Bryce Harper: I'm always going to play the game hard
Devastating injuries, to Jason Heyward and Matt Harvey, as well as a managerial change in Philly, have made this a particularly interesting week in the NL East -- despite the lack of any postseason drama at all.
Atlanta Braves (78-52)
There's bad news in Atlanta, and there's good news in Atlanta. The bad news is that they have an unseemly number of disabled players; I count 11 on either the 15-day or 60-day DL, including four that are out for the year. A fifth, Jason Heyward, is out for the remainder of the regular season after taking a Jon Niese fastball literally on the chin -- a gruesome reminder of the realities of hit batsmen, whether by design or by accident. Brandon Beachy also suffered a setback and is out with elbow inflammation, further damaging their starting rotation already missing Tim Hudson.
The good news is that Atlanta owns the best record in baseball, and it would take a collapse of fried chicken-and-beer proportions for them to miss the playoffs. Freddie Freeman continues to stabilize the lineup -- but the truly scary part, for opposing pitchers, is that Justin Upton has found his swing again. After hitting exactly four home runs, total, over the months of May, June, and July, Upton the Younger has crushed eight so far in August. That, along with his .301 average and .400 OBP for the month, has made all the difference to Atlanta.
Player of the Week: Freeman, 1B: 2 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, .391 AVG
Miami Marlins (49-80)
The best thing about the Marlins is about to come to an end. Having pitched 152.2 innings, rookie hurler Jose Fernandez is nearing his pre-determined innings limit of 170 -- a number agreed upon by management before the season started. At his current rate, Fernandez stands to make two starts more -- giving him ample opportunity to break old friend Scott Olsen's franchise record for strikeouts by a rookie (166, set in 2006; Fernandez currently has 165). He'll also get the chance to pad his win totals, which should enhance his Rookie of the Year candidacy in the eyes of old-fashioned voters.
Speaking of, that Rookie of the Year award should be a slam-dunk. Yasiel Puig has been electrifying and exciting, but not among the best in baseball at his position; Fernandez has. Over his last 10 starts (68 innings), Fernandez has yielded just 11 earned runs, walking 19 batters while fanning 81. He sits in the top three in the NL in ERA (3rd), WHIP (3rd), strikeouts per nine innings (3rd), and hits per nine innings (2nd). He keeps runs from scoring -- that he has a relatively unimpressive 10 wins isn't his fault. What more could you possibly want from a starter in his age-20 season?
Player of the Week: Fernandez, SP: 1-0, 7 IP, 8 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.57 WHIP
New York Mets (58-71)
As celebratory as is the mood surrounding Fernandez in Florida, that's how despondent the baseball world became upon hearing the news of Matt Harvey's partially torn UCL. The phenom, every bit Fernandez's equal for much of the season, is out for the remainder of the year, and is likely headed for Tommy John surgery. This case highlights the randomness of devastating injuries to young pitchers: There is no 'Verducci Effect' here, as Harvey's workload had only surpassed last season's total by about 10 innings, and the starter has a fairly fluid delivery. It might be time to accept that it's a matter of when, not if, hard-throwing pitchers will miss significant time with injuries -- and it's the ones who never need it that are the extreme outliers.
With Harvey done and David Wright still on the shelf, there isn't much to draw one to a Mets game these days. Ike Davis continues his renaissance, increasing his average all the way to .207 since returning from the minors (I mean that sincerely -- he was at .161 the day he returned to the majors). A little more power from the masher would be nice, as he's hit just three home runs in that stretch, but his 11 doubles are somewhat encouraging.
Player of the Week: James Andrews, Dr.: Mets fans dread it, but the team's hopes for contention may rest on the scalpel of the most famous orthopedic surgeon in history.
Philadelphia Phillies (60-71)
Speaking of happy returns, on Sunday Roy Halladay made his first start since May 5, tossing six effective innings and picking up the win against Arizona. Though he wasn't dominant -- he allowed two runs, averaged a baserunner an inning, and only struck out two -- it was an encouraging outing from a pitcher who looked absolutely finished a few months ago. Halladay, who has been an absolute artist on the mound for nearly his entire career, deserves to slide into retirement instead of having the game yanked from him by injury. It's good to see him back.
The Phillies squad that Halladay returned to looks much different than the one he left -- Domonic Brown has become one of the most feared power bats in the game (when healthy), Ryan Howard and Ben Revere are missing from the lineup with injuries, and Charlie Manuel is no longer the head man in charge. That last change is obviously the most jarring, but interim manager Ryne Sandberg has been on the cusp of managing for what feels like five years now. So far, the early returns look pretty good.
Player of the Week: Cody Asche, 3B: 2 R, 4 XBH, 5 RBI, .385 AVG