|Photo by USA Today|
By Steve Roney
The Nats aren't the only team that has stumbled out of the second-half gate. Things are worse than ever in Miami, as the Marlins' bats have all but gone on strike, and nobody in the division has fared better than 2-2 since play resumed. The only real action in the standings involves Philadelphia moving into second place ahead of Washington, though their seven-game deficit behind the Braves is a veritable chasm compared with the other division leads around baseball.
Atlanta Braves (56-43)
Freddie Freeman has showed no ill effects from the finger injury that kept him from participating in the All-Star Game, boosting his average with a .400 tear since the meaningful games have returned. Paul Maholm, on the other hand, probably wishes he was still on vacation after he was shelled by several soon-to-be-former White Sox on Saturday, giving up seven earned runs in just three innings. The loss was Maholm's ninth, and he's not the only starter saddled with a relatively high number. Though Atlanta's staff is deep and talented, every member has at least five losses, and only Mike Minor (9-5) has a record much above .500. Odd.
It'll be interesting to see what Atlanta does with the non-waiver trade deadline looming; though they likely don't need more ammo to win the East, they can't reasonably expect to contend for a pennant without an upgrade or two. Lefty relief could be a target, but they may choose to add a bat to help in the outfield. If just one of their current outfield starters plays up to his full potential in the second half, that would more than equate to a major deadline acquisition -- but as it is, they have all underperformed, and 99 games is no longer a small sample size.
Player of the Week: Freeman, 1B: 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 SB, .400 AVG
Miami Marlins (36-61)
If you started your day the way the Marlins began the second half of the season, you'd be better served just going back to bed. Miami was shut out for the first three games back from the All-Star break, a total of 31 innings without plating a run thanks to a 13-inning, 1-0 loss to the the Brewers on Sunday night. The streak of futility was snapped last night when -- who else? -- Giancarlo Stanton doubled home a run in the top of the first in a win at Colorado.
The unfortunate scoreless streak obscured a relatively good few days for the pitching staff; Nathan Eovaldi was tuned up for six earned runs in just four innings on Saturday, but Justin Turner (5 IP, 2 ER), Henderson Alvarez (7 IP, 0 ER), and the bullpen (12 IP, 1 ER) were otherwise very effective during the slide. Tom Koehler continued the trend in last night's victory, going seven full innings and yielding just one run, with bullpen stalwarts Chad Qualls and Steve Cishek finishing the Rockies off with a scoreless inning apiece. That's good news for Miami for more than one reason -- the several young starters in the rotation are holding their own and maturing, while the bullpen is showcasing well ahead of the trade deadline. Qualls could be dealt, and Cishek should be -- I hear there's a possible opening for a late-inning guy in Pittsburgh.
One thing to keep an eye on in the second half: when the Marlins decide to cap phenom Jose Fernandez's innings. They've been aggressive with the 20-year-old, but if they let him pitch through September, that would constitute definitive proof that owner Jeffrey Loria is doing everything possible to sabotage the team. Fernandez will be shut down at some point.
Player of the Weak: Alvarez, SP: 0-0, 7 IP, 1 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.86 WHIP
New York Mets (43-52)
Well, that was a nicer break for New York than it was for most: Matt Harvey acquitted himself well as the NL All-Star starter, and David Wright also got to start in front of the home crowd, though he wasn't able to do much about the final result. Counting Team USA earlier this year, that's the third squad that Wright has been a part of that has failed to live up to expectations (almost entirely through no fault of his own, and in spite of his mostly stellar play). He must be getting sick of it.
Shaun Marcum is out for the remainder of the season with thoracic outlet syndrome (I don't know either), joining John Niese (partially torn rotator cuff) and Johan Santana (shoulder surgery) as starters missing significant time. Noah Syndergaard has made just five starts at Double-A, but his services may be needed before the end of the season, even if it's a September cup of coffee. He's still just 20, though, so the Mets may just as likely choose to keep him marinating in the minors for the rest of the year.
Player of the Week: Marlon Byrd, OF: 4 R, 2 HR, 5 RBI, .375 AVG
Philadelphia Phillies (49-50)
Someone needs to sit Ruben Amaro down and let him know that it's probably not going to happen this year. Big league GMs are paid to win, and you never want to see your team give up, but passing up on the opportunity to reload a bit -- not even overhaul, just restock -- in favor of adding pieces to try to make a push will likely serve to set Philadelphia back. This is not a real second-place team -- this is a team that is probably fortunate to be in the position they're in, and at just under .500, that isn't saying much.
It's not that they're sitting at 49-50 and seven games out of first place; teams have been in much worse situations and made deep postseason runs. It's that they're looking at playing the next month and a half or so without Ryan Howard and Ben Revere; Cole Hamels isn't pitching all that well; and Roy Halladay is taking steps towards returning, but can't be counted on to provide a huge boost. These are not the ingredients of a team about to catch fire. Michael Young should return a decent prospect, perhaps from the Red Sox, and some might listen on Jonathan Papelbon (whose contract would be a great one to get rid of). Keep the core, Ruben, but just don't buy anything expensive.
Player of the Week: Utley, 2B: 3 R, 2 HR, 6 RBI, .444 AVG (all in just two games)