Friday, May 06, 2005

NL East musings

Might as well start with the NL East, which is just as intriguing as many people thought it would be--4 teams over .500 and within 3 games of first place.

Atlanta Braves: 17-11, 0 GB, 120 RS, 95 RA
Somehow, the Braves still keep on trucking. This year, so far, it's been due to a perfect storm of starting pitching. Mike Hampton sports a 2.47 ERA built on a pithy 3.3 K/9 rate, compounded by 2.3 BB/9. ERAs that low do not last an entire season with those peripherals. Credit Hampton with getting the job done, but I don't expect this to last. John Thomson has also been very successful. In contrast to Hampton, he's built his 2.81 ERA on 6.8 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9, even though opponents are hitting .282 against him. That number will probably go down, and if Thomson can maintain his K rate, he should continue to be successful. Smoltz had one terrible outing--other than that, he's done quite well, though his 3 BB/9 rate is alarming. Hudson has posted solid numbers in an understated fashion, which is pretty much what people expected of him. So far, the whispers of potential health problems have not manifested. Though the pitching will slide somewhat, the Atlanta bats should pick up from the currently anemic .717 team OPS to offset the loss. With washed-up sinkholes like Raul Mondesi and Brian Jordan in the lineup, however, they'd better hope the pitching doesn't slip too far.

Florida Marlins: 15-10, .5 GB, 122 RS, 77 RA
As you can see from the run differential, the Marlins have been significantly better than the Braves, but have a similar record to show for it. I expect the Marlins will be in first soon enough. Josh Beckett (9.2 K/9 3.6 BB/9) has been striking out enough batters to offset the blip in his walk rate, Dontrelle Willis has been baffling hitters all season long, holding opponents to a miniscule .223 OBP, and A.J. Burnett is offically "back," to the tune of 9.0 K/9 and a 2.72 ERA. The back end of the rotation is a bit of a concern, with Al Leiter finally losing the battle to father time, but I think the offense will improve enough to get them into the playoffs. And once they're in, nobody will want to go up against this staff. And a word about the offense--it hasn't been doing half bad. Lo Duca and Castillo are getting on base, and Delgado, Cabrera and Encarnacion have been slugging them in. The Marlins hope to add "Lowell" to that latter list, and pray that Encarnacion's career year continues. Nonetheless, I see the Marlins as the favorites to come out of this division.

Washington Nationals: 15-13, 2 GB, 117 RS, 122 RA
Hope Nats fans enjoyed that brief stint in 1st place, because it probably won't happen again. The run differential there isn't terrible, but I think the gap will widen once the inexplicably hot bat of Vinny Castilla cools off, and John Patterson starts giving up some more hits. Though Zach Day and Tomo Okha have been the main contributors to the 122 RA, Patterson will probably become a culprit unless he cuts down his walks, because eventually, he's going to start giving up hits. Then again, it's very difficult to determine when pitcher has actually progressed--a BP article I read described improvement as a series of leaps rather than a slow progression--so maybe Patterson is for real. Even if he is for real, the rest of the staff is too pedestrian to come out on top of a pennant race.

New York Mets: 15-14, 2.5 GB, 134 RS, 130 RA
Reasons to like the New York Mets:
-Pedro Martinez hasn't lost a beat
-Jae Seo may be for real (14:3 K:BB ratio)
-Carlos Beltran hasn't hit his stride yet
-Once Cameron comes back, they should have one of the best defensive outfields in the majors
-Youngsters David Wright and Victor Diaz have shown both consistent power and plate discipline
-Manny Aybar is going buck wild in the 'pen (16:3 K:BB)

Reasons not to like the New York Mets:
-Beyond Pedro and Seo, the rotation has been frightful Glavine looks just about done, Zambrano and Ishii look like the never-weres they are, and Heilman is mediocre
-Their closer stinks, and their setup man, despite pitching well, is 40 years old.
-It can only go downhill from here for Cliff Floyd
-Reyes and Matsui both have horrible OBP--not exactly what you want from your 1-2 hitters. Matsui looks like a bust, while Reyes could probably stand another year's seasoning
-Piazza is done. Ride into the sunset Mike, as the greatest slugger the catching position has known, and take your 2005 .349 SLG with you.

Conclusion: a very maddening .500 team--about what I expected.

Philadelphia Phillies: 12-17, 5.5 GB, 119 RS, 146 RA
The Phils are making me look dumb for picking them to win the division. The offense has done remarkably well considering that both Jim Thome and Bob Abreu started off in horrendeous slumps. Abreu looks to be turning it around, but Thome has yet to awaken. At his age, who knows if he will? Even the harshest pre-season critic couldn't have predicted the utter collapse of the pitching. Lieber isn't really an ace, but that's what he's forced to be despite his mere 16 Ks in over 40 innings. Brett Myers is showing that he has harnessed his stuff, striking out 44 in 40 innings, and limiting his walks to only 10. But the rest of the staff--it's ugly. Randy Wolf and Vicente Padilla, once so promising, look to be busts. Cory Lidle is the definition of mediocre. He's supposed to eat innings, but he doesn't even average 6 innings per start. In the bullpen, only Billy Wagner is excelling, which is leading to speculation that he will be dealt if the Phils fall any further out of contention. With the 5th highest payroll in baseball, Philadelphia is the most disappointing team in the NL so far.

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