Around the N.L. East: Braves on the warpath

Around the N.L. East: Braves on the warpath
May 28, 2013, 11:30 am
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Glancing around the N.L. East, it's hard not to notice that the general hierarchy has been in place for the entire season, with the Braves sitting atop the standings from the get-go, and everyone else trying to build a foundation to try to challenge them. As Memorial Day passes and the Phillies continue to toil, it's becoming clear that if the Nats don't mount a challenge, nobody will.

Atlanta Braves (30-20)

The Braves have awoken from a mid-spring lull to retake their commanding division lead, which now stands at 4.5 games, the highest margin in the majors. Justin Upton has come back to earth a bit, with a .267 average, and though the long ball continues to elude Freddie Freeman, he is second on the team with 30 RBI. Who leads the team? El Oso Blanco, Evan Gattis, who just won't go away. Try as they might to take at-bats away from him, the slugger leads the team with 31 RBI, leads all major league rookies with 11 home runs, and has worked his average back up to .271. Though he's excelled in pinch-hitting duty, the Braves simply need him in the lineup everyday, somewhere. On a team with three sub-Mendoza Line regulars, they cannot waste him on the bench. 

B.J. Upton reportedly took the day off yesterday to work on his swing. With a .148 batting average, he has to try something. The signing was feted at the time, but year after year it's becoming increasingly clear that spending big money on free agents just doesn't work anymore. The Atlanta Braves paid $75 million for this? Upton has always had supreme talent and potential, but as of right now he has been worth -1.0 Wins Above Replacement-level, according to Baseball America. WAR is an imperfect stat to be sure, but it doesn't sound unreasonable to me that the Braves would be 31-19 if one of their outfielders from Triple-A Richmond had been starting all year long. That's how bad this situation is.

Player of the Week: Gattis, C/OF/PH: 3 R, 3 HR, 9 RBI, .500 AVG

Miami Marlins (13-38)

The Marlins just can't put anything together. After stringing together a win or two here and there, Miami has gone 0-6 since last week, and the shine is beginning to come off of Jose Fernandez, who was shelled last time out in the shortest outing of his young career (just 3.1 innings). If there's any silver lining, aside from the obvious emerging prospects, it's that veteran starters Ricky Nolasco and Kevin Slowey are pitching themselves into decent deadline trade chips. 

Talented but oft-injured throughout his career (seems like we've heard that before about a former Marlins starter...), Nolasco is putting together a fine season, leading the team with 11 starts and pitching to a very respectable 3.65 ERA. Slowey, 29, was signed in January for probably this exact purpose: to see if he could put together a first half that would be good enough to return decent prospects in July. Neither are part of the longterm plan in Miami, and it would be a shock if they're not dealt -- Nolasco, especially, could be a decent option for a contender looking to shore up the back end of their rotation.

Player of the Weak: Nolasco, SP: 7.1 IP, 1 ER, 6 K

New York Mets (19-29)

As if Matt Harvey wasn't already the toast of New York, word has circulated that he's now dating Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Anne V. Even though he only has one win in his last six starts (after winning the first four), that's enough to keep the streak going in most peoples' book. 

Elsewhere, there is decidedly less to cheer about. John Buck looks to have done his hitting for the year, and is settling back into the catcher we all knew -- well, some of us knew -- and loved before this season, and only two starters not named Harvey have recorded wins. Though slumping in the last week, David Wright continues to be his spectacular self on the season -- in a vacuum, this might be the summer you trade the 30-year old third baseman, but it might be that he just means too much to the franchise to ship him away. What other reason would fans have to go to the ballpark when Harvey isn't pitching?

Player of the Week: Lucas Duda, OF: 2 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, .304 AVG

Philadelphia Phillies (24-27)

With Chase Utley now on the DL, others pretty well banged up, and Michael Young falling back to Earth so hard that he buried (.260 avg), the young outfield holds not only the hope for the future, but any hope for the present as well. Through it all, Cliff Lee just goes about his business, with a 2.48 ERA and allowing almost exactly one baserunner per inning. One of the most prolific hired guns of the past few years, might he be wearing a different cap sooner than later? His price tag (both contractually and in terms of prospects) would be high, but GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. might be willing to cop to a slight discount in order to clear Lee's contract from the books and restock a mostly barren farm system.

Long an untouchable prospect, and in the past couple years a frustrating enigma, Domonic Brown is having a fine age-25 breakout season, leading the team in home runs (10) and RBI (29). Only his sub-.300 on base percentage has stemmed true rising-star talk. Learn to take a walk, Domonic. Then we'll talk.

Player of the Week: Brown, OF: 4 R, 2 HR, 8 RBI, .304 AVG