|Photo by USA Today|
By Steve Roney
Yeah, the Braves have widened their division lead, which at 16 games is more than double the next most-substantial margin: LA's 7.5-game lead over Arizona. That just sets up the rest of the division to play a very underrated late-summer role: that of the spoiler. Washington, New York, and Philadelphia can still make things difficult for more than a few wild card hopefuls.
Atlanta Braves (76-48)
That's enough, guys. Ryan Dempster grouping four fastballs around Alex Rodriguez's trunk is one thing -- whether or not you agree with plunking batters to send a message, I think it's close to a consensus that if anyone in the major leagues has it coming, it's A-Rod. Bryce Harper, though? The 20-year-old didn't deserve three in his ribs over the course of three games with the Braves. You're 16 games up, Atlanta, a fact that is tearing Harper and his teammates up -- hit him once maybe, but shouldn't that be enough?
Despite their league-best record and the 4-1 week they just completed, the Braves are hurting a tad. Second baseman Dan Uggla landed on the DL in order to have LASIK eye surgery; incredibly, he hopes to be back in the lineup not long after becoming eligible. With a .186 average, anything should help. Brian McCann is also a bit banged up, but if any team can absorb the absence of a catcher it's the Braves, who have Evan Gattis and Gerald Laird in the wings.
Player of the Week: Justin Upton, OF: 4 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, .333 AVG, .524 OBP
Miami Marlins (48-75)
Entering this week, the Fish were suffering through a 1-8 stretch that included five straight losses by two runs or fewer. That will happen when your lineup just isn't hitting. They rebounded nicely this week though, winning four of six, including last night against the scorching Dodgers. Giancarlo Stanton rediscovered his briefly dormant home run swing, going yard Saturday night and last night for his first two taters of August.
For all of their young talent in the starting rotation, the Marlins have almost as many talented young outfielders, including Stanton (still just 23, can you believe it?). Jake Marisnick -- perhaps the biggest prize, at the time, in the trade of Jose Reyes and friends -- Christian Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna join Stanton to give Miami an enviable outfield quartet brimming with potential. Unfortunately, in Marisnick's case, potential is all there is right now -- the 22-year-old, promoted alongside Yelich, has yet to find his major league footing and is hitting just .193.
Player of the Week: Logan Morrison, 1B: 2 R, 4 2B, 7 RBI, .308 AVG
New York Mets (57-66)
Young starter Jenrry Mejia, who had produced quality starts in his first four turns since making his season debut on July 26, left his fifth start early, and is now laid up with a bone spur in his right (pitching) elbow. One of the more promising pitching prospects in the Mets' system, it's another unfortunate setback for Mejia, and for the entire organization. Just another casualty on a roster missing several contributors to the injury bug -- and yet, one that is somehow creeping up on the Nats for second place.
The one of the biggest reasons for that push, and certainly the driving force behind an offense that is still without David Wright, continues to be aged outfielder Marlon Byrd. Byrd, whose 20 home runs have already matched his career high (set in 146 games with Texas in 2009), is enjoying the kind of mid-to-late-30s production that became commonplace in the steroid era -- and being that he was suspended just last season for steroid use, the numbers are drawing their fair share of skepticism. Real or not, Byrd and his career numbers should have been shipped out at the deadline. Short of the second coming of Jose Bautista, a 35-year-old corner outfielder does not just remake himself into a franchise building block.
Player of the Week: Byrd, OF: 5 R, 3 HR, 8 RBI, .387 AVG
Philadelphia Phillies (55-69)
Philly's scuffling offense was shut out in back-to-back games by the Dodgers, dropping that series as well as the one against Atlanta that preceded it. A couple of Nebraska products, Darin Ruf and Cody Asche, have supplied a modicum of power, stroking a combined three home runs. As he has for most of the season, Domonic Brown is the most consistent offensive threat, and is among the league leaders with 27 home runs.
On the mound, Cliff Lee has pitched fairly well, but it's poor Cole Hamels that deserves a measure of sympathy. The NL leader in losses with 13, to go along with just five victories, Hamels has been borderline dominant in August -- with very little to show for it. In four starts this month, the ace has lasted eight, seven, nine, and seven innings, yielding five total earned runs (a 1.45 ERA) while striking out 25. The Phillies are 2-2 in those starts, and he's been able to claim just one victory. The 5-13 record is ugly, but the 3.61ERA tells you there's more to the story than a pitcher simply suffering through the most disappointing year of his career.
Player of the Week: Brown, OF: 2 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, .364 AVG