Around the NL East: Is the Braves' pitching staff unraveling?

Around the NL East: Is the Braves' pitching staff unraveling?
June 24, 2014, 12:00 pm
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(Brad Mills/USA TODAY Sports)

ATLANTA BRAVES 

Much to the delight of local fans, the Braves are in the middle of a tough stretch. They went 2-4 against division rivals Philadelphia and Washington this past week, dropping them down to second place in the division. After losing eight out of the last 12 games, you wonder if the wheels are beginning to fall off in Atlanta. 

Their chief concern is that their pitching staff -- which has carried them for the most part this season -- is starting to unravel a little. Gavin Floyd suffered a rare elbow fracture Thursday night against the Nats, a serious injury that may shelve him for the year, and one that prompted the Braves to recall Alex Wood to replace him in the rotation. Another starter, Ervin Santana, who was seen as one of the steals of the offseason, has struggled mightily of late. After taking the loss Sunday against the Nats, he's now allowed three runs or more in seven out of his last eight starts. That's not going to cut it, especially for a rotation that was already behind the eight ball due to two spring training injuries that sidelined starters for the season. Add in the fact that the offense is ranked 29th in runs scored, and it's no wonder why Atlanta must get quality pitching in order to compete. 

The Braves now sit two games behind the Nationals, and look as if they're still sliding. That being said, as up-and-down as the division has been so far this season, it won't take much for Atlanta to get right back in it.

MIAMI MARLINS 

The Marlins may only be 2.5 games back of the division lead, but they're in the middle of a rough patch against some not-so-good opponents. Entering their recent ten-game homestand, Miami had the best home record in all of baseball. But after going 3-7 against the Pirates, Cubs and Mets, they no longer have that distinction and have now fallen below .500 on the season for the first time since April 30th. Their so-so pitching staff is throwing that ball so inconsistently that not even Giancarlo Stanton can't bail them out night after night, as Miami's allowed five runs or more in six of the ten games played on the homestand. 

The one silver lining for the week is that the Marlins got to witness the major league debut of the highly touted Andrew Heaney. The 23-year-old prospect pitched admirably in a loss, allowing just one run over six innings while striking out three. Considered one of the top young left-handed starters coming out of the minor leagues, Heaney projects to be at the top of Miami's rotation for years to come. Who knows, perhaps in a year (after Jose Fernandez returns from Tommy John surgery) we're talking about the Marlins having two of the top young starters in the game.

NEW YORK METS 

A lot of good things happened for the Metropolitans this past week week: They went 4-2 against the Cardinals and Marlins, Matt Harvey continued to progress in his recovery from Tommy John surgery, and they finally got a breakout offensive performance Sunday. 

But perhaps the best and most significant thing that happened for the Mets last week was Zach Wheeler delivering what was the signature performance of his season (maybe even his career) against the Marlins Thursday. The struggling 24-year-old pitching prospect out-dueled the aforementioned Heaney in Miami, hurling a shutout while striking out eight hitters and walking just one. For one start, he quelled fears that he doesn't have the ability to deliver a dominating performance at the major league level. “He showed you tonight exactly what we’ve been talking about all along," manager Terry Collins said afterward. Wheelers may have dazzled, but time will tell if this is the start that turns things around for him. 

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

The Phillies continue to battle with the Mets for last place in the division, and now sit six games out of first in a pretty mediocre NL East. And as we've mentioned here over the last few weeks, speculation about what the team will do come the July 31st trade deadline continues to mount. Despite the division being one of the worst in all of baseball, it's unlikely Philly will be able to turn its season around before quality trade offers come in for some of their high-prices veterans. So what will they do? A little over a month to go before we find out.