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Baseball is back in the nation's capital as the Washington Nationals head into the break leading the NL East
If you looked at the standings in the National League East, you might think they had been upside down. No way would I have expected the Washington Nationals to be in first place and the Philadelphia Phillies to be in last.
However, Washington seems to be doing just about everything right, and in Philadelphia, nothing seems to be going right.
Washington Nationals: 49-34
Atlanta Braves: 46-39 (4 Games Back)
New York Mets: 46-40 (4.5 GB)
Miami Marlins: 41-44 (9 GB)
Philadelphia Phillies: 37-50 (14 GB)
The good news about having consecutive awful seasons is you get consecutive high draft picks. It's even better news when those draft picks are Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.
Coming off Tommy John Surgery last year, Strasburg has shown no signs of a tired arm or lingering injury while starting off the campaign with a 9-4 record and 2.82 ERA. Bryce Harper, making his debut in the major leagues at just 19 years old, is also doing well, hitting .282.
The Nationals currently have the best pitching in baseball yielding the lowest ERA, WHIP and BAA.
The acquisition of Gio Gonzalez prior to the season has paid major dividends as he contends for a Cy Young award mid-way through, posting a 12-3 record and 2.92 ERA.
The Nats have three starters with ERA's under 3.00, and Tyler Clippard is holding down the back end of the bullpen with a 1.93 ERA. Offensively, the Nationals need to step it up at the plate; however, they are hoping that with Jayson Werth coming back from an injured wrist, they will hold off contenders in the NL East.
The Atlanta Braves let a chance at post-season play slip away last year on the last day of the regular season, and that bad taste left in their mouth has carried them to a great start in 2012. Closer Craig Kimbrel is a big reason why and is off to a start that has Mariano Rivera looking over his shoulder. OK maybe not yet, but Kimbrel's 25 saves and sub-1.40 ERA are keeping Atlanta's late leads safe.
At the plate, the Braves big guns Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann are on pace for 100 RBI seasons, and Michael Bourn is setting the table with a .311 BA and 25 steals.
The New York Mets weren't expected to do much this season, but they have stolen a lot of the headlines. Prior to this season, the Mets had never had a no-hitter thrown by one of their pitchers until Johan Santana did it earlier this year. Veteran R.A. Dickey then threw a one-hitter that was later challenged by the team before ultimately being ruled good.
Dickey has come out of nowhere from a journeyman to an ace with a 12-1 record. Offensively, David Wright is a one man wrecking crew, hitting .351 and 59 RBI's.
Miami spent a ton this off-season between building a new stadium, getting flashy uniforms, hiring an explosive manager and of course, improving their roster. The result: Fourth place in the division and nine games back at the break. New addition Jose Reyes is batting just .264, Hanley Ramirez just .248 and Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson are both .500 for the year.
Giancarlo Stanton has showcased some moonshots with his 19 home runs, but the team is a long ways away from reaching its potential and expectations.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment in all of baseball this year is the Philadelphia Phillies. When Ryan Howard went down on the final out in the NLDS loss last year to eventual champ St Louis, everyone knew it would be hard to fill his shoes for the start of this season.
No one expected it to be this bad.
Howard has returned this past week along with Chase Utley, who has missed a significant amount of time to injury as well.
Even with Howard and Utley back, fans are seeing usual stars struggle significantly. Placido Polanco is batting just .266, Jimmy Rollins just .256 and Shane Victorino only .245. On the mound, two of the game's best are also having perhaps the worst starts of their careers. Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee are a combined 5-10 and both have ERA's barely under 4.00.
With the Phillies sitting at 14 games back at the break, they could be sellers at the deadline. Ruben Amaro Jr. said in mid-May that the team would be trading assets if they were not in contention near trade deadline time. Many teams appear to be interested in pitcher Cole Hamels. (10-4 3.20 ERA). Even with Howard and Utley back healthy, it appears unlikely that the Phillies will be showing much fight come September.