The early going in the National League East Division has already made for some tremendous head-to-head excitement and we’re only in the opening weeks. A division race which many predicted would be dog-eat-dog over six months of drama seems to want to unfold in exactly that manner.
During what was the second full week of the Major League Baseball campaign we saw more of those face-to-face meetings between the Phillies closest rivals. For the Phillies themselves, that’s all it was, a week filled with intra-divisional showdowns. In fact, 11 of the club’s first 14 games have been against those rivals.
As always, my NL East Beat report reveals how each of those Phillies divisional rivals fared over the course of the past week: games scores, pivotal performers, key injuries, and other important updates on each team are included.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST DIVISION STANDINGS
ATLANTA BRAVES (4 – 2)
Summary: With a second consecutive winning week the Braves continued to bounce back from their season-opening sweep at the hands of the Phillies. They began the week by sweeping a quick two-game set Colorado, scoring 15 runs in the rarified air of the Mile-High City. Atlanta then came home to host the New York Mets in a big, early four-game set which the two rivals would split. The Mets took the first two before the Braves offense opened up for 18 runs to win over the final two games.
25-year-old left-hander Max Fried was stellar over six innings at Coors Field, holding the Rockies to just an unearned run and five hits in that difficult pitching environment. It was a second straight strong start for Fried, who began the season pitching out of the bullpen. On a club with a ton of talented young starting pitching options, Fried is one of the best, and he should remain in the rotation moving forward.
Last year’s NL Rookie of the Year, left fielder Ronald Acuna, finally began to heat up. That could be bad news for the rest of the division. Acuna slashed .545/.630/1.091 over the Braves six games with three homers among five total extra-base hits. He drove in nine runs, scored seven, and stole his second base of the season. He now leads the club with five homers.
Shortstop Dansby Swanson continues to lead the club in RBI with 18. New third baseman Josh Donaldson leads the Braves with seven extra-base hits, five of those as doubles. Freddie Freeman is hitting .345 with a .478 OBP.
Key injuries: Right-hander Mike Foltynewicz was scheduled for his third minor league rehab game on Monday night. He is working his way back from spring elbow issues. The Braves hope that he can return either this coming weekend or at some point next week. Veteran catcher Brian McCann has been on the IL with a right hamstring strain and could return this weekend as well. A trio of key relievers in Johnny Venters, Darren O’Day and Arodys Vizcaino are all on the IL. There is no timetable on any of the three, though Venters is likely closest to helping again, possibly before April is out.
Upcoming: Atlanta will host the Arizona Diamondbacks for three games beginning Tuesday night at SunTrust Park. The club then heads out on a six-game Ohio road trip starting with a three=game Inter-league series over the weekend in Cleveland before moving on to Cincinnati to open next week’s schedule.
MIAMI MARLINS (1 – 5)
Summary: Another week and more losing baseball from the Fish, though their bats did enjoy one big night at the Phillies expense. The Marlins began the week by getting swept in Cincinnati and scoring just one run over three games. They returned to Miami to face the Phillies and scored just one run on both Friday and Sunday. In between the Marlins erupted for a 10-spot to gain their lone victory of the week on Saturday night.
Left-hander Caleb Smith was the beneficiary of all the Saturday runs, but he was also outstanding on the mound. Smith held the Phillies to just one hit over six innings, striking out six and walking three to earn his first victory of the year. It was the third start for the 27-year-old southpaw and he has been excellent in all three outings.
Former Phillies catcher Jorge Alfaro is tied for the Marlins team lead in homers (3), RBI (6) and is slashing at the .316/.366/.553 mark. Shortstop Miguel Rojas has gotten off hot, hitting .310 with a .375 OBP and also has six RBI. Austin Dean also is tied with six RBI for the club lead, though five of those came in one night when he drove in half of the Marlins runs in a big 4-4 night against the Phillies.
Key injuries: While the news in the standings and on the scoreboard hasn’t been good, the news from the trainer’s room is solid. The Marlins remain the healthiest team in baseball, with no significant injuries suffered to this point.
