The All-Star festivities are over, and now it's time for baseball fans to look to the second half of the MLB season.
I'm a Braves fan, but I still know a lot about the other NL East teams, so I'll give a second-half preview of the whole division. I'll be talking about the teams in order of their current position in the division standings.
The Phillies won in the first half because of their offense—they averaged five runs per game. But their ERA was still 3.90—good for tenth in the majors.
However, I don't how that could be, only two of their pitchers have at least a .500 record. And that can't be good considering how many runs their pitchers usually have to work with. Signs of a very weak staff.
If the Phillies want to win the division and stave off the Mets and Marlins their starting pitching must get better.
If it wasn't for Brad Lidge—who is a perfect 20-for-20 in save opportunities this season—the Phillies would be ten games lower in the standings, all the way down there with the pathetic Braves and Nationals.
Phillies fans should pray Brad Lidge doesn't get hurt in the second half.
New York Mets:
The management change seems to have been just what the doctor ordered for the Mets; since interim manager Jerry Manuel took over the reigns from Willie Randolph, Mets have won 17-of-25 games leading up to the All-Star Break (since June 17). That span includes a nine-game win streak through last Sunday's game against the Rockies.
But six of the games in their run prior to the All-Star Break were against teams at least five games under .500. New York played three games against both the Giants and the Rockies- neither is better than third in the NL West, the worst division in baseball this year.
The biggest question mark for New York is to see how they return from the Break with a depleted roster under an interim manager—granted, ostensibly a very good manager.
The Marlins started out strong by scoring lots of runs—many of them on home runs (they lead the majors with 135). But their pitching has merely been average—their ERA is 4.68 (27th in the MLB). This inability to keep opposing offenses at bay is slowly catching up to them.
Florida was at .600 as late as May 26, at 30-20. Since then they've gone 20-25; most of the games they've won during this stretch were close (decided by two runs or less) and their losses have either been close or by very wide margins.
This shows that their pitchers haven't been able to keep the other team on a short leash, or the game tied.
However, their hitting still seems to be consistently good in high-pressure situations, as they have won a fair amount of close games themselves.
There are two problems that have kept the Braves out of contention since early June—hitting inconsistency and injuries.
Nine players who were on the Braves' opening day roster are on the DL.
Ace John Smoltz is out for the year after having shoulder surgery. He may or may not be back for the 2009 season.
Peter Moylan and Manny Acosta, both thought to play integral setup roles this year, are on the DL. Moylan had season-ending surgery in early May and Acosta is on the 15-Day DL nursing his right hamstring, which could keep him out of action for another week or so.
Closer Rafael Soriano is only on the 15-Day DL, and in a report originally published by the Braves' official website Jul. 5, it was said that after throwing two bullpen sessions he didn't feel any pain in his injured elbow. Hopefully he's gotten further into his rehab since.
Tom Glavine, a free agent acquisition this past off season, has been mostly ineffective in his starts, and he has dealt with a bothersome left elbow since mid-June.
And of course once-prominent starter Mike Hampton injured his left pectoral muscle while warming up before his first start of the season. He has been rehabbing the injury since.
Utility man Omar Infante strained his left hamstring in late June has not seen action since. He is on the 15-Day DL.
Left fielder Matt Diaz has been on the DL since late May when he was diagnosed with a partially torn posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He was originally expected to miss four to six weeks. Wait—if that's the case, shouldn't he be back by now? Uh oh...
Not to mention rising star Yunel Escobar and veteran superstar Chipper Jones have both missed multiple games due to injury.
All those injuries are bad enough, but you have to find a way to win anyway, and the Braves haven't done that. Their pitching has been great, despite the depleted staff, but the healthy part of the lineup hasn't done anything. And it's not like they've faced insanely tough pitching, either.
To make the playoffs the Braves must start hitting, get some of their injured players back, and start consistently winning against division rivals.
It seems the Braves aren't the only team to have been bitten by the injury bug.
Team catalyst and first baseman Nick Johnson has been out since May 13 with a wrist injury discovered to be a torn tendon sheath two days later. He has since had surgery to repair it and been counted out for action until 2009.
Fan favorite third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has not played since June 3 because of a labral tear in his left shoulder. He first suffered the injury May 18 when sliding into second in Baltimore.
But injuries aside, the Nationals just aren't that good. As a team they rank 30th in the league in batting average (.239), 23rd in HR (70), and 30th in RBI (332).
With regards to pitching, the Nationals rank 22nd in the MLB in ERA at 4.40. But they do have six shutouts, which ranks 8th. They've converted 18-of-37 save opportunities (27th). That indicates that they're average in close games.
To make the playoffs the Nationals will have to completely turn things around, and fast. And that's not happening—not with Nick Johnson and Ryan Zimmerman out until who-knows-when—get used to the cellar, Nats fans.
My prediction for the division crown right now is the Mets because they seem to be vastly improved under Jerry Manuel. They're primed for a run to the division title and the playoffs.