If you think that this race is between the Phillies and the Mets, you are absolutely wrong. I look at this division as a very flawed division; every team has at least one major weakness.
I am going to break down the race as we are more than a month into the season. However, I will not focus on the Nationals because they are simply out of the race already.
Right now the Phillies are half a game over the Mets and the Marlins for first place and the Braves are three games back.
However, the Phillies pitching is not the type of pitching that will take you deep in the postseason. With a 5.41 team ERA, the Phillies don’t have a starter with an ERA under 5.35, although Hamels had a good outing yesterday, striking out 7 and giving up 2 earned runs off an Omar Infante home run.
The Phillies, however, have hit the ball very well with red-hot starts from Raul Ibanez, who has established himself as a fan favorite and Chase Utley who has a .315 average and nine homers.
Ibanez is even hotter, batting .340 with eight dingers. However, Jimmy Rollins the 2007 MVP has not been himself lately batting a abysmal .211, he is the table setter.
The Phillies are hitting the ball very well and are the best in baseball in hitting with the bases loaded. But here is my question, do you think that the Phillies pitching will get it together.
Chan Ho Park is pitching for his job right now although he was pitched well his last start against the Mets. There are some options; Carlos Carrasco is the top pitching prospect and J.A. Happ, although I am not sold on as a starter is the leading candidate to replace Blanton or Park.
The thing that worries me is that Lidge has not been lights-out; he has given up five homers in 11 starts, and he currently has an 8.49 ERA.
Another guy is Jamie Moyer, who I kept saying that the team should not have given him a two-year deal in the offseason and should have pursued a free agent such as Derek Lowe.
The question will be the pitching down the stretch; however, it is good to have Cole Hamels solidifying the rotation every fifth day.
The Mets are only a half a game back of the Phillies. The Mets pitching has not been great; Oliver Perez has been sent down to the bullpen after his woeful start against the Phillies.
Pelfrey and Maine both have ERAs over five. Pelfrey, however, is 4-0. But let’s look at the other side of the Mets rotation; Johan Santana has been stellar so far with 0.91 ERA and a 4-1 record.
Santana has looked like the best pitcher in this division if not the entire NL. Look for Santana to be the stopper every fifth day. If Johan Santana keeps pitching this way, he will be tough to beat.
The Mets lineup has been hitting well, as a team they are hitting a nice .281. Beltran is red hot batting an NL-leading .382, and he is one of seven to bat over .300 in this potent Mets lineup.
However, Jose Reyes is not one of those seven, he is batting a mediocre .254. Looking back on last year, the Mets bullpen was horrendous; the difference between the Phillies and the Mets was the bullpen.
Omar Minaya went out and addressed the issue bringing in Francisco Rodriguez, the top free agent relief pitcher, and J.J. Putz who is the best insurance policy in baseball.
Both have not disappointed; K-Rod has 9 saves with a 1.32 ERA; Putz is 1-2 with a 3.71 ERA. The question with this team is how the rotation will shape up when Santana and Pelfrey who I am still not sold on, are not on the mound.
The Marlins started out red hot, but have cooled off lately; the Marlins are standing at 16-14 and are tied with the Mets for a half a game out of first place.
The Marlins have good young pitching with Josh Johnson who is a 25 year old right hander who is an absolute stud. Johnson is 2-0 with a 2.57 ERA and looks like a top of the rotation starter for many years to come.
Chris Volstad also looks good 2.97 ERA, and a 2-1 record. The team has a 4.45 ERA which is average, but Ricky Nolasco who was the opening day starter is struggling a little bit with an ERA of 6.63 and a 2-3 record.
The bullpen has not been pitching great, Matt Lindstrom the closer has an ERA of 6.00 and has blown two saves already. The hitting has been average although Jorge Cantu has 31 RBIs which puts him fourth overall in the MLB in terms of RBI.
Hanley Ramirez, who was my preseason pick for the MVP award, was injured but is back and batting .327 with 6 homers and 17 RBIs. Dan Uggla and Cameron Maybin both have not hit the ball well batting .190 and .202, respectively.
However, the Marlins need Uggla to step up. In my mind the Marlins have a good pitching staff and will go as far as it takes them.
The Marlins struggle defensively, they don’t field the ball too good Cantu and Uggla have two and four errors respectively.
Cantu, I can understand, because he is making the switch from third base to first base, but Uggla’s four errors are inexcusable; later defense will haunt them.
The Braves are having the best pitching in this division as a team they have a 4.16 ERA. Derek Lowe has been a stud with a 3.98 ERA with a 4-1 record.
I always thought Lowe was an ace, withone of the nastiest sinkers in the game. Javier Vazquez has proved to be a nice pickup with a 2-3 record and 4.19 ERA.
But Jair Jurrjens, the young pitcher from Curacao, has been lights out with a 2.01 ERA and over 40 innings pitched; he is the real deal and will be a great pitcher with years to come.
The Braves also have the top pitching prospect in the minors, Tommy Hanson, who is the reason that the Braves did not agree to the Jake Peavy trade, this tells you that this guy is that good.
I am not sold on the Braves bullpen. Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez are not dominant closers; will they get it done?
The Braves have no power in their lineup, they do not have a player who has over 3 homers and as a team they only have 24.
They bat .256 as a team, Chipper Jones is still the leader of the team and is their best hitter, and Jones is batting a solid .298 but only 11 RBI.
If this team stays healthy and the chips fall for them, this team still has a legitimate shot at the post-season. You just can’t rule them out because of their pitching.