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National League East Report, 4/10/18

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The Mets are currently in first place in the division

MLB: New York Mets at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Mets have gotten off to a great start. At 8-1, they have tied the best start in franchise history and share baseball’s best record with the Boston Red Sox. The Mets’ hot start has been aided by a combination of solid starting pitching, a rejuvenated bullpen, and timely hitting.

The team currently sits atop the National League East, holding a 2.5 game lead on the Atlanta Braves, but there is still a lot of baseball left to play. Let’s take a look around the division to see how some of the Mets’ rivals have fared so far in 2018.

Atlanta Braves

The Braves are in second place with a 6-4 record after finished last season in a distant third with 72 wins. The team has won its first three series against the Philadelphia Phillies, Colorado Rockies, and Washington Nationals.

Atlanta, who were two-hit by Max Scherzer and the Nationals last night, have been led by their offense, which ranks first in the National League in runs (62), second in hits (92), batting average (.267), and OPS (.786), and fourth in home runs (11). Dansby Swanson, the former 2015 number one overall pick, has been red-hot after a poor 2017 season, hitting .351 with a .936 OPS. First baseman and Met tormentor Freddie Freeman, who played a career-low 117 games last year after dealing with a fractured wrist, has had a great first week, with a 1.188 OPS to start the season.

On the pitching side of things, the Braves’ bullpen has improved dramatically after a dismal 2017 that saw them post a 1.1 fWAR (fourth worst in baseball) and a 4.58 bullpen ERA (fifth worst in baseball). The Braves have six relievers (Dan Winkler, Sam Freeman, Arodys Vizcaíno, Peter Moylan, Shane Carle, and A.J. Minter) who have pitched in at least four games and have posted a sub-2.00 ERA. Their starting pitching, on the other hand, has not fared as well as their bullpen, putting up a 4.59 ERA. Ace Julio Teheran has been disappointing so far with a 7.07 ERA and 1.79 WHIP, while Brandon McCarthy, who was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of the Matt Kemp offseason trade, has picked up two wins and has a 3.97 ERA.

Washington Nationals

The Nationals came into 2018 as the heavy favorites to win their third consecutive National League East title. After winning their first four games, they have cooled down and lost five of their last six, including a sweep at home at the hands of the Mets. They currently sit in third place at 5-5.

As always, the Nationals are led by their 25-year-old right fielder Bryce Harper, who is set to become a free agent at the end of the season. Harper, a five-time All-Star and former National League MVP, leads the league in home runs (6), OPS (1.519), runs (11), walks (16), total bases (28), and WAR (1.0). First baseman Ryan Zimmerman, on the other hand, has been slow out of the gate. The 14-year veteran has collected just three hits in his first 31 at-bats after enjoying an all-star 2017 season. The Nationals are patiently awaiting second baseman Daniel Murphy’s return to the lineup, but no timetable has been set. Murphy underwent right knee surgery in October.

The Nationals continue to sport one of baseball’s most fearsome one-two punches with Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Overall, their starters currently has the most strikeouts (72) in the National League and are sporting a respectable 3.79 ERA. In last night’s impressive two-hit shutout, Max Scherzer struck out ten Braves and picked up his first career stolen base.

One of the Nationals’ biggest disappointments has been reliever Brandon Kintzler, whom Washington acquired from the Minnesota Twins at last year’s trade deadline. Kintzler had a particularly rough weekend against the Mets, where he gave up a grand slam to Jay Bruce on Friday and took the loss on Saturday and on Sunday. Overall, the Nationals bullpen has a 5.40 ERA, which is third worst in the National League.

Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies made a big splash during spring training, signing former Chicago Cubs ace Jake Arrieta to a three-year, $75 million contract. Along with signing free agent slugger Carlos Santana, the Phillies were expected to improve on their 66-win, last place finish. The Phillies are currently in fourth place in the National League East with a 4-5 record.

The Phillies are led by first-year manager Gabe Kapler, who had a disastrous first week at the helm. During the season opener against the Atlanta Braves, Kapler removed ace Aaron Nola in the sixth inning with a five-run lead after he threw just 68 pitches (the Phillies went on to lose the game). During the series finale, Kapler called on reliever Hoby Milner to come in when he wasn’t warming up in the bullpen. The Phillies used an astronomical 21 pitchers during the three-game series, and Kapler was widely criticized and even booed at the Phillies’ home opener.

The Phillies offense is led by left fielder Rhys Hoskins, who has gotten off to a tremendous start. Hoskins, who finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting last year, leads the National League with a .429 average and is second behind Bryce Harper with a 1.374 OPS. Center fielder Odubel Herrera has also shined in 2018, hitting .321 in 28 at-bats. The Phillies rank third in the National League in runs (48) but last in hits (69) and currently have a .232 team average. The highlight of the Phillies season so far was a 20-1 drubbing of the division rival Florida Marlins on April 7.

Miami Marlins

The Miami Marlins were purchased in the offseason by a new ownership group that is highlighted by former New York Yankees legend Derek Jeter. This led to a fire sale that saw the Marlins trade away their entire outfield (Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna) and second baseman Dee Gordon in an effort to drastically reduce payroll. The Marlins are currently 3-7 and in last place in the National League East.

The Marlins rank toward the bottom of the National League in most offensive categories, including home runs (3, worst), batting average (.221, second worst), runs (32, fourth worst), and strikeouts (97, fifth worst). They are also missing catcher J.T. Realmuto, who suffered an injury on March 11 during spring training action and is expected to miss the first few weeks of 2018. Starlin Castro, whom the Marlins acquired in the Stanton trade, has gotten off to a good start with 12 hits in his first 42 at-bats with his new club.

Their pitching has not fared much better. Their bullpen has a 4.12 ERA (fifth worst in the National League) while their starters have a 6.60 ERA (worst in the National League). Ace Jose Urena has not registered a win in his three starts yet and has posted a 5.06 ERA. Closer Brad Ziegler has also struggled early in the season, posting a 7.71 ERA with one save.