National League East: Month in Review
By Pete Dymeck
Apr 29, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins starting pitcher Jose Fernandez (16) throws the ball against the Atlanta Braves during the first inning at Marlins Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Four-and-a-half games is all that separates the worst from the first in the National League East after a month (and one day) of Major League Baseball action thus far. The exhilarating start to this marathon we call a season has left us with many things to celebrate and scratch our heads about.
A New Cold War?
All of this talk about Ukraine and Russia has me wondering, is a new Cold War brewing? No, not between the United States and Russia, but among the organizations in the NL East. A plethora of pitching is what made the gears move for each team in the division as they jockeyed for positioning in the first month of the season.
Miami Marlins young ace Jose Fernandez has picked up from where he left off in 2013. At 4-1, Fernandez boasts MLB’s second highest K/9 at 12.48. The only arm besting him thus far is Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals. The Nationals’ righty has a 14.03 K/9 to coincide with his 2.31 Fielder Independent Pitching (FIP).
Aside from the young arms, Cliff Lee of the Philadelphia Phillies continues to highlight his credentials night after night. With a 3-2 record to coincide with his 3.29 ERA and 2.11 FIP, Lee is tied for the third highest Wins Above Replacement (WAR) for any MLB pitcher thus far.
Not to be outdone, the Atlanta Braves starting rotation has baseball’s best ERA (2.59). As expectant as that is, it’s actually really impressive considering the fact the Braves lost Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen to Tommy John injuries. In addition to those two arms, Mike Minor has yet to appear in a MLB game in 2014 due to shoulder tendinitis. Julio Teheran, promoted to ace by attrition, has done more than to help the cause. His 1.47 ERA doesn’t tell the entire story. With just a 5.44 K/9 and a meager 40.9 percent groundball rate (GB%), Teheran has averted disaster by making outs through the Braves defense. As the season continues, he should continue to build up a stronger K/9 to make his numbers much more attractive.
The New York Mets have been solid in their own right. Despite workable issues here or there, the staff has been tremendous. Jenrry Mejia is putting on a show for the ages thus far, proving why he once was considered an elite prospect. Jon Niese, Zack Wheeler and Dillon Gee continue to remind opponents why they are a formidable group on the mound. If only Matt Harvey never went down with a Tommy John injury. Oh, Mets fans can dream, can’t they?
After one month, the Marlins are where everyone expected them to be: last place. While they are only four-and-a-half games out of first place, many positives as well as negatives can be taken away from this club. Giancarlo Stanton carries a big stick, we all know this, but he already has one-third of the home run’s in one month that he had all last season. Fellow outfielder Marcell Ozuna is providing Stanton with a capable associate in a thin lineup, boasting a .310 AVG with four HR and 16 RBI in 110 plate appearances. Last season, Ozuna tallied just 3 HR and 32 RBI in 291 PA. Meanwhile, highly touted prospect Christian Yelich has slammed just one HR.
Spurred by Jose Fernandez, the Marlins have MLB’s tenth best ERA for starting rotations early on. Opposing lineups are hitting for just .235 against this group which includes Tom Koehler, Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez and Kevin Slowey. So long as the rotation continues to perform as it did in the month of April, the Marlins have a chance to better many expectations for them. However, expecting them to low-crawl out of the bottom of this division is near-sighted.
Amaro’s Last Stand
Much doubt was cast upon the Phillies in 2014 for the way general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. concocted the roster. Veteran stalwarts were brought in to supplement an already aging roster. Still, the Phillies remain in contention with a .500 record after one month of play. Much more has to be seen as the Phillies have played the least amount of games within the NL East. Of those seven, the Phillies are 4-3 but 13-13 on the year overall.
On the bright side, Cole Hamels is finally healthy and Jonathan Papelbon has been very good since a blowup in Texas the first week of the season. Ryan Howard is hitting left-handed pitching better than we can ever recall. Second baseman Chase Utley has the third highest AVG among hitters in MLB, bested so far by only Charlie Blackmon and Troy Tulowitzki. The power has yet to show up though. As a team, the Phillies rank 22nd in HR, worse than the Minnesota Twins and Chicago Cubs.
An Empire State of Mind
Don’t get too excited for what the Mets are doing. They are placed at second in the division as you read this but they also have many issues to address. The starting rotation’s ERA is twelfth best in the majors at 3.57. However, the group’s FIP is 4.04. While praise is due for an unlikely group of arms, they are pitching above their heads thus far. The difference between their ERA and FIP signals looming regression.
With a 15-11 record, the Mets should be excited about the start to their season. However, they will soon fall short and find their true place in the standings by the All-Star break.
Atlanta or Washington?
One thing April showed us is that the NL East is either Atlanta or Washington’s to lose. At 17-9, the Braves have jumped into the top spot by way of their tremendous pitching. If anything, Atlanta needs to be aware of over-reach with their pitching. Aarong Harang and David Hale have presumably pitched over their heads. So long as Teheran, Ervin Santana and Alex Wood can throw as expected, the Braves will remain front-runner’s moving forward.
Washington’s success is predicated on their arms too. Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez lead a rotation that ranks sixth in ERA. Tanner Roark has been a welcomed addition, lauding a 2.76 ERA in five starts. According to Dayn Perry of CBSSports.com, Doug Fister is expected to join the rotation May 7. His addition will make things much more interesting in this division.
Simply put, the path to the NL East crown, as exemplified by the month of April, will be determined by the pitching staffs.
- Best Hitter: Chase Utley– .355 AVG, .978 OPS, 3 HR, 14 RBI
- Best Pitcher: Jose Fernandez — 4-1, 1.59 ERA, 1.62 FIP, 12.48 K/9, 1.82 BB/9
- Best Reliever: Craig Kimbrel — 8 saves, 2.61 ERA, 0.62 FIP, 19.16 K/9, 4.35 BB/9
- Biggest Disappointment: B.J. Upton — .213 AVG, .587 OPS, 1 HR, 2 RBI
- Biggest Surprise: Tanner Roark — 2-0, 2.76 ERA, 3.44 FIP, 7.16 K/9, 2.48 BB/9