Matt Veasey's NL East beat

Matt Veasey’s NL East Beat: Week of 4/22-4/28/19



Exciting young outfielders Victor Robles (L) and Juan Soto (R) are expected to help the Nationals overcome the loss of Bryce Harper to free agency. (Ian D’Andrea)

This past week began with the Philadelphia Phillies (16-12) at three games above the .500 mark in first place in the National League East Division standings. They held a one game lead over both the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets, with the Washington Nationals just 1.5 behind but also just a game out in the loss column.

The week began in disheartening fashion for the Phillies. They dropped their first two games on Monday and Tuesday by a combined 14-1 to the Mets. However, the Fightin’ Phils lived up to that nickname, roaring back to take four of the last five games.

That stretch lifted them four games over the .500 mark and raised their lead in the division to 1.5 over the Mets, though it remains just a game in the loss column. Atlanta has fallen 2.5 and Washington is now 3 games behind the Phillies, both 2 games out in that all-important loss column.

The Phillies will meet the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday and Wednesday of the current week in what is already their second inter-league series of the season. With a win on Tuesday night, the Phillies would equal their best record in the early weeks of the 2019 season by going to five games above that .500 mark. They were at 7-2 back on April 8.

 

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST DIVISION STANDINGS

ATLANTA BRAVES (2 – 4)

Summary: The Braves began the week by dropping two of three tight games at Great American Ballpark to the host Cincinnati Reds. Then they came back home to Atlanta and surrendered 24 runs in losing two of three to the visiting Colorado Rockies. They salvaged something by scoring three times in the bottom of the 8th to rally to an 8-7 victory on Sunday.

Offensively the Braves continue to be led by veteran first baseman Freddie Freeman and budding young superstar outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. Freeman has a .324/.448/.539 slash line. His five homers and 18 RBIs are both tied for second on the club. Acuna, last year’s NL Rookie of the Year, is slashing .289/.410/.526 and leads the club with six homers. He also has 18 RBIs on the year.

Third baseman Josh Donaldson has begun to heat up, slashing .327/.453/.712 over the last 15 games. He also has five homers and leads the Braves with 13 extra-base hits. Veteran outfielder Nick Markakis is slashing .333/.407/.490 with 11 extra-base hits and 18 RBIs. Shortstop Dansby Swanson has a dozen extra-base hits and his 22 RBIs lead the team.

The Braves two-headed catching combo has produced well for the club. Righty-hitting Tyler Flowers is slashing .367/.426/.592 with three homers in 54 plate appearances. The lefty-hitting Brian McCann is hitting .270 with a .364 OBP and has driven in eight runs over 44 plate appearances.

For all the good that the offense has produced, the pitching has been letting the Braves down thus far. A bright spot has been 25-year-old lefty Max Fried. The southpaw is 3-1 with a 2.30 ERA and 1.085 WHIP, allowing 27 hits over 31.1 innings while striking out 26 and walking seven.

Righty reliever Luke Jackson has been strong out of the bullpen for manager Brian Snitker. The 27-year-old has allowed 11 hits over 14 innings across 13 appearances with a 15/6 K:BB ratio.

Key injuries: That bullpen has lost four key members to the Injured List. Lefties Johnny Venters and Jesse Biddle and right-handers Darren O’Day and Arodys Vizcaino. The latter is done for the season following should surgery.

Upcoming: Manny Machado and the San Diego Padres come to Atlanta for a four-game series beginning Monday night. The Braves will then hit the road for a 10-game road trip, one of two of that length that they will see this season. It begins next weekend with a visit to Miami for three games, then continues out west to visit the Dodgers and Diamondbacks next week.

 

MIAMI MARLINS (2 – 4)

Summary: The Marlins are the least consequential and yet in some ways the most pivotal team in the division. They are going to finish in last place, barring some sort of major miracle that would need to include any of the other four teams suffering a series of major lengthy injuries.

However, the Fish have already done some damage, taking two of three from the Nationals last weekend. They have losing records against the Phillies (2-5), Mets (0-3) and Braves (1-2) to this point. If the Marlins can find a way to win frequently against any of those teams it would be a major crippling blow.

This past week, Miami started solidly enough, capturing two of the first three games. They split a quick two-game trip to Cleveland and won the opener against the Phillies. But then the Phils roared back to sweep the final three of their four-game series this weekend.

The Marlins have gotten a strong start to the year from catcher Jorge Alfaro, who is slashing .297/.342/.500 and leading the club with five home runs. Veteran left fielder Curtis Granderson leads the team with 11 RBIs and eight extra-base hits.

And that’s about it for the Miami offense, which has pretty much been putrid on every day of the week other than Saturdays. For some odd reason the Marlins become competitive on that day. They were 4-0 over the first four Saturdays of the season including division wins over the Braves, Phillies and Nationals. The Phils finally put an end to that streak this weekend, but only after watching the Marlins roar back from a 10-1 deficit to make it a 10-9 game at one point.

The Miami staff has received a strong season thus far from lefty starter Caleb Smith, who is 2-0 with a 2.17 ERA and 0.828 WHIP over his first five starts. He has allowed just 17 hits over 29 innings with a 37/7 K:BB ratio, and has tossed a pair of gems against the Phillies.

The Marlins bullpen has received mostly strong work from a trio of right-handers in Tayron Guerrero, Nick Anderson and Tyler Kinley. Those three have combined to allow just 27 hits over 38.1 innings with a 57/21 K:BB ratio. Veteran closer Sergio Romo has four saves and was perfect in his last three opportunities.

Key injuries: Veteran infielder Neil Walker pinch-hit in the final two games against the Phillies this past weekend. He has been battling hamstring tightness but remains available. The Marlins have otherwise been one of the healthiest teams in baseball over the first five weeks of the season.

