Around the NL East: Which teams are for real?

Around the NL East: Which teams are for real?
April 29, 2014, 12:45 pm
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ATLANTA BRAVES

Winners of four straight, the Braves are now heading to Miami for a three-game set with the Marlins. Atlanta is 17-7 so far after 24 games, which is actually a better record than they had at this juncture last season. Somehow, some way, the Braves' pitching staff has been even better despite losing both Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen during spring training.

Going down the line of team stats in MLB, it's tough to find a pitching category the Braves aren't leading in. They have the best staff ERA (2.04), rotation ERA (1.57), batting average against (.211), and they've given up the least amount of homers (9). Well, they only have the second-best team WHIP, so there's a silver lining.

Honestly though, can they keep it up? How long is Aaron Harang going to pitch like Greg Maddux? How long is Ervin Santana going to pitch at the highest level perhaps he ever has? Remember last season Paul Maholm was one of the best pitchers in baseball with Atlanta through the first three weeks of 2013 and finished with a 4.41 ERA. Atlanta's run of pitching almost certainly can't last, can it?

MIAMI MARLINS

The Marlins have lost four of their last six as they head home to begin a nine-game homestand. It begins with the Braves, then they host the Dodgers before the surprising Mets come to town. Not an ideal stretch for the 11-14 Fish.

The weirdest thing, however, is the split between Miami's record both at and away from Marlins Park. On the road they are among the worst teams in baseball with a 2-10 record through 12 games, but at home they are 9-2. That bizarre discrepancy has the Marlins searching for answers.

Jeff Baker had what I found to be a very interesting take on the subject. Here is what he told the Miami Herald:

I think the biggest thing — and it’s kind of a catch-22 with our ballpark — you’re not going to hit too many homers at home. So I think our approach is a little bit better at home. Sometimes it’s hard not to think about it just because as a hitter and a competitor you want to drive the ball and hit the ball out of the park.

You go on the road in some of these other parks and you kind of feel like you want to make up for it because you’re not going to get the power numbers, you’re not going to drive in the runs at home. I think we kind of fall into that a little bit instead of just trying to keep staying with our approach, grinding at-bats, seeing a lot of pitches, which at home we’re very, very good at doing. But I think it’s a combination between the two. I think as we get into a bigger chunk of the season and get going, I don’t think the numbers are going to be as dramatic as they are right now.

NEW YORK METS

After taking two of three against the Marlins this week, the Mets have now won six of their last eight games. Included in that stretch is a series win - three of four games - against the St. Louis Cardinals. This begs the obvious question about the now 14-11 Mets: are they legitimate?

Among team statistics, not much really jumps out about the Mets. They aren't particularly good at pitching this season, or at scoring runs. But they do have a few surprise players performing very well, which could suggest they are in line for a breakout year.

Both Dillon Gee (2-1, 2.88) and Jon Niese (1-2, 2.45) have been outstanding through a combined 10 starts. Considering the preseason expectation was for Zack Wheeler and Bartolo Colon to lead their staff, that's a good sign. Once they get the latter two going, and once they bring up top prospect Noah Syndergaard, the Mets' starting rotation could stack up well against most teams.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

The 13-12 Phillies are coming off two road series wins against the Dodgers and Diamondbacks as they return home for a seven-game homestand. They begin with two games against the Mets before hosting the Nationals for the first series between the two this season.

The Phillies will have both Cliff Lee (3-2, 3.29) and A.J. Burnett (1-1, 2.15) ready for the second and third games of that series, setting them up well to challenge the Nats at Citizens Bank Park. It should be an interesting test for the Phillies who have come out of the gate a little better than many probably expected. They have seen Chase Utely carry over his strong 2013 season and Burnett slot nicely into their rotation. 

The Phillies are, however, dealing with a disaster in their bullpen. They currently rank 28th out of 30 MLB teams - and last in the NL - with a 5.14 ERA from their relievers. Aside from Jonathan Papelbon and a decent start for Mike Adams, nearly everyone they throw out there late in games has proven a liability. Keep that in mind this week if the Nats enter the seventh, eighth or ninth innings only down a run or two.