      In fairness, when was the last time anybody *who is still allowed to post here* said that?

      • breakbad1 - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:49 PM

        I have never seen a post that said that on this board.

      • adcwonk - Aug 19, 2014 at 4:08 PM

        I have never seen a post that said that on this board.

        I wish I hadn’t either.

        In fairness, when was the last time anybody *who is still allowed to post here* said that?

        Indeed, the two most egregious Span slammers are now gone. I do wish they could read that post, though ;-)

        But there were others, when Span was slumping (his BA was .221 in early May), that talked of getting rid of him, or bumping him down the order, etc.

      • Section 222 - Aug 19, 2014 at 4:29 PM

        Wasn’t that a common refrain of the late, great WODL? He just slunk way, right?

      • Eugene in Oregon - Aug 19, 2014 at 4:43 PM

        222 – Exactly (on both points).

    • Another Tyler - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:56 PM

      This is fun to revisit–scroll down to #1 move. http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-10-best-transactions-of-the-off-season/

  5. adcwonk - Aug 19, 2014 at 2:44 PM

    So even after a bounce-back week, the Braves gained a grand total of zero games in the NL East standings. Bad timing, yeah

    And lost four games in the schedule in which they can make up the ground.

    I.e., despite winning four straight, the magic number has been reduced by four.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 19, 2014 at 2:48 PM

      That’s a great point as each day passes it’s 1 day closer to elimination as the days come off the calendar.

      • adcwonk - Aug 19, 2014 at 2:52 PM

        Yup. For them: how does it feel to face a magic number of 37, then sweep the A’s and win the first against the Pirates, and look up, and see the magic number is now 33?

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 19, 2014 at 2:58 PM

        If the Nats can keep the lead between 5 to 7 games at September 1st when Rizzo can bring in reinforcements would be huge.

        The magic number then could be around 20 or less! Then the countdown can really commence.

      • Soul Possession, Sec 3 My Sofa - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:42 PM

        September 1st when Rizzo can bring in reinforcements

        This will be an even more interesting team after the rosters expand. They have much more in the cupboard at AAA than most teams, and should benefit accordingly. For Instance: wouldn’t it be nice to have a couple of extra relievers around the clubhouse right about now, without having to send anybody else away?

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:54 PM

        With McLouth going to the 60 day makes Schierholtz and easy choice to add to the 40 man and a September callup.

        Also have to consider adding AJ Cole as another long arm.

      • adcwonk - Aug 19, 2014 at 4:12 PM

        wouldn’t it be nice to have a couple of extra relievers around the clubhouse right about now, without having to send anybody else away?

        True — but every other team will be bringing up extra relievers, too.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 19, 2014 at 4:14 PM

        There are some teams that don’t have overworked bullpens.

  6. David Proctor - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:06 PM

    The Pirates are getting Andrew McCutchen back today. Let’s hope that he returns with a bang.

    I’m not quite as ready as some others to write the Braves off. They still play 6 games against us. The math isn’t favorable to them, but they’re such a streaky team. For as cold, they could get equally hot. And it seems they are.

    The good news is that we’ve been even hotter. Hopefully by the time we cool down, they do as well.

    • npb99 - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:11 PM

      I agree. We are in a great position, but a 6 game lead with 39 games left, and your rival who has steadily beaten you in second place, isn’t a gimme. I love where we are at, but things can change fast.

      • masterfishkeeper - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:31 PM

        Agree, but that works both ways. We could also zip out to a 10 game lead in less than a week.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:34 PM

        No need to get cocky about a 6 game lead. At 10 1/2 you can get cocky.

        The only good news is that the Barves are a .500 team against everybody but the Nats. Maybe they win 4 of 6 against the Nats in the remaining head to head games.

        They would need to play well above .500 in the rest and that’s where their issues are and they would still have to count on the Nats to lose against the others.

        I like the Nats chances.

      • Soul Possession, Sec 3 My Sofa - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:44 PM

        You be cocky and arrogant, even when you’re getting beat. That’s the secret. You gotta play this game with fear and arrogance.

      • Candide - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:53 PM

        You be cocky and arrogant, even when you’re getting beat. That’s the secret. You gotta play this game with fear and arrogance.

        Fear and ignorance. Got it.

      • natsfan1a - Aug 19, 2014 at 4:14 PM

        No. You hayseed. It’s arrogance, not ignorance.

        “Fear and ignorance. Got it.”

    • Soul Possession, Sec 3 My Sofa - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:43 PM

      Let’s hope that he returns with a bang.

      WIth a Bang-Zoom!
      Or two.

      • natsfan1a - Aug 19, 2014 at 4:15 PM

        And a curly W.

  7. ArVAFan - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:35 PM

    Off topic , but I won’t be back at the park until Saturday: and then only if some unpronounceable Icelandic volcano doesn’t disrupt my return trip from Scotland. My seat will be ably filled by my colleague, who promised me the Bobblehead in return for free tix. I have been tracking this exciting week the best I can given the communications limitations of the Highlands. I trust the rest of the Insiders to cheer on my behalf. See you all this weekend, weather permitting.

    • Candide - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:58 PM

      Unless the NIDO Spreadsheet “Who’s Going” page is lying I’ll be one section over from you in 314.

      Natsfan1a said we should meet at the 312 picnic tables. I’ll be there, with Cunegonde’s scorebook; she can’t make the game. My good-looking nephew (looks a lot like JFK Jr., so I hate the little rat bastard) will be joining me instead.

