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.
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'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.