At 12-12 on the season, the Nationals record ranks seventh among 15 NL teams.
It would be three games in the first place in the NL West, two and a half games in the NL Central. But they play in the NL East, so they occupy the first place, half a game ahead of the Phillies (14-15) and the Mets (11-12). The Braves (12-16) and Marlins (11-16) are still within earshot, despite the slow start to the season.
It’s early, sure, but it’s not quite what we expected. The Braves played at a 94-win pace in the shortened 2020 campaign and claimed a World Series victory. The Mets have a new owner (Steve Cohen) and a new superstar (Francisco Lindor) this offseason, and expectations were as high as they have been in years. The Nationals still have Max Scherzer and Steven Strasburg at the top of the rotation, with Juan Soto in a lineup with slugging additions Kyle Schwarber and Josh Bell.
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The Phillies completely revamped an enclosure that lowered their 2020 playoff hopes and retained key offensive pieces in JT Realmuto and Didi Gregorius. The Marlins had just qualified for the playoffs last year and brought back a lot of young rising stars.
But here we are, at the beginning of May and the whole division is in a collective funk. It seems unlikely, of course, that the division will be won with a .500 record, but thoughts of the Braves and Mets battling for a total of 100 wins are likely gone. Before we look too far, let’s take a look at what has gone wrong so far.
Here’s why the Braves were mediocre
Atlanta’s offense has been extremely erratic so far this season, and when the bats get cold they get very, very cold. The Braves have scored a total of three points in their first three games of the season, against the Phillies. They had a single hit and zero runs in a double header against the Diamondbacks on April 25. Ronald Acuña Jr. hits like an MVP contender and Austin Riley has been pretty good lately, but most of the others are off to a slow start. . Batting averages aren’t everything, of course – like Wikipedia, a great place to start looking as long as you dig a little deeper – but Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, Marcel Ozuna, Travis d’Arnaud (who is now on the IL) and Cristian Pache are all batting .229 or worse.
In the rotation, Ian Anderson (3.27 ERA) and Huascar Ynoa (2.96) were good, but the rest of the rotation? Weft. Here are the runs allowed by the Braves pitchers in a recent eight-game streak: 5, 7, 7, 0, 0, 9, 13, 6. Guess which ones were pitched by Anderson and Ynoa. Yeah. The starting pitch was a problem.
Will it last? The Atlanta hitters are too good to keep this going. Freeman, for example, had a base percentage of 0.462 last year (when he won the NL MVP), and he’s at .344 this season. Marcel Ozuna had a 172 OPS + in 2020, when he led the NL in the circuits and RBI; it has 58 OPS + this year.
Ultimately, the Braves hope to get Mike Soroka and Max Fried back into the rotation, but the team can’t count on health or lasting success for either. More immediately, the Braves need veterans Charlie Morton (ERA 5.08) and Drew Smyly (ERA 8.05) to be better. The club signed the two one-year deals during the offseason – a practice that had been beneficial in recent years – but both have been disappointments so far.
Here’s why the Mets were mediocre
Well, we know why the Mets brass thinks the club was struggling around 0.500. The powers that be hit coaches Chili Davis and Tom Slater after losing to the Cardinals on Monday night. The timing was a little odd, considering the Mets had scored 17 points in the previous three games (and won two of those three), but offensive production had certainly been an issue. In 12 of the first 23 games, the Mets failed to score more than three points. They lost three games started by ace Jacob deGrom while deGrom lasted at least six innings and gave up one or zero runs.
The Mets have played 23 games.
Their top three starters – Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman and Taijuan Walker – have started 15 of those 23 games and have a combined ERA of 1.68 in 91 innings.
The Mets are 11-12 years old.
– Ryan Fagan (@ryanfagan) May 4, 2021
Here’s a more in-depth look at what has hit the Mets’ offense so far this season.
Will it last? The offensive will get better. Pete Alonso and Michael Conforto have already warmed up after slow starts. Jeff McNeil, who was averaging 0.319 in his career in 248 games going this season, will not reach 0.235 all year round. And Francisco Lindor? He’s a legitimate superstar in his 27-year-old season under pressure from a new team, a new fan base and a new contract. He is entitled to hiccups in the first month. He will be fine.
Here’s why the nationals were mediocre
Above all, the Nationals have struggled to stay healthy. At the moment Juan Soto and Stephen Strasburg – two pretty key players – are part of the IL. Jon Lester is just out of IL and pitched five shutout innings in his debut with the team. Among positional players, only four have played more than 17 of the club’s 24 games.
And some of the healthy guys struggled. The team acquired Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber to add oomph to the roster – both combined for 75 homers in 2019 – but they only touched four, with OPS + numbers of 42 and 71, respectively. In the rotation, Patrick Corbin had two good starts and three disastrous starts, totaling an 8.10 ERA, and Eric Fedde (4.43 ERA) and Joe Ross (4.64) were OK at best.
Will it last? At some point, the nationals will be in good health. At least that’s hope. And if the regulars resume their regular production, there’s no reason this team can’t fight. Max Scherzer was his normal brilliant self and Brad Hand didn’t allow a deserved run as he came close. Trea Turner was outstanding (146 OPS +, with six homers and seven stolen bases), and veterans Ryan Zimmerman (.319 average) and Josh Harrison (.361) were excellent.
Here’s why the Phillies were mediocre
The Phillies might not have a very glaring problem – their offense is decent although far from great, their pitcher is decent but far from awful, and so on. – but the .500ish record is what you get when a team with a small margin of error fails. to do the little things well. Many nights, these mistakes are made by the defense. Look at the Defensive Points Saved (DRS) statistic. The Phillies are 27th of 30 teams in the MLB, under-11. Nationals, on the other hand, are over-21. It is a huge difference.
Here’s an example: In the April 29 game against St. Louis, the Phillies had a 1-0 lead in the fifth and Aaron Nola was cruising. Odubel Herrera dived for a ball he wasn’t going to catch and allowed runner Andrew Knizner to climb to second base. That extra base led to an intentional march (a questionable move by Joe Girardi), and it led to it …
Will it last? Let’s put it this way: if 96 or 97 wins are what it takes to win the NL East, the Phillies are unlikely to compete for the division title. But what if the goal is 90ish? They could be in this conversation.
Here’s why the Marlins were mediocre
Of the teams that haven’t missed multiple games for COVID reasons, only the Pirates and Tigers – two teams that are expected to finish bottom in their divisions – have scored fewer points this year than the Marlins, who have 107 in 27. matches. They have already been excluded four times this year and have scored two points or less in 10 games. Starling Marte, Jazz Chisholm, and Brian Anderson are all on IL, though Anderson is expected to return soon. Marte is likely out until June and the club hope to recover Chisholm without an extended absence with a hamstring problem.
Will it last? The Marlins are a tough team to match, but here’s the truth: with the outstanding trio at the top of the rotation (Sandy Alcantara, Trevor Rogers and Pablo Lopez), as long as the offense rebounds a bit and the rest of the rotation / of the pen is usable, the Marlins must remain within earshot of the division chief.