If you were listening to the national media during the offseason, the talk was about the significant improvements the Phillies and Mets made to their rosters. And until they actually do it, the Nationals will be predicted to win the NL East, the NL pennant, the World Series, and maybe even the Super Bowl. That Atlanta mostly stood pat meant that they were DOOOOOOOMED.
But a third of the way through the season, it hasn’t completely happened that way. IWOTM has continued to be true, the Nationals continue to be the team that should be better but is not, and the Phils, as expected, have been quite good but have not been able to pull away from the rest of the division. The Braves, also as expected, are pretty good but with glaring holes that they refused to fix in the offseason.
The Nationals are the biggest surprise. They’re not 9 games below .500 because their starters have disappointed. Their 3.88 starters ERA ranks 7th in baseball. But their position player core, now short one Bryce Harper, has not hit well. If you thought that our young players were due for some sort of regression but the likes of Victor Robles were ready to break out, then you’re probably surprised to see that that also hasn’t happened. But the big problem with the Nationals is their bullpen. You think ours has been a dumpster fire? Well, yeah, that has been true at times, but the Nats have used almost as many relievers as we have, and all but Sean Dolittle have completely sucked. Our 4.29 ERA needs improvement, but their 7.25 ERA — no, that’s not a typo — should cost Rizzo his job.
The Mets… ya know, they really weren’t that much improved from last year. They added Diaz, sure, and Cano is a big name, but they’re largely the same team they were last year. And they’ve pretty much played like it; while their pitching has been about a half run per game better, their offense and defense are largely the same. But they’re probably the one team from this division that could be better than what they’ve shown, so I think they’re the team I’m keeping my eye on still.
The Phillies are a really good team. They’ve scored one less run per game than Atlanta, but it’s in one less game. Their team ERA is right there with Atlanta (Atlanta’s 4.09 is just ahead of their 4.11). The glaring difference is on defense; Philly has a -10 defensive runs saved (20th in baseball) vs. Atlanta’s +15 (11th). But Philly only has 5 blown saves, and Atlanta has 9, so that’s a big reason for their difference in the standings. I felt like Atlanta has the houses on the mound to outlast Philly, though, and that is unchanged.
Speaking of pitching and blown saves, though, keep in mind that the NL East could be heavily swayed by what happens with Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel. The Braves, Mets, and Phillies could all probably use Keuchel, maybe even the Nats too. And all 4 could use Kimbrel. 2 of the only 3 teams that have more blown saves than the Braves are the Mets and Nationals. The Nats may think they’re already too far out of it to throw money at Kimbrel, and we don’t know if the Mets have the money for Kimbrel, but adding Kimbrel to the Mets bullpen would make them a much more formidable foe. Adding Keuchel to the aforementioned teams could change things considerably as well.
As has been mentioned, the Phils have a tough part of their schedule coming up; the Braves have an easier one. It’ll be really interesting to see if the Braves’ good pen work can continue, and the Phils play the way you’d expect against tougher competition. If those two things go as expected, we might be able to pass them. We shall see.