Remember the success, the optimism, and the results produced by the NL East the past few years? Last season, two playoff teams, with a third (New York) finishing at .500. The year before, in 2011, two winning teams, and two within sniffing distance of .500. 2010 was the same, with the fourth-place Mets finishing with a winning percentage of .488.
Now, however, it's the Braves (owners of the sixth-best record in baseball), and then a relatively huge gap -- for this early in the season, anyway -- and then everybody else. Only the Nationals, at 37-38, are close. Contrast that with the AL East, where any of the five teams would be in at least second place were they located in the NL East, as all boast winning records.
Atlanta Braves (44-33)
The only divisional team with its head above water, Atlanta has held the course after a hot start, with a 12-11 record for the month of June so far. Obviously there is half a season left, but unless Washington pulls itself together and starts scoring some runs, the Braves likely won't need to do much better than they have been. If not the Nats, who's going to catch them, the Phillies? I like Atlanta's odds.
As with seemingly every team, the injury bug is complicating things somewhat, as top slugger Evan Gattis is still on the DL. Brandon Beachy, who was targeting a return from Tommy John last week, is still on the mend as well; for most teams this would be very, very discouraging news, but Atlanta's pitching staff has been very good one through five -- only Tim Hudson (4.10) has an ERA above 3.75. Beachy will be an important piece, for sure, but right now they can afford to take their time with him.
Player of the Week: Chris Johnson, 3B: 2 R, 2 HR, 5 RBI, .292 AVG
Miami Marlins (25-50)
Miami has won three of their last four, and they actually have a winning record this month (11-9), so there's that. They've also lost 50 of their last 75 games, and have a solid hold on the worst record in baseball.
What they do have is a handful of nice young players, a smaller handful of trade chips, and one young superstar in right field. As I guessed a few weeks ago in this space, the Marlins are said to be "desperate" to trade starter Ricky Nolasco. I would feel pretty good about that, but predicting that the Marlins will trade their highest-paid player is like predicting a thunderstorm in the summer: Everyone knows it's coming, you just don't know if it'll be this week. Once that domino falls, others will be out the door after him, and the team will just get younger, cheaper, and probably worse.
Player of the Weak: Marcell Ozuna, OF: 3 R, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 1 SB, .318 AVG
New York Mets (30-42)
If you go through the same recent, small-sample exercise with the Mets, they look like they're turning things around as well -- 6-3 in their last nine, though their record for the month of June is worse than Miami's. If there's reason for optimism, it's that Zack Wheeler's debut was dazzling: six shutout innings, seven strikeouts, and a W. If that truly is a sign of things to come, pair him with fellow young ace Matt Harvey, and the Mets could have a dominant 1-2 punch atop their rotation for the next several years.
The trouble is, three others need to start games as well, and the lineup needs to score runs. Catcher John Buck awoke from his extended slump to add to his homer total, but it's still mostly just David Wright and pray for control issues. Ike Davis needs to find himself at Triple-A Las Vegas, and soon, because there's no other cavalry on the horizon if he doesn't.
Player of the Week: Wright, 3B: 5 R, 3HR, 5 RBI, .375 AVG
Philadelphia Phillies (36-41)
Remember how hot Domonic Brown was? That's how cold he is now. In the 14 games since his last home run, on June 8, he's batted just .192 with three RBI. Yasiel Puig's rise was beginning just as Brown's torrid power streak was winding down -- apparently, there can only be one, as Puig seems to have absorbed Brown's power and frequent national headlines Highlander-style. Brown has at least stolen a couple of bases though, and last night made a nifty play in left field to support Cliff Lee. Maybe he can bust out of this slump soon.
As for the rest of the team, Lee continues to cruise as trade chatter continues to swirl around him, and the lineup has already benefitted from second baseman Chase Utley's return from the DL. Ryan Howard and Michael Young have been steady, solid veteran performers of late as well. However, if Brown proves to be just a flash in the pan, this team likely isn't going anywhere.
Player of the Week: Young, 3B: 5 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI, .296 AVG