Around the NL East: Braves hold serve, still lead division

Around the NL East: Braves hold serve, still lead division
May 20, 2014, 12:00 pm
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(USA TODAY Sports)

ATLANTA BRAVES

At first glance, no team in the division had a standout week. As a result, the Braves able to go 3-3 and still remain atop the standings by 1.5 games heading into Tuesday night's action.

The tale of Atlanta's season so far might be best seen in the huge chasm between where they rank offensively versus where they are pitching-wise. Their offense ranks 29th in average, 28th in on-base percentage, 25th in slugging and dead last in runs scored. Conversely, their pitching staff ranks fourth in WHIP, second in number of quality starts, and are tops in the majors in ERA. So it's really no secret how the Braves are winning ballgames: Pitching, pitching, and more pitching. 

That being said, it looks like Atlanta's big boppers are starting to turn it on at the plate. First baseman Freddie Freeman leads the team in RBI (28) and average (.317), has a sterling .947 OPS, and is second only to Justin Upton for the team lead in homers. The overall lineup might be scuffling, but if Upton and Freeman spark an offensive revival, the Braves would be in business -- something the Nationals don't want to see. 

MIAMI MARLINS 

On the field, the Marlins went 3-3 the past week, taking the series finale against the Los Angeles Dodgers and wrapping up a west coast swing with a split of a four game set versus the team with the best record in the NL, the San Francisco Giants.

But as baseball fans know, much of the recent focus on the Marlins hasn't revolved much around their day-to-day results. It was announced last week that star pitcher Jose Fernandez would undergo Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right elbow, putting him on the shelf for the rest of this season (and likely even longer than that). What Miami loses in its 21-year phenom is the heart and soul of their rotation and by far their most impactful player outside of slugger Giancarlo Stanton. Fernandez is irreplaceable, as the team has already conceded, and being without him is a big blow not only to the pitching staff, but to the morale of the entire team. 

However, if the Marlins are to keep surprising this season, they'll have to find a way to move past the Fernandez injury. They'll have an opportunity to finish May on the upswing, with eight of their last 11 games this month against division opponents. 

NEW YORK METS 

The Mets had another tough week, losing the weekend series to the Nationals after splitting a four-game set with their crosstown rival Yankees. As much as people have talked about its bullpen struggles all year, New York has actually gotten a fair amount of solid starting pitching. In fact, the Mets rotation owns the fifth highest mark in the majors in terms of number of quality starts with 28. 

But as has often been the case for most of the season, the offense and bullpen don't help turn those quality starts into wins. Case in point, in last week's pair of losses against the Yankees, Mets pitching prospects Rafael Montero and Jacob deGrom delivered back-to-back quality starts -- they allowed five earns runs total between the two of them -- only to see the offense reward their efforts with a grand total of zero runs combined in both outings. Tough-luck losses seem to be the story of the rotation this year, one of the myriad reasons why the Mets are up-and-down as a team a quarter of the way into the season. 

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

The Phillies may be in last place in the division, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're out of it just yet. In fact, even after a 2-3 week, Philadelphia is only four games back of Atlanta, the smallest deficit for any last place team in the majors. So even though they've had a hard time finding consistency, they're still very much alive with the rest of the NL East teams. The fact that they're still competitive might say more about the state of the division as a whole rather than the team itself, but there's no doubt the Phillies will take last place in a closely-contested race rather than trading places with any other last place team in the league right now. 

And while the team tries to find its way at the quarter pole of the season, Jimmy Rollins continues to etch his name into the franchise's history books. He's currently tied for third all-time in club history in hits, and is just 21 shy from matching Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt's record. Not bad company for Rollins, who remarkably has played each of his 15 major league season in the City of Brotherly Love.