|Photo by USA Today|
Though the standings remain unchanged, the dogfight between the Nationals and Phillies for second place is perhaps the most intriguing story in an otherwise underwhelming division. Can the Nats finally shape up and pull away? How long can Domonic Brown prop up the Phillies? Both teams could still catch the first place Braves, of course, but as the mercury rises neither team really feels up to the challenge.
Atlanta Braves (42 - 28)
Freddie Freeman's two-run blast in the bottom of the ninth last night gave the Braves a thrilling 2-1 victory over the Mets, as well as a three-game winning streak after dropping four straight. Oddly enough, the Braves have lost in bunches this season, with five losing streaks of at least three games, though they've counterbalanced those skids with winning streaks of ten, eight, and five games. And yes, if you throw out their 13-2 start, they're just 29-26 since -- but those first 15 games count for just as much as the last 15, and the lead they have is the biggest in baseball. They say that what matters most is how your finish, and not how you start...but if you sprint out of the gate faster than anyone else, sometimes you can coast to the finish line. Ask Usain Bolt.
Aside from Freeman, who has proven to be far and away Atlanta's best hitter, the catching duo of Evan Gattis and Brian McCann has been impressively powerful (a combined 21 home runs and 51 RBI), and Chris Johnson has given them good production at third. The expected boost provided by starter Brandon Beachy will have to wait a bit, however, as word came today that he's been scratched from a doubleheader start against New York this afternoon. An MRI was negative, showing only fluid in his surgically repaired elbow, but the Braves can wait to debut Beachy with five good-or-better starters already in the mix.
Player of the Week: Freeman, 1B: 1 R, 1 HR, 5 RBI, .423 AVG
Miami Marlins (22-47)
Now that Giancarlo Stanton is back, the Marlins are finally fielding the team that everyone, including Stanton, expected after their massive offseason roster purge: it's him, a handful of up-and-comers, a couple of trade chips, and a lot of roster filler. The only surprise so far has been the relatively decent pitching performances turned in by the majority of Miami's staff, as trade chips Ricky Nolasco and Kevin Slowey have teamed with up-and-comer Jose Fernandez to keep Miami involved when they start.
That entire narrative was never more apparent than last night, when Stanton hit a pair of homers to drive in every Marlin run in a 3-2 victory over Arizona. The only other Marlins to reach base safely were Juan Pierre (single) and Marcell Ozuna (walk). The only thing more common for the rest of the summer in Miami than a Giancarlo Stanton solo home run will be empty stadium seats.
Player of the Weak: Stanton, OF: 5 R, 4 HR, 10 RBI, .393 AVG
New York Mets (25-40)
Forgive the Mets if it seems like they're putting a lot of effort into getting cougars to vote David Wright into the All-Star Game -- he deserves to go, and probably deserves to start, and...they don't have a whole lot else going on. Wunderkind Matt Harvey, the talk of baseball for the season's first month, has pitched no less brilliantly of late; the problem is, the Mets stopped winning the games he started, and talking heads can only praise a 5-0 record for so long (and now not at all, since Harvey recently suffered his first loss).
The problem in Queens is that help, aside from top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler (set to debut today), does not appear to be coming. With catcher Travis d'Arnaud still injured, no other impactful prospects are on the horizon, and with a roster devoid of much youth or potential, the idea of a quick or even eventual turnaround is either a pipedream or an abstract notion (depending on which future you're discussing). In the meantime, starter Dillon Gee continues to rebound from a horrendous start to the season, giving up just five runs over his last four starts.
Player of the Week: Gee, SP: 1-1, 13 K, 0.93 WHIP, 1.80 ERA
Philadelphia Phillies (34-37)
Jonathan Papelbon, a solid beacon of light at the end of games for the Phillies all year, finally blew his first save last night, giving up a Chad Tracy home run with two out in the top of the ninth. Domonic Brown bailed him out in a microcosm of Philadelphia's season, driving in the go-ahead run with a single (just a single, Dom?) in the bottom half of the inning, allowing Papelbon to walk off a winner. The Phillies, it seems, will go only as far as Brown's bat will take them, and it's only a matter of time before Cliff Lee -- who has been traded more than an chocolate pudding at a middle school lunch -- is moved again.
Aside from whichever prospects Lee is able to bring back, Philly fans have the continued maturation of Brown and fellow outfielder Ben Revere to look forward to, as each is hitting effectively (Revere: .274, Brown: .280) and is just beginning to enter his prime. The same cannot be said for the vast majority of the remainder of the roster, and it should be interesting to see who follows Lee out the door to allow the youth movement that Philadelphia so badly needs to begin in earnest.
Player of the Week: Ryan Howard, 1B: 3 R, 1 HR, 6 RBI, .462 AVG