NL East Power Rankings: What Team Is the Safest Bet to Take the Pennant?
The National League East has proven to be one of the most exciting and competitive divisions in baseball in 2012.
This season, the division has already given us a 19-year-old superstar, a no-hitter, dominant pitching and a ridiculous sculpture.
Only five games separate the first and last place teams in the division, and only two games separate the top four teams.
With the division race so tight, anyone could take the division, but which team is the favorite to pull ahead as we enter the second third of the baseball calendar?
Here are the NL East rankings at this point in the season.
5. Philadelphia Phillies (28-29)
The Philadelphia Phillies are the five-time reigning champions in the NL East, but they are at risk of finishing the season in the cellar.
Philadelphia is the only team in the division under .500 with a 28-29 record.
The Phillies seem to be doing things right when you look at their stats. They are fifth in the majors in batting, and their pitchers have recorded the second most quality starts with 37.
Philadelphia has struggled to score runs for their superstar starting pitchers in 2012. Cliff Lee has yet to record a win, despite having an ERA and WHIP below his career average.
Philly has also struggled in close games. In one-run games this season, they are only 5-9, the worst of any team in the East
Starters Roy Halladay and Joe Blanton have also struggled, both posting 4-5 records thus far. Halladay was forced to go on the DL last week as well.
The Phillies are not a safe bet to win the East just yet. The injury bug has plagued the team all year. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley have yet to play in a game this season. The San Francisco Chronicle reports the infielders are just now beginning their returns in extended spring training.
Until the Phillies are healthy and the run support comes, they will remain the least likely team to win the NL East.
4. Miami Marlins (31-24)
The Miami Marlins have made a lot of noise with their loud look, innovative stadium and young talent.
Miami started the season cold, going 8-14 in April. Since, they have a record of 23-10. Led by the powerful Giancarlo Stanton, Miami has gone from last to second in a little over a month's time.
Still, Miami isn't very likely to keep their strong start going into the summer.
The Marlins have seemed to be a streaky team with plenty of young talent, but they're lacking the veteran leadership a team needs to reach a division title.
Veteran free-agent signing Jose Reyes has played well, but he has not lived up to the expectations for him when he signed a huge contract to play in Miami. Reyes, the defending NL batting champion, is only hitting .278, but he is leading the team with 60 hits. His slugging percentage has also dropped to .363.
Despite some success at the plate, the Marlins still have a minus-six run differential. Their pitchers have had trouble striking opponents out and are No. 15 in the NL with only 369.
The Marlins will have to play well for another month or two before they can be seriously considered a favorite in the NL East.
3. New York Mets (31-25)
The New York Mets have a very bright and competitive future within this division.
After losing Jose Reyes to Miami and not signing any big-name free agents during the offseason, the Mets have pieced together a team with a winning attitude and the drive to take them far.
New York gets its winning pedigree from David Wright. The veteran third baseman is second in the NL in hitting with a .362 average, but he had been above .400 for a good amount of time.
The Mets have been able to succeed by having the NL's fourth best on-base percentage as well.
New York's starting pitching has been dominant due to two veterans: R.A. Dickey and Johan Santana.
Dickey has just been lights-out this season. He's 8-1 with a 2.69 ERA thus far. The knuckleballer has been complemented by former ace Johan Santana. In his last two starts, Johan has thrown complete-game shutouts, including a no-hitter. Santana is coming off shoulder surgery that caused him to miss all of 2011.
The new-look Mets are a young team that is getting healthy at the right time. With Santana and Dickey firing on all cylinders, Jason Bay will return to the team Wednesday.
As the young Mets mature and find their place in the division, they will compete for the title, but they shouldn't be the favorites just yet.
2. Atlanta Braves (30-25)
The Atlanta Braves are currently two games back in the NL East.
Atlanta is getting support on offense from Martin Prado, who is leading the team in batting with a .328 average.
Dan Uggla has also been hitting the ball well for the Braves. Uggla currently leads the team with 10 homers and is tied for fifth in the NL with 37 RBI.
Atlanta's starting pitching has been helpful as well. Young guns Tommy Hansen and Brandon Beachy have both pitched well for Atlanta, and they are complemented by veteran Tim Hudson.
Beachy leads the NL with a 1.87 ERA and is fifth with a 0.95 WHIP this season. Hansen leads the team in strikeouts, as well, with 63.
Hudson returned to the team at the end of April from spinal fusion surgery and has played well since. He has improved as well, recording a complete-game shutout against Miami in his last start.
Atlanta is a veteran team with some young talent, and they have the leadership to take them far. While they are not in position to win the division today, they will be close in the race throughout the year.
1. Washington Nationals (31-22)
The Washington Nationals have finally transformed from the lowly relocated team to a contender.
With a multitude of young talent, the Nats are in position to take a stronghold of the NL East over the next few months.
In his second season with Washington, Adam LaRoche has been an offensive asset. LaRoche leads the team with eight homers and 35 RBI to go along with his .360 on-base percentage.
Rookie phenom Bryce Harper has been extremely helpful to Washington's success as well. In his first year in the majors, Harper has already hit five homers, good for fourth among NL rookies. Harper has also driven in 14 runs.
Washington's real strength is their pitching. Starter Gio Gonzalez has been lights-out for the Nats. Thus far, Gonzalez leads the NL with 84 strikeouts and is fourth in the NL with a 2.31 ERA. He has also recorded a 7-2 record and has a WHIP of 1.03.
Stephen Strasburg's 2.35 ERA is good for fifth in the NL, as he has put up a 6-1 record. He is also fifth in the NL with 79 strikeouts.
Washington should be able to keep their strong performance up. If the Nats can do that, they will be looking at their first playoff appearance since calling Montreal home.