The NL East: Mets are the big surprise

We all knew that the National League East would be a tough division from the start of spring training, and so far this has held true. Everyone expected a four-horse race amomg Phillies, Braves, Nationals and Marlins, but that hasn’t really been the case.

In my last report, I talked about the Mets’ hot start being fluky, about the Marlins’ cold streak being a little bit expected, and about how the Phillies were going to have to wake up offensively if they were going to be in the thick of things come September. This all being said, the division was up for grabs for all teams, and as we head into trade season, this still holds true.

Philadelphia Phillies (29-33)

Despite still not having Chase Utley and Ryan Howard back, the Phillies have managed to be a middle-of-the-pack offense. They have posted a 95 wRC+ and a .316 wOBA, which while not great, are better than expected with their lineup. Carlos Ruiz continues to be their biggest bat (.411 wOBA) while Shane Victorino (.333) and Ty Wigginton (.332) continue to be solid contributors. Also, since the last time I’ve written, Hunter Pence has picked up putting above average numbers up (124 wRC+). Jimmy Rollins (.288) is going to have to step things up, though.

On the mound, the Phillies have been as solid as expected. Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels have both pitched to ERAs below three (2.92 and 2.93, respectively). Vance Worley (3.84 FIP) has been a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy while Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick are holding down the fort on the back end. Roy Halladay’s shoulder injury, however, is hurting them quite a bit; not having that almost definite quality start every fifth day is a big loss. In the pen, it’s been all Jonathan Papelbon and Antonio Bastardo. They have both been as good as expected, but the Phillies need some others to help.

The Phils obviously have some talent both at the plate and on the mound, but it looks like they’ll need a little more to climb above the four teams above them. They’re going to need Utley, Howard, and Halladay back before they can start making up some serious ground.

Miami Marlins (31-29)

Despite the controversy surrounding Ozzie Guillen and the rough start, the Marlins find themselves only five games out of first place. Their offense hasn’t exactly been great, but Hanley Ramirez (.353 wOBA) and Giancarlo Stanton (.403) have been carrying the lineup. Omar Infante (120 wRC+) and Jose Reyes (103) have both been solid also, but you have to expect a little more out of the latter. Logan Morrison and Gaby Sanchez have both been disappointments, and Sanchez was actually demoted to Triple-A.

The starting pitching has been decent, led by Anibal Sanchez (2.90 FIP). Carlos Zambrano and Mark Buehrle have both pitched to ERAs below four, and while his FIP sits at 2.90, Josh Johnson is giving up quite a few runs (4.56 ERA). The pen has only been okay; Randy Choate and Steve Cishek have been solid setting up, and Heath Bell has gotten better as the closer. He’s down to a 4.23 FIP.

The expectations were high for this team and so far they’ve been up and down. They’re going to need Morrison and the newly re-called Sanchez to step up on offense while Johnson and most of the pen need to get it going on the bump. I think they’ll be around this spot in the standings by the next time I report in July.

New York Mets (32-29)

The Mets may be the biggest surprise of the year. A lot of people expected them to be historically bad in 2012; I thought they could pull out a solid 75 wins. So far they have proved everyone wrong behind an all-around solid team. Their offense is led by David Wright and his ridiculous .434 wOBA. Lucas Duda (.349 wOBA) and Kirk Nieuwenhuis (.328) have been solid in the outfield corners, while guys like Scott Hairston (eight homers) have helped off the bench. Ike Davis and Jason Bay (yet again) have been very disappointing.

In the rotation, R.A. Dickey, Johan Santana and Dillon Gee all have FIPs in the threes. Dickey especially has been dominating, with a K:BB ratio greater than 4:1. Jon Niese has been solid too, although homers have hurt him and Jeremy Hefner has been hanging in there. In the back end, Tim Byrdak, Bobby Parnell, and Miguel Batista have been pretty good. Frank Francisco has been very streaky even though he has 15 saves while Ramon Ramirez has a good FIP despite a rough ERA.

The Mets have overachieved in almost every way and even had a share of first place last week. But since then, they have lost six of seven and you have to think that they may be coming down to earth.

Atlanta Braves (34-26)

The Braves are kind of the forgotten team in this division and, I think, underrated. They’ve been getting great production from their lineup as Michael Bourn, Martin Prado, Dan Uggla, and Jayson Heyward all have wOBAs over .335. Although the power is there, Freddie Freeman has been struggling a little bit (.299 OBP) and Brian McCann hasn’t been his usual self, hitting only .240.

In their starting rotation, Brandon Beachy has been unbelievable, with an ERA below two, while Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson and Randall Delgado have all been pretty good. Mike Minor and Jair Jurrjens’ struggles have not helped, however. In the bullpen, Craig Kimbrel has been his great self while Cristhian Martinez, Livan Hernandez, Kris Medlan and Jonny Venters have all been solid.

The Braves have been pretty solid all around, but they need McCann and Freeman to step up a little bit if they want to surpass Washington. The talent is obviously here, as it was last year, and with the extra wild card, they should make the playoffs somehow.

Washington Nationals (35-23)

The Nationals have been an exciting team to watch because of their youth and explosiveness. On offense, Bryce Harper has exploded on to the scene since being called up (.377 wOBA). Adam LaRoche and Steve Lombardozzi have also been solid pieces in the lineup since Ian Desmond and Danny Espinoza have struggled and Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman have battled injuries.

On the mound is really where this team has excelled. Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson all have ERAs and FIPs below four and have formed a formidable rotation in the early going while Ross Detwiler has been great as a fifth starter. In the bullpen, Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett and Craig Stammen have locked down games in the late innings.

The “R” in WAR
How a person can be a hero by being a zero.

The pitching has been there for the Nats, but if they can get Desmond, Zimmerman and Espinoza going and Werth back playing the way he was before his injury, they could easily take this division. It’s an odd thought, but it’s true.

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Will H.
Will H.

Nice writeup, but a few things about the Nats: Ian Desmond has the 8th highest WAR among shortstops… not sure what he has to get going. Also, while it is true that Detwiler WAS great as the 5th starter, that hasn’t been true for a month now: after giving up 17 runs over 20 innings in his last four starts, he has been demoted to the pen. But you’re right about the front four… even understating it by noting their ERAs are all below four. Only EJax is above 3, and that’s a 3.11.

Dave I
Dave I

For the Mets, the two areas of concern are minor ones:  pitching and defense.  Specifically bullpen pitching. 

The Mets bullpen is 30th in ERA, 27th in FIP, 26th in xFIP, 25th in WAR, 18th in Shut Downs, 30th in Melt Downs, 30th in Blown Saves and 26th in Save Percentage. 

Defensively, they’re 26th in errors, 27th in Fielding Percentage, 20th in Assists, 15th in Put Outs, 20th in Unearned Runs allowed, 30th in UZR and UZR/150.  This is not one of those times where someone might say the stats don’t match what you see on the field.