      • NatsLady - Aug 19, 2014 at 4:22 PM

        Don’t know where I’ll be since I haven’t got my ticket yet. Missed out on a free ticket that was offered, but actually, I prefer my own section or thereabouts… Leaving just about now. Have to drive because I don’t know about the Metro on a week night. Of course, we’re not Not NOT going extras again…

      • NatsLady - Aug 19, 2014 at 4:23 PM

        If I get there in time I’ll see you at the picnic table.

      • Candide - Aug 19, 2014 at 4:53 PM

        NL, you understand I’m talking about Saturday’s game, right?

        Though I’ll be there Thursday, also. Gotta get the bobblehead.

      • natsfan1a - Aug 19, 2014 at 5:04 PM

        And, to further clarify (or muddy), I’m more likely to head for the picnic tables before the Thursday game, as I’ll be there early to get my bobble. On Saturday, will be with my husband and his work colleague, so I don’t know that I’ll get over to the tables before.

  8. Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:35 PM

    Get well soon Nate McLouth. I wonder how long he was playing with that bum shoulder.

    • David Proctor - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:39 PM

      Probably explains how bad he was this year. I hope that explains it because we need better from him next year.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:51 PM

        David, you have to wonder and we will probably never know.

    • Section 222 - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:40 PM

      Didn’t he injure it in that ill-fated dive in Miami?

      • David Proctor - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:45 PM

        No, they’ve been saying he was playing through it most of the year. The dive in Miami is what made it unplayable.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:52 PM

        That’s the speculation on that play or hitting into the side wall in LF in Nats Park or that iy happened before that.

    • rayvil01 - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:44 PM

      Torn Labrum. Explains much. Bet it was bad most of the year. Explains yesterday’s signing more than the first blush.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:57 PM

        These players sign big contracts and don’t want to disclose injuries. I personally thought his DL stint was a hangnail to get him some time in AAA to get restarted.

        Shocking to me he was really hurt.

  9. Section 222 - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:39 PM

    A few fun facts:

    The Nats won their 70th game last night, on August 18.
    They won their 70th last year on September 3.
    The Nats were 5-6 in walkoff games last year.
    They are 7-4 this year.
    Since Asdrubal Cabrera joined the team, we’re 10-4.
    Matt Thornton has appeared in 6 games. He still hasn’t given up a run. We’ve won all six of those games.

    • David Proctor - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:48 PM

      So what you’re saying is put Thornton in every game?

      • Section 222 - Aug 19, 2014 at 4:08 PM

        If we could do that without his arm falling off, sure!

      • adcwonk - Aug 19, 2014 at 4:15 PM

        So what you’re saying is put Thornton in every game?

        Exactly. And then when he (inevitably/eventually) blows a save/hold, we DFA him because he’s a bum.

        See — it’s easy!

      • scmargenau - Aug 19, 2014 at 6:03 PM

        Lol why not!

  10. Eugene in Oregon - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:40 PM

    At this point, the best thing the Nats can do is keep trying to win series against lesser teams and split with better teams. Not exactly a secret formula, but it seems to work.

    • Section 222 - Aug 19, 2014 at 4:26 PM

      The difficulty with that is that it’s hard at this point to say who are the “better” teams. LA? Maybe. The Giants? Probably not. Not the Braves that’s for sure. What about Seattle? How about going back to the tried and true winning series at home and going .500 on the road. Under that construct, here’s the remaining schedule:

      Homestand: (5-2)
      ARZ — (4)
      SFG — (3)

      Road trip (5-4 or 4-5))
      LAD- (3)
      SEA (3)
      PHI (3)

      Homestand (4-2)

      ATL (3)
      PHI (3)

      Road Trip (6-5 or 5-6)

      NYM (4)
      ATL (3)
      MIA (4)

      Homestand (5-2 or 4-3)

      NYM (3)
      MIA (4)

      That would give us between 91 and 94 wins.

      I’ll take it.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Aug 19, 2014 at 4:47 PM

        Either way (better/lesser or home/away) works for me. You end up with more-or-less the same result.

  11. NatsLady - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:44 PM

    The trick with the six games is to ensure they don’t matter. So what if we go 2-4 against them if we are seven games ahead? The trick with the coming road trip is to beat the tar out of the Fillies, hopefully win the series with the Dodgers (who ARE fallible) and split with the M’s if we draw King Felix.

    Sept 5 on it’s ALL in the division. Seventeen games against NL teams that are NOT Atlanta. Against NL teams that are not Atlanta, our record is 24-12 (.667).

    Could we go 16-11 against the non-ATL NL-East? Well, consider that since RZimm went down, and with Werth not playing for a week, we went 16-10.

    • Soul Possession, Sec 3 My Sofa - Aug 19, 2014 at 3:54 PM

      Credit to Rizzo for giving them depth.

      For instance: Maybe Michael Taylor isn’t really ready to be a full-time major league starter yet, but he doesn’t have to be. He just has to catch the ball when they put him out there, and get on base once in a while. He’s replacing they guy who was replacing the guy who was replacing Werth. He’s the backup to the backup to the starter, and he’s been called “the best outfielder on the planet.” Not too shabby.

      • adcwonk - Aug 19, 2014 at 4:20 PM

        Credit to Rizzo for giving them depth.

        Absolutely!

        And breadth, too. RZ gets injured, we carry on. Ramos out for a month-and-a-half, we carry on. Werth misses almost a week, we go undefeated. Harper still not on-track, the rest of the line-up has him covered. Gio and Stras run into trouble, we go to our deep top-notch bullpen.

        It all adds up to:

        Best record in NL
        Best run-diff in NL
        Best ERA in NL
        Fewest walks issued in NL
        Fewest caught stolen in NL
        Third fewest GIDP in NL
        Third most runs in NL

  12. b12071 - Aug 19, 2014 at 4:37 PM

    PHillies comfortably in the basement….hahahaha
    Love it

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