Race for the Postseason: NL East

Over the last two weeks, I previewed the division races in the American League. This week I will be covering the National League. Up first is the NL East. We will organize our discussion by current standings.

Washington Nationals
60-49 | division lead

Following a 2013 season where they fell four games short of a wild card birth and 10 games out of first in the NL East, the Nationals have taken control of a weak NL East.

Washington’s offense has struggled recently.  Denard Span has the highest average on the team at .291, and their team BA of .250 is 19th in the league. Also, Bryce Harper spent three months on the DL earlier this season, which certainly hurt their offensive output.  However, there are some bright spots.  The Nats traded for Asdrubal Cabrera at the deadline, who adds some much-needed power and a decent bat to the lineup (not to mention some flashy fielding). Also, Harper has been been slowly heating up sine his return to the majors, and is now hitting .260 on the season.

Washington has had a helping hand from its pitching staff as well. Despite Jordan Zimmerman landing on the DL, the Nationals staff has an ERA of 3.13, which is 3rd best in the majors. Closer Rafael Soriano has converted 25 of his 29 save attempts, and Tyler Clippard has a team-high 24 holds with a 1.76 ERA.

Washington is primed to succeed, and currently the team is firing on all cylinders. Don’t expect them to relinquish this lead at any time this season.

Predicted Finish: 1st in NL East 86-90 wins

Atlanta Braves
58-54 | 3.5 games back

Atlanta has struggled recently, going 6-11 since the break. This skid has dropped them to only four games over .500 and three and a half back of the Nats in the West.

Atlanta’s woes are due mostly to the team’s offense. They are hitting .245 this year, which is 22nd in the league. Their best hitter, Justin Upton is batting .284, with 19 HRs and 63 RBIs. Meanwhile, Justin’s brother/fellow outfielder B.J. Upton is batting a horrid .211, and leads the league with 139 strikeouts so far this season, or almost 1.25 a game.

In stark contrast to the offensive woes the Braves are facing, the pitching has been strong. The team has an ERA of 3.38 which is sixth best in the majors. Craig Kimbrel has been a lock down force in the ninth inning, saving 32 games while blowing just four. Julio Teheran has also been a strong starter, holding an ERA of 2.69 while striking out 141, which is 9th best in the NL.

Right now, the Braves are still close to the Nats, however the gap will continue to grow unless Atlanta can turn around its offensive woes. Unfortunately, with the competitiveness of the Wild Card race and how well Washington is playing, the Braves will probably be sitting on the outside looking in come playoff time.

Predicted Finish: 2nd in NL East, 82-86 wins

Miami Marlins
54-57 | 7 games back

After coming off of a 100 loss season last year, the Miami Marlins have reloaded and are fighting to remain around .500.

The Marlins have posted mediocre numbers this year on both offense and defense. The offense is 16th in batting average, with the team batting .252, 15th in OBP with a .317 mark, and 14th in runs, having scored 447 times. Giancarlo Stanton continues to put up power numbers, hitting .290 with 26 HRs and 74 RBIs. Also Casey McGehee has enjoyed a resurgence in Miami, currently leading the team with a .302 batting average.

On the mound, the Marlins have an ERA of 3.83, which is 19th best in the majors. Unfortunately, they suffered the loss of Jose Fernandez to season-ending Tommy John surgery early in the year. Prior to the surgery, Fernandez led the rotation with a 2.44 ERA, and an insanely high, 12.19 K/9 rate. Since the surgery, Henderson Alvarez has emerged as the staff ace, with a 2.48 ERA, and an 88-5 record. (See Dan’s column for more about Fernandez and young pitchers entering the majors too early.)

Last month Joe ran a post on the Marlins as part of his series, “Cellar dwellers with bright futures,” in which he stated that “[the Marlins] might not be in serious contention in 2014, but they have undoubtedly gotten better, and should continue to do so in the future.” So far that looks right. The Marlins will most likely not achieve a postseason birth this year, but they are positioning themselves for future success.

Predicted Finish4th in NL East, 79-83 wins

New York Mets
53-58 | 8 games back

Another team in Joe Setyon’s Cellar dweller series, the New York Mets have enjoyed one of their better season this year.

NY’s pitching rotation has suffered due to the loss of Matt Harvey to season-ending Tommy John surgery. However, the remaining starters have been able to adequately handle the load, posting an ERA of 3.48, which is 9th best in the majors. Of particular note on the mound has been the emergence of Jacob deGrom as a dominant pitcher. In his 15 starts, deGrom has an ERA of only 2.77 and has rung up 90 batters already, and in his last start deGrom took a no-hitter into the 7th inning.

On the flip side of the baseball, the offense has struggled.  The Mets big offseason acquisition, Curtis Granderson has hit only .228 this year, and the offense as a whole has only batted .238 which is 2nd worst in the league. There are some bright spots for the offense though — Daniel Murphy is batting .295, and Lucas Duda has already hit 20 HRs.

The postseason is not going to happen for the Mets this year. However, they have a decent chance to finish the season over .500 for the first time since 2008.

Predicted Finish: 3rd in NL East, 79-83 wins.

Philadelphia Phillies
49-63 | 12.5 games back

Philadelphia entered this season hoping to turn around a recent string of bad seasons. However, this season has only gotten worse as it goes on.

The Phillies offense has been abominable, posting a .242 batting average, which is 25th in the majors. Ryan Howard, their star slugger of old, is hitting .215 and has already struck out 128 times in only 106 games played. Jimmy Rollins is hitting .243, and Chase Utley is hitting .280. There best hitter, Ben Revere is hitting .302, but has only 13 RBI’s on the season.

The pitching for Philly hasn’t been much better. Cole Hamels has been his dominant self, posting an ERA of 2.42, and leads the team in wins, but in another year of weak run support for the Phillies ace, he has only six wins on the season.  After Hamels, the next starter has an ERA of 3.87 , and this continues to balloon all the way to Kyle Kendrick, with his 4.92 ERA. The one bright spot has been aging closer Jonathan Papelbon, who has 26 saves, only 3 blown saves and an ERA of 1.75.

Ever since the Phillies won 102 games in 2011 they have been declining, and this year is the worst yet. Nothing is going right for the Phillies, and don’t be suprised if they end up losing close to 95 games this year.

Predicted finish: 5th in NL East, 65-70 wins

Tim Hanna is a contributing writer of Three for Ten Sports.

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