It is entirely way too early to tell being only nine, some ten, games into the season but let’s take a look at how the NL East is shaping up thus far. I believe it was Toby Keith who said, “I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then, I wish I could start this whole thing over again.”
He was most definitely talking about a girl there, but some GM’s might be singing the same song after this first week and a half of the 2010 season. Going into the season teams have high expectations about their club without ultimately knowing how they will finish. I can think of a couple teams that probably wish they were back at .500 (0-0).
So far, the Phillies, Braves, Nationals and Mets have each played nine games while the Marlins have competed in 10. Most teams have made it at least twice through their pitching rotation, shuffled players between the DL, majors and minors, and have seen streaks and slumps broken.
Let’s get started shall we. We will start from the bottom of the division. And this has nothing to do with saving the best for last (Phillies, which they are) or exploiting that the Mets are in last place (which is admittedly awesome), it is about starting with bad news first and ending with the good. Just like any meeting should progress.
New York Mets (3-6)
A preseason pick of 4th place in the division seems generous at this point but appears to be a good landing place for the Metropolitans once the season comes to a halt late October. Coming into this season expectations were high, but then again you could not get much worse than last season.
The Mets are still a little sluggish from Spring Training and all the injury updates. Carlos Beltran and Daniel Murphy are still on the DL with projected returns for early May. Jose Reyes is back but has only played in 5 games and is hitting just .261. He’s really not seeing the ball well having no homeruns or RBIs, and has struck out six times. New York is currently ranked 10th in the National League in hitting with a .243 batting average. There are only five teams who have hit fewer homeruns (9) than the Mets. So far the offense is averaging only 4.4 runs this season.
The pitching rotation consists of Johan Santana and then, um, well actually no clue. The staff is just barely in the top half of the NL in ERA at 4.33. Which isn’t too much of a surprise considering after Santana the rotation skips a few tiers of talent. To our surprise Mike Pelfrey has really stepped his game up this year. He has two of the teams three wins, boasting a 1.38 ERA in 13 IP and only allowing nine hits while striking out 10 and walking just four batters.
The pitching will continue to be shaky and the offense not strong enough to support their high ERAs. Look for New York to continue to sink at the bottom of the NL East.
Washington Nationals (4-5)
The Nationals are off to one of their better starts in years. And to many people’s surprise, it has nothing to do with superstar sensation #1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg. He will get his time soon. So, despite having one of the lowest (.233, only Braves and Astros are worse) batting averages the Nats have somehow found a way to win four out of their first nine games. With two of them coming at the hands of the defending National League Champs the Philadelphia Phillies, it seems like this season might be the one where they venture out of the realm of the NL East Forgotten.
Veteran catcher Ivan Rodriguez is once again showing these kids how to hit with a team leading .407. Josh Willingham is hitting .333 with 2 HR and 9 RBIs (both team lead). The usually dangerous 1-2 punch of Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn is only hitting .250/.185 respectively with a homer a piece and six RBIs between them.
The offseason addition of Jason Marquis has not worked out quite as expected. The notorious inning eater has lasted only 8 1/3 innings through two starts while watching his ERA skyrocket to 12.96. Now that would be bad enough, yet unfortunately for Washington that is not the highest ERA amongst starters. Craig Stammen is ballooning at 15.63 with only 6 1/3 innings pitched as a starter. Throw in five other pitchers with +7 ERAs and the Nationals are second to last in team ERA (7.04) but are, interestingly enough, tied for first in saves (4).
The Nationals will not even sniff the top of the division this season but will generate a lot of buzz while an early mid-summer call up for Strasburg is pretty inevitable at this point.
Atlanta Braves (5-4)
In the last season for Bobby Cox, the Braves will be looking to get back to the top of the division. A view they have not seen since 2005, the last of their 11-year streak as NL East Champs.
Hopes were high coming into the season opener finally having Tim Hudson back from injury. He was a huge signing for Atlanta but just could not stay healthy. Also the power-hitting rookie Jason Heyward was making highlight reels and dents during Spring Training with towering homers. The rookie is hitting .303 with 3 HR and 12 RBIs. The surprise for this offense is 2B Martin Prado hitting .459. A great batting average but with no one hitting in front of him has only allowed him to pick up 2 RBIs. Catcher Brian McCann is sitting comfortably 46 points above .300 where he will probably hover all season long. 3B Chipper Jones is having problems both with his oblique and at the plate (.150)
The pitching staff has been throwing well. Three of the five starters (Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Kenshin Kawakami) possess an ERA of 3.00 or lower. Hanson has struck out 14 hitters in 11 1/3 innings but has walked seven batters as well. Billy Wagner is back closing ball games and already has a save and 10 K in 5 IP. The Braves have a good pairing of a talented line-up and rotation. I don’t think they have enough to overtake the Phillies though. At least not this year.
Florida Marlins (6-4)
Ah the Florida Marlins. The team where you will rarely hear an announcer saying “And in his 5th year with the club, is….” Guys just don’t stick around too long here. The Marlins are best known for their ‘fire sale’ after winning their first World Series after the ’97 season in which they traded all their star players claiming financial troubles from the front office.
While Florida has won two WS titles, they are still in search of their first division win. Both playoff appearances came via the Wild Card. Per usual, Florida is a young and talented team again this year. Five guys in the starting lineup are hitting .300 or better with overall team average at .278. 1B Jorge Cantu has at least one hit and an RBI in every game this season; a new Major League record. He has 15 RBIs in the first 10 games.
No one from the starting rotation has really stepped up as the clear-cut ace. Josh Johnson has logged the most innings thus far with 16. In those, he has struck out 20 while walking eight batters. The bullpen looks ok, mixing in Save chances amongst three different guys.
The Marlins are always going to be an exciting team to watch. Always going to score runs. It is their pitching staff that will hinder them from climbing the ladder to overtake the Phillies.
Philadelphia Phillies (7-2)
The Phillies are in a share of the Major League lead in win percentage with the San Francisco Giants at .778. They have won seven of their first nine games with ridiculous offense and tremendous pitching from Roy Halladay and Company.
Oh man where do I begin. Not counting ABs, the Phillies are in the NL Top 3 for every offensive category. They are leading the Majors in Runs, RBIs, Total Bases, and Slugging Percentage. It is one of the greatest offensive starts for not just the Phillies, but of any team in Major League history.
Newly acquired 3B Placido Polanco is leading the team (and Majors) with a .475 average. Besides a 0 for 3 against Houston on April 11, Polanco has collected at least two hits in every game this year. Chase Utley is tied for the NL home run lead with Albert Pujols at 5. Ryan Howard is 4th in RBIs.
Take a look at these numbers of offensive domination. Out of the top 25 for AVG, HR, and RBIs the Phillies 4, 3, and 4 players on those lists respectively.
Can the Phillies keep up this pace? Probably not but 100 wins is not out of the question here. Aside from Jimmy Rollins, the Phils need to stay healthy and spread the wealth. They have done a great job of not depending on one or two players to win the game. Up to this point in the season it has truly been a team effort.
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