Superb pitching and just enough hitting. It's been the Braves' formula for success this season, and one they continue to ride as they still sit atop the division this week. They may not have the best lineup in the league, but at this rate, they may not have to. They have enough talent on that pitching staff alone to keep them in ballgames night in and night out.
Despite losing key members of its rotation due to injuries, Atlanta still leads the majors in number of quality starts. The makeshift rotation is highlighted by Julio Teheran, who won two decisions this past week to raise his record to 4-3 and drop his ERA to 1.77, third best in all of baseball.
All that said, the Braves don't hold a big lead in the division race. They still struggle with inconsistency and as a result haven't taken advantage of the fact that the rest of the division is up-and-down. Winning the NL East crown won't be as much of a cake walk as it was a year ago.
At some point you have to wonder if the Marlins are for real. June is on the horizon, and yet they still have a winning record and are just 1.5 games -- yes, just 1.5 -- out of first place. Sure, their spot in the standings are in part because Atlanta hasn't run away with the division yet. But given how poor the Marlins have been in recent years, this is still a huge development for them.
So how exactly are they doing this? For one, no one has a better record at home than the Marlins' 20-8 mark. Secondly, their offense is led by Giancarlo Stanton, who continues to tear it up at the plate (and especially against the Nationals). Lastly, the Marlins' pitching staff has hung tight despite the loss of Jose Fernandez, as the rotation has three starters with sub 3.40 ERAs.
The real litmus test could come this weekend, when Miami hosts Atlanta with a chance to take first place as June begins. Who would have thought we'd be talking about that possibility two months ago?
NEW YORK METS
It's been a brutal week for the Metropolitans, who not only lost back-to-back series against the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks, but they fired their hitting coach Dave Hudgens and released closer Jose Valverde. New York's offense has been pedestrian, as they rank 21st or lower in the majors in all of the big offensive categories. Firing the hitting coach may not solve their woes at the plate, but its in line with what a lot of teams do when they're struggling; they make a change for change's sake, and hope things go differently.
As for Valverde, his troubles have mirrored that of the entire Mets bullpen. He was let go after Monday night's meltdown against the Pittsburgh Pirates, blowing a four-out save by trying to preserve a 2-1 lead, and instead allowing four runs and a loss. The disastrous outing ballooned his ERA to 5.66, and he's only saved just two games, while also blowing a pair. Not good. The 36 year old reliever's struggles in the closer role extend back to his time with his Detroit Tigers, so there was no reason to think that things would dramatically improve as the season went on.
Of course, New York's problem run much deeper than a hitting coach and a reliever. But when you're a scuffling last place team, you'll do try anything to generate a spark.
Injuries are beginning to pile up for the fourth place Phillies, with the latest being starter Cliff Lee, who the team placed on the 15-day disabled list due to an elbow strain. Surgery appears unlikely, but it still looks like he won't be able to return even when his DL term expires. Lee is the third player Philadelphia has placed on the DL in the last ten days, the others being Cody Asche (hamstring) and Luis Garcia (forearm).
As they continue to be mired in mediocrity with a veteran roster, many have wondered if the team will opt to "blow it up" come the trade deadline. After all, the Phillies have the highest payroll in the division, and have nothing to show for it. They also don't have a ton of young up-and-coming prospects on the horizon either, so any rebuilding effort would have to center around moving high-priced veterans for top minor leaguers. We're still a ways away from the July 31st deadline, but the team has to figure out soon what path it would like to chart moving forward should they still struggle.