Despite an unreliable bullpen and several stars landing on the Injured List, the Washington Nationals have somehow put themselves in playoff contention. After lingering in fourth place (and around .500) early in the season, the Nats have passed the Philadelphia Phillies, and are in second place in the National League East behind only the Atlanta Braves.
The NL East is no longer the MLB powerhouse it once was, but all signs point to it becoming a contentious division down the stretch. Before the stress of scoreboard-watching truly sets in, let’s take a quick look at the division.
Atlanta Braves (61-43)
The Braves have their eyes on the prize. In their recent series against the Nats (who were without Max Scherzer and Ryan Zimmerman), they split the four game series with the Nats winning the first game 13-4. It was less dominating than some expected, but allowed the Braves to maintain their NL East lead. They are only 28-26 against teams better than .500 which they will have to improve as they try to keep their lead down the stretch. Their upcoming weekend series at Philadelphia is curial if each team wants to maintain or improve their standing.
Washington Nationals (55-48, 5.5 GB)
The Nats have had to fight for every single one of their wins. Since May 24, they have been the best team in baseball, have gone from eight games under .500 to nine games over, and from fourth place to second.
Infielders Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman have all spent significant time on the IL, but the offense has been buoyed by Gerrardo Parra, Victor Robles (and all of the hit-by-pitches he has taken to get on base) and home run machine Matt Adams.
Philadelphia Phillies (54-49, 6.5 GB)
How’s that record contract looking now? Bryce Harper has not lived up to the hype he took to Philly, batting .256 with 17 home runs, and not making the All-Star team. There are a few budding stars on the team, but it looks like they might need another year to fully mature. Infielders Rhys Hoskins (.263, 21 HR) and Maikel Franco (.238, 15 HR) are keeping the offense afloat but only time will tell if they can do enough to make it to October.
New York Mets (48-55, 12.5 GB)
The fact that Noah Syndergaard is rumored to be on the trade market should be enough to explain the Mets season. Holding a 22-35 road record is nowhere near good enough to hang in this division. Many of the crucial division gains are made my beating a leader at home, and even clinching on their field. If the Mets can’t do that, or even compete with teams over .500 (31-44 record), they can’t expect to crack the NL East top three this season.
Miami Marlins (39-62, 20.5 GB)
Oh the Marlins. The eternal bottom dwellers of the NL East.
With no hope of a playoff appearance, they are turning into sellers as the July 31 trade deadline approaches. Their abundance of relievers could bolster a pennant race team in need of a bullpen rebuild (see: Washington Nationals). Relievers Trevor Richards (earning MLB minimum), Sergio Romo (proven, but older like Fernando Rodney) and Caleb Smith (young, promising lefty) are all bright spots on an otherwise lackluster team.
The chase for the NL East crown will be a three-way race between Atlanta, Washington, and Philadelphia. With the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers also at, or near the top of the NL Wild Card standings, a second place in the NL East does not guarantee a playoff slot. Three months down. Two to go. May the victors still be standing at the end of October.