Part one in a division-by-division dialogue leading up to Opening Day.
In the week leading up to Opening Day, Baseball Prospectus is conducting a division-by-division dialogue, asking and answering five questions about each team. Today Sam Miller and Will Woods kick things off with the National League East.
The National League East could come down to baserunning. The Nationals have the edge in the standings, but the Braves' baserunners have kept it close.
On Wednesday night, the Braves shut down the Padres behind another strong start by deadline trade target Paul Maholm. Thanks to a 27-13 run since the start of July, Atlanta’s record stands a season-high 18 games over .500. However, while the Braves have nipped at the first-place Nationals’ heels—at times this month, only two games have separated the NL East’s top teams—they haven’t been able to close the gap completely. The Nats, who won their own game Wednesday on the strength of six precious innings from Stephen Strasburg’s dwindling supply, have matched them win for win.
However, while the Nationals own the NL’s best record, they haven’t yet locked up a division title. Washington won’t have Strasburg on its side for much longer, and the Braves will be right behind them, waiting to capitalize on any sign of weakness. Both teams boast playoff odds north of 90 percent, so neither is likely to miss the postseason (though after the way things went for the Braves last September, they probably aren’t taking a trip to October for granted). But the real prize—a first-place finish, and a guaranteed ticket to the first round of the playoffs—remains at stake. The Nats have the better pitching staff and defense, and both teams are evenly matched on offense. But the Braves do have a sizeable advantage over the Nats in one often-overlooked area: baserunning.
The Phillies have reportedly agreed to complete another big-money, long-term extension, this time with Cole Hamels.
FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal has reported that the Philadelphia Phillies have agreed to extend Cole Hamels to a six-year extension in excess of $137.5 million. However, the deal and the amount of money involved have not yet been confirmed. If and when the extension is announced and/or the contract details are finalized, we'll update this post.
What do the Nationals, Braves, and Mets need heading into the deadline, and where might they find it?
With a little less than a month to go until the non-waiver trading deadline, talks between teams are heating up. In a seven-part series, several BP authors will be covering the needs, potential fits, and more for the contenders in each division, as well as a rundown of the top 10 player trade targets. Today, we take a look at the NL East.
A brutal eight-game losing streak has taken the Atlanta Braves from first to worst in the NL East.
The Weekend Takeaway
It’s not all that hard to go from first to last in nine days this early in the season. To do so as resoundingly as the Braves have, though, takes a special kind of awfulness.
At the end of play on May 20, Fredi Gonzalez’s team was 26-16 and enjoyed a 1 ½-game lead in the National League East. At the close of shop last night, the Braves had slipped to 26-24 and sat in a last-place tie with the Phillies, four games behind the first-place Nationals.
Jason Heyward takes a step forward, while Mat Latos and Gio Gonzalez are looking to get the ball rolling with their new clubs.
The Wednesday Takeaway
The Braves are counting on bounce-back campaigns from their corner outfielders and contributions from their high-ceiling pitching prospects as they look to return to the top of the NL East standings for the first time since 2005. If Wednesday night’s 6-3 victory over the Astros is any indication, they may get them.
Starter Randall Delgado earned the win for Atlanta, tossing five innings of two-run ball and striking out six. But the bigger story was right fielder Jason Heyward, who made his presence felt throughout the game and might be ready to resume his rise to stardom.
Though they're down two stars, the Phillies believe they have the support they need to make it through the season.
The Phillies certainly aren't going to begin the season with a bullpen-by-committee approach. They are paying Jonathan Papelbon $50 million over the next four seasons to serve as their closer. It is the largest contract ever given a relief pitcher and a deal that been criticized for overpaying someone who will likely pitch no more than four percent of the team's innings this season.
The Marlins have an ace in the hole that could help them scoop the NL East title
When Josh Johnson takes the mound tonight and throws the first stateside pitch of the 2012 regular season, he will be making his third consecutive appearance as the Marlins’ Opening Day starter. The difference is that, for the first time in those three seasons, Johnson’s team projects to be a contender.
The 28-year-old Johnson had his 2011 campaign cut short by a shoulder injury after just nine starts and watched the Marlins sink to a last-place finish in the NL East at 72-90—five games behind the fourth-place Mets and 30 games behind the division-champion Phillies. But the tide has turned, and PECOTA sees a level playing field likely to result in a three-horse race between the Phillies, Marlins, and Braves for the top spot.