Upcoming: Miami is in the midst of a nine-game home stand which continues this week as the host both the Chicago Cubs and division-rival Washington Nationals for three games apiece. This will be the first meeting of the season between the Fish and Nats.
NEW YORK METS (3 – 3)
Summary: It was a roller coaster .500 week for the Metropolitans, who began by dropping a game to the Minnesota Twins and ended with a pair of losses in our nation’s capital. In between there were three victories, one over the Twins and two over the Nationals. Offense was the story for New York as the bats provided 39 runs over the half-dozen games.
Utility man Jeff McNeil continues to prove invaluable. The 27-year-old has split time in left field and at third base, and even took up second base for a game. He hit .360 with five RBI this week and was slashing .383/.463/.511 by week’s end with nine RBI and eight runs scored.
Rookie first baseman Pete Alonso also continued to rake. The 24-year-old is emerging as an early NL Rookie of the Year contender, and this week he slashed .286/.400/762 with three home runs, six RBI, and five runs scored. He leads the club with six homers and 17 RBI. Catcher Wilson Ramos, who had a cup of coffee with the Phillies late last season, is hitting .320 with a .393 OBP in the early going and has 10 RBI.
On the mound, defending NL Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom lost a pair of games last week after having looked dominant over his first two starts of the season. The righty surrendered nine runs and 13 hits over nine innings in the pair of defeats. Noah Syndergaard was also whacked around a bit, allowing nine runs on 14 hits over a dozen innings.
New closer Edwin Diaz has been everything that Mets could have hoped since coming over from Seattle. The 25-year-old entered this week with five Saves having allowed one run with a 10/1 K:BB ratio over his first 5.2 innings with the club.
Key injuries: Veteran infielder Todd Frazier will be activated during this week’s series with the Phillies. The 33-year-old began the year on the IL with a left oblique strain. He is likely to slot in as an infield backup who sees most of his time at third base when either he gets hot or McNeil and J.D. Davis are cold. Jed Lowrie has been out since spring with a sprained knee capsule that has been slow in healing. He is taking batting practice but has not played the field and is still likely weeks away. There remains no timetable on outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who could miss months, or could miss the season.
Upcoming: The Mets travel south on I-95 to meet the Phillies for the first time this season with the early lead in the NL East on the line. New York then flies out to visit the tough Saint Louis Cardinals over the weekend at the conclusion of a 10-game road trip.
WASHINGTON NATIONALS (3 – 3)
Summary: The Nationals began the week by taking two of three from the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, with their offense exploding for 25 runs to win the final two games. But the Nats then dropped two of three over last weekend to Pennsylvania’s other team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, scoring just three runs in each of the three games at home in Nationals Park.
Pending free agent Anthony Rendon remains on fire in the early week’s of the season. The third baseman slashed .360/.370/. 760 on the week with a pair of homers, eight RBI, and a half-dozen runs scored and extra-base hits. Rendon leads the Nats with six homers, 14 extra-base hits, 17 RBI, and 18 runs scored.
The Nats have really missed shortstop Trea Turne, lost when he was hit on the hand while trying to bunt against the Phillies last week. His hot bat and big-time speed have been replaced by Wilmer Difo, who is slashing just .184/.262/.263 with little production over 43 plate appearances this season.
On the mound, Max Scherzer is off to another ace-level start. Over his first four starts the righty has allowed 24 hits across 27 innings with a 35/10 K:BB ratio. Jeremy Hellickson. the Phillies starter on Opening Day in both 2016 and 2017, returned to Citizens Bank Park and shut his old club down over six strong innings last Wednesday.
New lefty Patrick Corbin has gone at least six innings in each of his first three outings with the team. He gave a strong seven-innings performance with 11 strikeouts while surrendering just four hits against Pittsburgh, but was let down by his offense and bullpen in a 6-3 loss over the weekend.
Key injuries: Turner has begun the early stages of rehab work as he starts to recover from the broken finger. It is anticipated that he will miss up to five more weeks, so the Nationals will have to do without their spark plug until the end of May.
Upcoming: The Nationals will host the San Francisco Giants to open this week. The club then heads out on a road trip to Miami over the coming weekend and then on out to Colorado for a three-game set at Coors Field to open next week.
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