Upcoming: The Marlins are home in Marlins Park this week, hosting the Cleveland Indians for a pair on Tuesday and Wednesday after visiting Cleveland last week. Then they welcome in the division-rival Atlanta Braves for a three-game set next weekend.

NEW YORK METS (3 – 3)

Summary: The Mets pulled away from the Milwaukee Brewers late on Sunday to salvage the final game of their weekend series and get back above the .500 mark, staying within a game of the Phillies in the standings.

New York opened the week by taking two of the three from the Phils but then dropped two of three to the Brew Crew. They are in the midst of a 10-game home stand that continues with four this week against the Cincinnati Reds.

The Mets offense continues to be led by the National League’s leading Rookie of the Year candidate, first baseman Pete Alonso. The 24-year-old is slashing .306/.398/684 and leads the club with nine homers, 24 RBIs, 19 extra-base hits, and 20 runs scored.

Right fielder Michael Conforto is second on the team with six home runs and 13 extra-base hits. Catcher Wilson Ramos and shortstop Amed Rosario are each second on the club with 16 RBIs. Left fielder Jeff McNeil is hitting .355 with a .434 OBP and nine extra-base hits.

On the mound, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler have been the surprise leaders of the rotation. The performances of the Noah Syndergaard and Jake deGrom ace duo have been puzzling. Those two have combined to surrender 66 hits over 60 innings including 10 home runs, and they have walked 10 batters apiece.

Closer Edwin Diaz remains perhaps the best in the game. He has eight saves over a dozen appearances with a 20/2 K:BB ratio over 10.2 innings. Right-hander Seth Lugo has also been solid, but the rest of the Mets bullpen has been a mess.

Key injuries: Second baseman Robinson Cano was hit on the hand by a pitch from newly signed Milwaukee pitcher Gio Gonzalez on Sunday and had to leave the game early. Initial x-rays reportedly came back negative but he will undergo an MRI today before the club decides how to proceed.

Infielder Jed Lowrie remains out with a knee injury and hopes to return over the next week or two. Lefty reliever Justin Wilson had soreness in his pitching elbow and an MRI came back clean. He could return later this week. There remains no timetable on outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who could return later this season but could also miss the year entirely.

Upcoming: After hosing the Cincinnati Reds for four games at Citi Field to open the week, the Mets go on the road for a two-city trip that starts with three games next weekend in Milwaukee against the Brewers and then continues out in San Diego to start next week.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS (2 – 4)

Summary: The Nationals dropped two of three to the Rockies at Coors Field to open the week, then returned home and again lost two of three games, this time to the visiting San Diego Padres.

A big factor this past week for the Nationals was the loss of third baseman Anthony Rendon to an injury that lingered. He was hit on the elbow by a pitch last weekend, sat out a few games, and then tried to return on Friday. After playing that night, the elbow flared up again.

Bottom line, the club’s top hitter missed most of the action this past week. Rendon has slashed .356/.442/.740 over his first 86 plate appearances. His six homers are tied for the club lead, his 18 RBIs are second, and he leads the Nats with 16 extra-base hits and 21 runs scored.

The two young outfielders who the club has hoped would step up and ease the transition away from Bryce Harper have been a mixed bag to this point. 20-year-old left fielder Juan Soto, last year’s runner-up to Acuna in the NL Rookie of the Year voting, is hitting .255 with a .376 OBP and is tied for the club lead with six homers while leading the Nats with 22 RBIs.

22-year-old center fielder Victor Robles is hitting just .265 with four homers and 11 RBIs, though he does have a dozen extra-base hits. He is second on the club in that category and with his 19 runs scored behind only Rendon.

Howie Kendrick has filled in well as a back-up at both third and second bases. The 35-year-old, 14-year veteran is slashing .333/.421/.667 with four homers, seven extra-base hits and 13 RBIs over 57 plate appearances. The Nationals have called up one of their top prospects, shortstop Carter Kieboom, to try and bridge the gap with the injuries to Turner and Rendon.

On the mound, the club’s big free agent signings have been a split decision. Lefty Patrick Corbin has been the club’s most consistently strong starting pitcher. He is 2-0 with a 2.48 ERA and 0.918 WHIP, allowing 24 hits over 32.2 innings with a 39/6 K:BB across his first five starts.

However, Anibal Sanchez (0-3) has allowed 32 hits and walked 16 over his first five starts and 27 innings with the club. His rotation spot could be in jeopardy if he doesn’t straighten out and get better results quickly. Manager Dave Martinez has a number of options waiting for a shot, including Erick Fedde and Joe Ross.

Veterans workhorses Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg have been dominant at times, but both have also struggled on a couple of occasions as well. Combining with Corbin, they give the Nationals a top three in the rotation that, assuming health, should keep them in the race all year.

In the bullpen, closer Sean Doolittle has been strong. That’s about it. The rest of the pen group has largely been a mess. Fedde was called up from the minors to help out there, but he could end up in the rotation at some point.

Key injuries: Getting Rendon straightened out quickly would be a huge plus for a lineup that is already missing star shortstop Trea Turner. However, Rendon may yet require an IL stint. Turner is out still after breaking a finger on a bunt attempt against the Phillies a few weeks ago. He is expected to be out anywhere from four to six more weeks.

Veteran first baseman Ryan Zimmerman was just placed on the Injured List, presenting the lineup with another setback. He is suffering from plantar fasciatis. Relievers Trevor Rosenthal and Koda Glover are also on the IL with no return ETA.

Upcoming: The Nats open a four-game home set with the Saint Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park on Monday night. They will then embark on a 10-game road trip beginning with a visit to Citizens Bank Park for next weekend. That tough trip will continue next week with visits to the Brewers and Dodgers.

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