|Photo by USA Today|
All around baseball, buyers are looking for parts to add and finding few willing trade partners; the second wild card, still a new facet of the game, has widened not only the playoff field but also deepened the pool of teams who believe they have a shot. That likely doesn't apply to most of the NL East, however, as a recent tumble has made Philadelphia realize that it has no business making a run, and also-rans New York and Miami have been out for months already.
Atlanta Braves (61-45)
It's over-simplifying, a bit, to call Atlanta the division's only good team; it's also a pretty fair assumption to make after 100 games have been played. The Braves boast not only the East's only winning record, still, but now lead Washington by nine games. The fat lady isn't warming up her vocal chords just yet, but she's at least going over the sheet music. Atlanta added Scott Downs from the Angels, nabbing that left-handed relief that everyone is looking for at this point in the season and that they sorely needed with Venters and O'Flaherty sidelined. Do they need more help to make the playoffs? No. They should still contemplate a bat, because too many regulars are hitting around .200 for the Braves to truly feel like a championship-caliber club.
One player who is not swinging the cowhide-averse bats apparently favored by the Uptons and Dan Uggla is Chris Johnson, who has manned third base more than admirably for most of the season now. A throw-in at the time, he has been the most productive player acquired from Arizona over the winter, hitting a crisp .338. He offers almost no power for a third baseman, but a .377 OBP forgives a good deal of that.
Player of the Week: Johnson, 3B: 5 R, 0 HR, 1 RBI, .476 AVG
Miami Marlins (40-64)
The Marlins making headlines in the days before the trade deadline for anything other than trading away players constitutes the upset of the summer, but that's what happened when hitting coach Tino Martinez resigned. Martinez, the beloved former Yankee, was apparently not taking the losing in Miami very well (did old pal Joe Girardi not tell him what to expect?) and reportedly engaged in verbally and physically abusive behavior towards his players. The unfortunate irony in Martinez being the team's hitting coach is noted, but there's no place for actions like those in the game -- especially on such an extremely young team. Miami is better off without him, though owner Jeffrey Loria -- who hand-picked Martinez for this, his first-ever coaching job -- apparently wouldn't accept Martinez's resignation when he attempted to quit earlier. Embarrassing.
Incredibly, things are actually much more positive on the field, where Giancarlo Stanton is once again launching balls as if they've wronged him, and Jose Fernandez is getting better with every start, fanning a baker's dozen in his most recent turn on Sunday. Though Derek Dietrich has been demoted, Christian Yelich is up, giving the Fish a potentially impressive young outfield of Stanton, Yelich, and Ozuna. All that remains is for team to jettison the flotsam clogging up the roster; Justin Ruggiano and Juan Pierre are essentially committing misdemeanor theft with every at-bat.
Player of the Week: Fernandez, SP: 2-0, 15 IP, 21 K, 2.40 ERA, 0.80 WHIP
New York Mets (47-56)
New York, New York. The Mets are in what should be a no-brainer situation: They are a losing club with a few untouchable pieces and reasonable expectations of being decent soon, along with a player (Marlon Byrd) who is past his prime, yet tearing the cover off the ball. Byrd is 35, a pending free agent, and hitting better than he has in years -- .281 at the moment, and is on pace to obliterate his career high in home runs (it's 20; he has 17 right now). So does New York plan to move him to a contender seeking a bat for the playoff push, adding a promising young piece in return to help bolster the rebuilding effort? According to GM Sandy Alderson, the thought has barely crossed his mind, and he has no intention of letting Byrd go. That could work too, I guess. We'll see.
The rest of the lineup, save for David Wright, should likewise be available. Daniel Murphy could be a poor man's Michael Young (indeed, he has been for years), John Buck could provide some power off the bench, and Lucas Duda could be a useful bat as well. No idea why they would hold onto Bobby Parnell. A losing team with a good closer is like a crappy car with really shiny rims -- just auction him for a potential impact player (not a future closer) and be done with it.
Player of the Week: Byrd, OF: 3 R, 0 HR, 3 RBI, .333 AVG
Philadelphia Phillies (49-56)
Last week, I called for someone to sit GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. down and explain to him that the Phillies are not contenders, and thus should sell at the deadline instead of buying. Instead of one person, 25 delivered the message to Amaro, as the Phillies have lost eight straight to drop 11.5 games behind Atlanta, and nine games off the pace for the second wild card slot (currently held by Cincinnati, who despite their own four-game slide are 59-48). Don't expect a full-fledged fire sale, however; they appear to have no intention to move mainstay Chase Utley, who at this point is as closely tied to Philadelphia as Geno's Steaks. That's too bad, as he would likely be the top bat on the market if they were to make him available. They'll probably listen to offers on Cliff Lee, who will likely be too expensive prospect-wise, and on Jonathan Papelbon, who will likely be too expensive in actual dollars, and end up moving Michael Young, perhaps to Boston to fill their black hole at third base.
On the non-trade front, Domonic Brown is the latest to be felled by injury, sustaining a concussion last week in St. Louis. The present lineup is almost unrecognizable after Jimmy Rollins, Young, and Utley; every team deals with injuries, but an already flawed team has taken considerable licks, and looks to be packing it in. Once the Ben Revere and Ryan Howard cavalry return (Brown isn't expected to miss much more time), this club will likely be playing out the string.
Player of the Week: Darin Ruf, 1B: 3 R, 0 HR, 1 RBI, .333 AVG