Control for the NL East could look very different after this weekend’s division series between the struggling Mets and the red hot Phillies.
The NL East has had quite a whirlwind season thus far. Most expected this to be an extremely competitive division with such talented squads constantly battling it out. However, this has not been the case. The NL East has been rather mediocre with no team holding an overly impressive record. The New York Mets, though, have had a length stay atop the division’s standings. For the 90th straight day, the New York Mets will be in first place, but for how much longer is unsure.
The New York Mets are Blowing the NL East
For nearly three full months, a New York team has commanded their division, and it is not the Yankees. The Metropolitans, despite injuries and other struggles, have been the team to beat in the NL East. However, there are some major issues finally catching up with this squad. The first clear problem is the injury bug. Jacob DeGrom was off to possibly the best pitching start in baseball history but is now likely sidelined until September. Also on the injured list are Mets middle infielders Francisco Lindor and José Pereza, both of which should be back by at best late August.
Everyone should stop and rejoice, though, because they acquired Javier Báez! Although he is a “big-name” player who can bring a lot to his team, the Mets simply needed more offensive help. They currently rank 28th in runs scored per game (3.81), 25th in homers hit, 19th in team batting average, and 22nd in OPS. Additionally, the Mets have a run differential of -11, whereas the last-place Marlins are +2. The Mets just finished dropping three of four games to Miami and are trending heavily downward.
Since their All-Star break record of 47-40, the Mets have gone 9-12 with them dropping six of their last eight. Their cushion atop of the NL East has shrunk from 3.5 games to just a half-game. If they want to hold off the Phillies from taking over control, they will need some improved starting pitching and clutch hitting. The Mets have now gone 14 consecutive games without their starter recording a win. While their offense is coming off a 4-1 loss to Miami in which they left 15 runners on base (8 for Báez alone).
The Atlanta Braves are Somehow Winning Without Acuña
After losing their superstar outfielder, Ronald Acuña Jr., most thought the Braves were done for. This injury only added to the long list of issues the Braves have experienced this season. So, when the deadline came and went, it was a shock to see Atlanta making a push for their fourth straight division title. They went out and acquired four outfielders to replace Acuña’s production and it is actually working.
Atlanta just completed a sweep of the Cardinals, marking their first winning streak since July 10th. Before Atlanta’s second win of the series, they had posted an MLB record 18 consecutive games without repeating wins or losses. Leading the way, Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson, and Jorge Soler all had immensely important at-bats that carried their new team out of win-loss purgatory.
Although it is a small sample size, Soler has appeared to turn a corner since arriving in Atlanta. Another Brave improving his play is the reigning National League MVP, Freddie Freeman. For the first handful of months, Freeman looked far from himself but is now reminding the world of his incredible natural hitting abilities.
Over his last 35 games, Freddie Freeman is hitting .402/.484/.629 with six doubles and eight home runs. He has 20 walks and 20 strikeouts over the span
— Kris Willis (@Kris_Willis) August 4, 2021
Even without Acuña and Ozuna, the Braves have an undeniable lethal offense. As long as their pitching staff can remain healthy and their new additions continue to produce, the Braves make an interesting case for the NL East. Their recent three-game winning streak has pushed them to just 1.5 games back from New York. However, the issue is being behind two teams and not having any shot for the wild card.
The Phillies Are Getting Hot at the Right Time
The Phillies have begun their playoff push and just in the nick of time. After sweeping the baren Nationals, the Phillies have extended their winning streak to five games. The brooms nearly didn’t come out though as they trailed 3 runs heading into the 7th, but a clutch 4-run 9th inning helped secure the sweep. This year, the Phillies have come back from a 3 run deficit six times and five have come against the Nationals.
As hard as it is to admit, a big reason for the Phillies’ rise in the NL East is Bryce Harper. Since the All-Star break, Harper has been inhuman. Since then, his batting average is over .400 with an OPS is around 1.258. Harper now hosts the 5th best OPS in baseball, as well as recently reaching an impressive career milestone.
There it is, number 250! The career 250th home run for Bryce Harper
— Phillies Nation (@PhilliesNation) August 5, 2021
Ironically enough, it took place in DC and the fans certainly did not show love to their former wonderboy. Although Harper is having a sleeper MVP season, this Phillies’ offense is arguably being led by Rhys Hoskins. He leads the ball club in doubles, RBIs, and home runs, but does also lead them in strikeouts. This offense is extremely team-oriented and not overly reliant upon one single performance. The same cannot be said for the other NL East teams.
NL East Outlook
The fate of this division could come down to this weekend. There is plenty of baseball left, but this series could shift the standings dramatically. This weekend will have the Mets vs. Phillies, as well as the Braves vs. Nationals. The Phillies will rely on their hot bats to carry them through a tough pitching team. They will also look to capitalize on the Mets’ hitting struggles because the Phillies’ pitching staff has not been overly great either.
The Braves could sneak their way into contention if they take care of business against the stripped Nationals. It is anyone’s division for the taking, but a noticeably different strength of schedule could offset everyone’s odds. Using their remaining opponents’ win percentage, the Phillies have the easiest schedule left in baseball (46.3%), while Mets have the fifth hardest (51.6%). This discrepancy, as well as the two teams moving in opposite directions, means the Phillies have the full opportunity to shut the door on the NL East.
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