New York Mets Are NL East Front Runners, Not Atlanta Braves

Justin NormanCorrespondent IJuly 15, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO - MAY 17:  Carlos Beltran #15 of the New York Mets bats against the San Francisco Giants during a Major League Baseball game on May17, 2009 at AT&T Park in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Yesterday, the Atlanta Braves shipped their troubled shortstop Yunel Escobar to the Toronto Blue Jays for shortstop Alex Gonzalez. The Braves also gave up reliever Jo-Jo Reyes in return for two minor league prospects, pitcher Tim Collins, and shortstop Tyler Pastornicky.

In the aftermath of the trade between the Atlanta Braves and the Toronto Blue Jays, the talk is that this move has cemented the Braves as the cream of the crop in the tough NL East. It is also thought that the Braves got rid of their clubhouse cancer and added another shortstop who can come in and have a more positive effect on the team both on and off the field. 

While I can't deny that this trade was a good one for the Braves, who have clearly been fed up with Escobar's antics of late, I'm not buying the notion that this catapults the Braves into NL East front runners.

Not too far behind the Braves for first place are the New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies. However, the Mets and the Phillies have both been set back by injuries and are getting healthy as the second half commences.

For the Phillies, they look to get Chase Utley and Placido Polanco back, who have both spend time on the disabled list.

Arguably, a healthy Phillies team could make a run, but I still don't think they are the team to beat in the NL East. In 2009, much of the team's success came from their newly-acquired outfielder, Raul Ibanez. However, in 2010, Ibanez is playing like the 38-year-old he is. His numbers are way down and as a result, the Phillies (especially the offense) are not having nearly as good of a season as they were one year ago.

Meanwhile, the Mets are getting back Carlos Beltran, a former Rookie of the Year, five-time All-Star, and perennial MVP candidate. 

Though the Mets' pitching staff has been considered overachievers thus far, and there are still question marks regarding the rotation heading into the second half, the Mets getting back Beltran is a better acquisition than any other team can make through a trade this year.

In essence, the Mets have improved more than any other team (except maybe the Rangers, who acquired Cliff Lee) by getting Beltran back. And while there are pundits who question how well Beltran will play come game time, it's not unreasonable to expect Beltran to return to form and greatly bolster the Mets' lineup.

In addition to getting Beltran back, the Mets have an easier second-half schedule than the Braves. The Braves have played 16 games versus the NL basement—the Pirates, Astros, and Diamondbacks. The Mets have played them zero times.

Fortunately, the Mets face these three teams 14 times in the next couple of months, including seven games in a row versus the Pirates and the Astros. These are games that the Mets could take serious advantage of, and they could make up ground in the division by beating these bad teams (as any good team is supposed to do).

With that, the Mets and their fans should definitely be optimistic about this second half. While the Phillies are getting healthier and the Braves got rid of Escobar, the Mets have played this well in 2010 without Carlos Beltran. Now that they have him back, we can only expect that they will get even better.

I'm looking forward to a long-awaited Mets playoff berth in 2010.