|Photo by USA Today|
By Steve Roney
The Braves have led the division throughout the season, and have enjoyed the biggest division lead in the majors for most of that time -- and now, that lead is twice as large as it has ever been. Only the Nationals, at 54-58, have even the faintest hope of challenging for a playoff spot behind Atlanta.
Atlanta Braves (68-45)
The Braves are blowing everyone out of the water right now, riding the majors' longest current winning streak (11 games) to a silly 13.5-game lead over the second-place Nationals. It's their longest streak of the season, improving their record to baseball's second-best -- just percentage points behind the Pittsburgh Pirates. If the season were a baseball game, Luis Avilan and Craig Kimbrel would be warming in the pen, preparing to slam the door on the rest of the division.
The trends in the lineup remain the same, as Brian McCann, Freddie Freeman, and Chris Johnson continue to bring the wood; early-season feel-good story Evan Gattis has slipped more than a bit, as his 15 home runs are nice, but his on-base percentage has fallen to .299. The loss of Tim Hudson for the remainder of the season hurts a ton, but is not the devastating blow that it would be to most teams, as it almost perfectly coincided with Brandon Beachy's return. Though Beachy has been shaky in his first two post-Tommy John starts, his strikeout rates are right where they need to be, and he should be fine. Atlanta's other alliterative starter, Mike Minor, continues to dazzle, and has been far and away the team's best starter this season.
Player of the Week: McCann, C: 3 R, 3 HR, 9 RBI, .250 AVG
Miami Marlins (43-67)
You would be hard-pressed to find a more toothless lineup than the one fielded by Miami right now (though, in fairness, they did explode fairly out of nowhere a few days ago in a 10-0 victory over Cleveland). Not a single position player, regardless of the number of at-bats -- whether they have three or 300 -- has an average of .300. The ghost of Placido Polanco leads the regulars with a .257 average, and Giancarlo Stanton -- with just 68 games under his belt -- leads the team with 13 home runs. Only Justin Ruggiano (12) joins him in double digits, and he hasn't hit one in just over a month.
The saving grace of this team has been pitching, where Jose Fernandez is putting on a performance for the ages (if not the aged) during his rookie campaign. The young hurler -- who just last week became old enough to purchase one of Marlins Park's $8 beers -- has 35 strikeouts over his last three starts, including totals of 13 and 14 in his most recent two. With Kevin Slowey sidelined for the next several weeks with a sore forearm, the kids have the mound to themselves, and Jacob Turner, Nathan Eovaldi, and Henderson Alvarez continue to acquit themselves well.
Player of the Weak, likely until he's shut down: Fernandez, SP: 1-0, 8 IP, 0 R, 14 K, 0.50 WHIP
New York Mets (49-60)
Not a good week to be a Met, or a Mets fan. First, they did nothing at the deadline, failing to engage in any meaningful talks that could have yielded useful pieces to aid in rebuilding -- and as one of the few teams with no reasonable hope of making the playoffs, they should have. Then, David Wright strained a hammy, putting him on the shelf for three to five weeks. Lastly, utilityman Jordany Vladespin and prospect Cesar Puello were among the dozen felled by 50-game Biogenesis suspensions -- along with former top prospect Fernando Martinez, now property of the crosstown Yankees.
All of that obscured a decent post-All-Star break run in which New York started the second half 8-8 -- but alas, without Wright, this team is a bus without a driver. Add in the news that closer Bobby Parnell may be placed on the DL with a strained neck, and you start to wonder what a Mets-shaped voodoo doll looks like. At least Marlon Byrd continues his resurgence -- cleanly, ostensibly.
Player of the Week: Dillon Gee, SP: 1-0, 7 IP, 1 ER, 4 K, 0.71 WHIP
Philadelphia Phillies (50-61)
Like the Mets, the Phillies haven't much to cheer about -- currently nursing a five-game losing streak, they're stuck in a 2-13 tailspin since coming back from the All-Star break. They, too, have been without their best hitter, as Dom Brown continues his recovery from a concussion suffered July 24, though he is expected back tomorrow. And Antonio Bastardo, their main setup man in front of Jonathan Papelbon, accepted a 50-game suspension Monday for his connection to the Biogenesis scandal.
If Ruben Amaro Jr. wasn't sitting on his hands at the trade deadline, he was likely using them to plug his ears as most of the objective baseball world urged him to put up the For Sale sign. He did nothing, though it isn't too late to try to pass Michael Young or Papelbon's huge contract through waivers. He apparently continues to negotiate a contract extension that would keep Chase Utley in Philly for the rest of his career, and while that would certainly please fans of the Phillies and of the game, it won't save his job if the team sports a similar record a year from now.
Player of the Week: Carlos Ruiz, C: 1 R, 2 2B, 0 RBI, .308 AVG