|Photo by USA Today|
By Steve Roney
An odd pairing has become even more apparent over the past couple weeks, as the Braves have again attained the mantle of the majors' best team, while the rest of the division constitutes baseball's worst. The substantial void between first and second place aside, no other division features just one winning team.
Atlanta Braves (72-47)
Unfortunately, tragedy struck last night in Atlanta, as a man fell some 30-40 feet from the upper deck at Turner Field, and later passed away at Atlanta Medical Center due to the resulting trauma. Rivalries aside, all thoughts should be with the victim's family and loved ones, who are surely enduring the worst moments of their lives. Fatal accidents happen every day, but when associated with a game that bonds and brings joy to so many, the tragedy is almost unthinkable.
Though it feels dwarfed by the events of last night, things on the field for the Braves continue to roll on as efficiently as ever. Though they've dropped a couple of games after reeling off their impressive 14-game winning streak, the Braves' lead now stands at 14 games over the Nationals. Fredi Gonzalez can probably start penciling in his postseason rotation, and use September as a proving ground for the youngsters in Triple-A.
Player of the Week: Jason Heyward, OF: 4 R, 3 2B, 3 RBI, .455 AVG
Miami Marlins (44-73)
After four and a half solid months of railing against the Marlins, after observing the performances of his young pitching staff, it might be time to take a (fleeting) moment to acknowledge that Jeffrey Loria might be -- just maybe -- crazy like a fox. No one will deny that his stadium dealings were of first-class sheistiness, and whatever he said to Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell were out-and-out lies, but give him this: The Marlins and Blue Jays are both in last place, and it's the team in Miami that actually looks to be in better shape going forward.
No one would be saying this without the emergence of what has the makings of potentially the best young (with an extra emphasis on young) starting rotation in the game. With a nod to the staff in Queens, the Marlins' rotation could be the class of the NL within a couple years, especially if the past couple months are a sign of things to come. Health and continued improvement should never be assumed or counted upon, so this is of course just potential and speculation -- but these arms could be dangerous, and the 2003 edition of this team, as well as the recent champions in San Francisco, have shown what great pitching can do when paired with a so-so lineup.
Of course, it helps Loria that budding studs Nathan Eovaldi (in return for Hanley Ramirez), Jacob Turner (Anibal Sanchez), and Henderson Alvarez (Jose Reyes, et al) were the return for all of those traded-away stars. Even still, I don't think I'd want him as my team's owner.
Player of the Week: Eovaldi, SP: 1-0, 7 IP, 8 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.57 WHIP
New York Mets (54-62)
The Mets are actually making progress in the standings, hopping the Phillies for third place -- incredibly -- without the services of David Wright, on the DL since August 3. With their star third baseman out with a strained hamstring, the Mets went 5-2 this past week, with a plus-11 run differential. Ewing Theory, perhaps? Not quite: this was actually the Mets' seventh 5-2 (or better) stretch of the season. It's those pesky five-plus-game losing streaks that are holding them down.
With his team currently on the medal stand, I'd like to take this opportunity to offer a sincere 'welcome back' to Ike Davis. Not welcome back to the majors -- the first baseman has been back with the big club since July 5, after about a month's banishment to Triple-A to work on his swing. With a 2-2 performance against Arizona on Saturday, Davis raised his average to .203, breaking the Mendoza Line and getting his batting helmet above water for the first time all season. He's up to .207 now, thanks to a mini three-game hitting streak, and has used a bevy of walks to raise his on-base percentage to a respectable .327. Baby steps -- but well done, sir.
Player of the Week: Davis, 1B: 8 R, 4 2B, 0 RBI, 10 BB, .500 AVG, .692 OBP
Philadelphia Phillies (53-65)
Chase Utley and the Phillies have a deal, and it will keep the beloved second baseman in red-and-white pinstripes through at least 2015 -- and potentially through the end of his career, if all three vesting options kick in. Utley, who is as representative of Philadelphia as cream cheese and bad attitudes, is enjoying somewhat of a resurgence in his age-34 season, having already matched or bested most of his totals from last season. He's also on track to play in more games than he has in any year since 2009, a welcome realization for a team so otherwise beset by injuries.
In the outfield, Domonic Brown has returned from the DL with a vengeance, clubbing two home runs since his activation and showing no ill-effects from his concussion. He also found the pastures of Citizens Bank Park a little less crowded, as the Delmon Young Adventure was aborted Friday with the player's designation for assignment. Young certainly isn't the most disappointing recent No. 1 overall draft pick -- try googling 'Matt Bush' without shaking your head (it can't be done) -- but it's hard not to wonder where the right fielder goes from here, with a fourth team having given up on him.
Player of the Week: Utley, 2B: 6 R, 0 HR, 5 RBI, .435 AVG