Around the NL East: Atlanta's lead slips

Around the NL East: Atlanta's lead slips
May 14, 2013, 11:45 am
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Taking stock of the National League East, noting that while the Braves' lead has fallen to just one game, no one other than the Nationals appear primed to challenge for a playoff spot in what was once the N.L.'s strongest division. 

Atlanta Braves (22-16)

Brian McCann wants you to know that he's back, and that any talk of Evan Gattis taking away at-bats at catcher should be tabled for the foreseeable future. While Gattis has been a nice surprise, ranking second on the team with seven home runs and 20 runs batted in, McCann has accounted for half of that production in just his first six games back from the disabled list. With the long-time All-Star back behind the dish and three of the Braves' four most effective hitters (first baseman Freddie Freeman and the third base platoon of Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco) occupying corner infield spots, Gattis might be the odd man out until someone cools off. 

Elsewhere around the diamond, B.J. Upton left last night's game against Arizona with a bruised left shoulder -- perhaps a stint on the DL would do both he and the team some good. At this point, even replacement-level production from his spot in the lineup would be an upgrade. Wonder if there's any chance Gattis can man one of the outfield corners? And a growing concern worth watching: Closer Craig Kimbrel has already blown three saves. 

Player of the Week: McCann, C: 4 R, 3 HR, 10 RBI, .412 AVG

Miami Marlins (11-27)

The youth movement continues in South Beach, as the Marlins promoted second base prospect Derek Dietrich following injuries to Donovan Solano and Chris Valaika. Dietrich, the organization's No. 12 prospect according to Baseball America, was the 79th overall selection in the 2010 and came over from the Rays in exchange for shortstop Yunel Escobar in the offseason. Profiling as one of the organization's more promising power hitters, he's off to a great start in very limited action, and has already homered. 

Macell Ozuna and Jose Fernandez have yet to slow down, with the latter recording his second victory after going winless in his first five starts (mostly due to poor run support); he sports an sparkling strikeout rate of 9.5 per nine innings. Though he's no prospect, Twins castoff Kevin Slowey has been one of the bigger surprises in the league, pacing the pitching staff with a 2.55 ERA, which is far more telling of his season so far than his misleading 1-3 record.

Player of the Weak: Ricky Nolasco, SP: 0-1, 7 IP, 1 ER, 9 K, 0.71 WHIP

New York Mets (14-21)

On a team hitting as poorly as this one (only David Wright, Daniel Murphy, and Marlon Byrd are batting above .260) the only interesting contributions they have to make are on the other side of the ball. Matt Harvey, still with an unblemished 4-0 record and a sterling 1.44 ERA occupies most of that conversation, but young center fielder Juan Lagares stole a little bit of attention for himself by making one of the best shoestring, second-effort catches you'll ever see. 

Meanwhile, John Buck hasn't hit a lick since last week, and first baseman Ike Davis continues to be a breakout waiting to happen; he's just too good to hit .175 for much longer, right? Then again, the same might've been said about Dan Uggla a couple years ago, until he proved that a full season at .220 is actually within the realm of possibility. The Mets might even tolerate that from Davis if he can at least chip in the 30 home runs that he's capable of.

Player of the Week: Harvey, SP: 1-1, 16 IP, 16 K, 1.13 ERA, 0.50 WHIP

Philadelphia Phillies (18-21)

Sitting within striking distance of .500, the Phillies remain the division's best threat to challenge the Nationals and Braves -- but that's not saying too much. Roy Halladay is mercifully on the DL and set to undergo shoulder surgery -- here's hoping that he's able to bounce back well next season. A talent like Halladay deserves a more graceful exit from the game, if this really is the beginning of the end for him. 

At the moment, the Phillies feature three useful hitters: Chase Utley, Michael Young, and Domonic Brown. No other regular has an OBP over .300 (though Delmon Young has reached base above that clip since returning from the DL -- but when Young is one of your best bets, that in of itself is bad news). As a team the Phils are reaching at just a .301 rate, good for 13th in the N.L. When that's the case, it doesn't matter how good your pitching is (and in Philadelphia, so far it isn't) -- winning games is going to be a real struggle.

Player of the Week: Utley, 2B: 4 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, .417 AVG