|Photo by USA Today|
After a brief hiatus last week, the NL East roundup is back, with much to cover. While there's been some minor action in the standings, with the Phillies briefly overtaking the Nats for second place only to concede it again days later, the big stories are the individual ones, the most notable of which concerns an outfielder in Philadelphia who really digs the long ball.
Atlanta Braves (39-25)
After a mid-spring lull, the Braves have fully regained their commanding lead, lording a seven-game advantage over the rest of the division -- the biggest margin between first and second place in the major leagues. Big bat Evan Gattis has tied Justin Upton, who's bat feel completely silent in the month of May, for the team lead in home runs with 14, and Dan Uggla has continued his all-or-nothing ways with 13 homers and a .195 average.
After tinkering with his swing a bit, B.J. Upton has "broken out" by upping his season totals to six home runs and a .165 average, a 20-point improvement since the dawn of June. His mate in the outfield, Jason Heyward, has begun to warm as well, raising his totals to five and .207, respectively. While they provide a boost to the offense (however long that may last), Atlanta's impressive rotation will benefit even further from the return of Brandon Beachy, set to come off the DL and make his season debut on June 18 in a doubleheader against the Mets -- barring any setbacks in his final rehab start in Triple-A Gwinnett between now and then.
Player of the Week: Heyward, OF: 6 R, 2 HR, 2 R, .414 AVG
Miami Marlins (18-45)
Speaking of players making their way back from injury, Giancarlo Stanton returned yesterday from a five-week DL stint to greatly increase the number of legitimate major leaguers on the Marlins' active roster. Another such player, Marcell Ozuna, owes his promotion partly to Stanton's balky hamstring, offering a silver lining to the most established star's absence and giving the fish a pair of promising bats in the outfield corners. The younger Ozuna leads the team -- for now, until Stanton heats up -- with 13 doubles, offering a possible glimpse at the nascent power the 22 year old is still developing.
As the weather starts to get hot with the onset of summer, members of the Marlins usually have more than one reason to sweat, as the July 31 trade deadline looms larger in South Beach than in most cities. This year, however, there are few useful players that won't be considered part of the Marlins' future, as veterans Placido Polanco, Greg Dobbs, Juan Pierre, and Justin Ruggiano aren't playing well enough to bring much in return. Starting pitchers Kevin Slowey and 'Risky' Ricky Nolasco remain the notable exceptions, as each is still pitching well enough to bolster the back end of a fringe contender's rotation.
Player of the Weak: Derek Dietrich, 2B: 4 R, 2 HR, 2 RBI, .192 AVG
New York Mets (23-35)
The biggest story in New York -- or at least, in Queens -- might be not what's happening on the field, but who isn't there anymore, and who might be on the way. First baseman Ike Davis, who wields a hammer capable of more than 30 home runs (he hit 32, with 90 RBI last season), was demoted to Triple-A Las Vegas to clear his head and work on his swing. The 26 year old former top prospect was more than struggling at the plate, hitting at just a .161 clip and often finding his way to the bench in the late innings of close games in favor of the lighter-hitting but more consistent Justin Turner (a career utility infielder probably best suited to second base).
On a more optimistic note, current top prospect Zack Wheeler finally looks to be making his way to the big leagues, with the Mets targeting June 17 as a possible debut. Matt Harvey, who remains perfect yet stuck on win number five, could use all the help he can get in the rotation, though Dillon Gee has turned in two stellar outings in a row, silencing the Yankees and Nationals en route to two wins and just two earned runs over his last 14.1 innings.
Player of the Week: Gee, SP: 1-0, 7 IP, 7 K, 1 ER, 1.42 WHIP
Philadelphia Phillies (31-33)
Domonic Brown. We're running out of useful adjectives and superlatives to describe just what the 25 year old outfielder has done in the last three weeks or so. In this space on May 28, I wrote that Brown:
"Is having a having a fine age-25 breakout season, leading the team in home runs (10) and RBI (29). Only his sub-.300 on base percentage has stemmed true rising-star talk. Learn to take a walk, Domonic. Then we'll talk."
Well, since that afternoon, Domonic has left the yard nine more times to rocket into the National League home run lead. He's also raised his average by 32 points and his on-base percentage by 35, taking four walks in the process (with a fifth that was issued intentionally). That's not quite the same as displaying true plate discipline, and it's certainly not the reason we're talking about him, but it's an encouraging sign that this power tear could be sustainable. Hats off to you, Dom, for ignoring the "bust" talk as best you could, and becoming the player most of baseball thought you would be. At least for now.
Player of the Week: Brown, OF: 5 R, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 2 SB, .273 AVG