It was an interesting week in the N.L. East as every team actually gained ground on the Nationals. Both the Marlins and Mets sit just 3 back. As for the Phillies, there was a welcome sight as the offense reared it’s head for the first time with any level of consistency. That did not exactly reflect itself in the standings but it was a good sign. If only the pitching and defense could have played along. The week started tough with Arizona finishing off the 4 game sweep before the Phils made the worst team in baseball look like the ’27 Yankees for 2 games. Finally in game 3, the Phils were able to steal a win and snap their 9 game skid. After getting out of Minnesota with just one win, the Phils went in and found themselves competing with one of the better teams in baseball for 3 straight games losing 2 of 3 by just one run and averaging more than 4 runs. However, as mentioned, the defense and pitching could not deliver and the Giants took 2 of 3. Based on the last month of baseball though, the Phils were more probably more than happy to walk away with 2 wins this week.
Don’t blink because you may not see this written very often but the Phils averaged more than 5 runs a game for the week. The more heartening thing is that a few bats that have been missing showed up this week. Most glaring in this department is that of Peter Bourjos. Bourjos raised his average from .217 to .250 over the course of the week (despite a few miscues in the field which cost them the game on Sunday). Even Ryan Howard made an appearance on the not-completely-worthless radar. Howard had 4 hits including a double and a HR. Cody Asche? Yup, he made a huge run as well raising his average 52 points over the course of the week. The Phils hit the ball a lot. They hit it hard, on occasion and they hit good pitchers (see: Bumgarner and Cueto). If this offense can start to level out and a few others like Freddy Galvis and Maikel Franco can get their averages back to reasonable, maybe they can start competing once again.
Has anyone seen Aaron Nola? Anyone? In his last 4 starts, Aaron Nola has not found his way out of the 4th inning. He has surrendered an average of 8 hits and more than 5 runs per game in those 4 games. A change on Sunday to put Chooch behind the plate with him didn’t seem to make any difference. Now the questions start coming up whether it’s in his head or his mechanics or worse, the MLB hitters have figured him out. Short of any quick answers, things could start to get worrisome if one of the arms of the future turns out to be a thing of the past. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Jerad Eickhoff has been the highlight of the rotation. Prior to Jeremy Hellickson’s win on Saturday, Eickhoff had won the Phils last 3 games. He has averaged just 2 ER per game over his last 10 starts and only failed to make it through 6 innings. On the youth side, Zach Eflin has looked good since a very rocky debut. He’s given up just 2 ER over 11 2/3 inning over his last 2 starts. Those results appear to have Adam Morgan on the bus back to Lehigh when Vince Velasquez steps back on the mound this week. If the bullpen can get back to form, maybe the Phils can turn this thing around a bit.
Around the N.L. East
Nationals– The Nats looked like they were finally trying to take control after winning 10 of 12. That all started going in reverse last weekend and going into Sunday’s game against the Brewers, the Nats had lost 7 straight. The Dodgers started a rough 1-5 week by sweeping 3 in LA and the Brewers weren’t the pushover that they likely expected. The crew took the first 2 games of the series before the Nats stole a late inning win on Sunday. Their biggest issue right now however is the injury to Stephen Strasburg. If it is anything serious that keeps him on the shelf for any extended period of time, that could be a big hit to the Nationals. With just a 3 game lead over the Mets and Marlins, a 3 game set with the Mets this week could be crucial. After the Mets leave town, the Reds come in for 4. This should be a welcome invitee but based on the last week, nothing is a guarantee.
Mets– The Mets started strong while chasing down the Nats. They swept their 2 game set with the Royals before heading down to Atlanta. What should have been an opportunity slipped away as they split a four game set with the Braves. After gaining ground, now they have their work cutout. They start the week with a 3 game set in Washington before the Cubs come into New York for four. This week could go either way and whichever way it goes will have a major impact in the standings.
Marlins– The Marlins took care of business this week. While they split a 2 game set with the Braves, they more than made up for that by winning 3 of 4 from the Cubs in convincing fashion. The Fish have won 7 of 10 and are just 3 games back. A 2 game stop in Detroit could be a tough spot but the way they are playing, it could also be a launching pad before they head into Atlanta for four. What should be an opportunity could also be a curse if they can’t take advantage. With the momentum they’ve built, they don’t want to let it slip.
Braves– The Braves capped off a 6 game win streak by defeating the Marlins on Monday before the Fish snapped that. They then won the bookends of a four game set with the Mets and showed that they aren’t just going to continue to be a pushover as they were in the early going of the season. Unfortunately for them, this week they get the hottest team in the Majors, the Indians, for 3 games before a four get series with the Marlins.
The Phils start the week in Arizona facing three pitchers who held them to a combined 4 runs in their series just last weekend. Vince Velasquez returns to the rotation on Monday, hoping to get himself back on track after a little downtime. Pete Mackanin has to hope that the offense he saw this week is the one that shows up this time around. Once they get through Arizona, they’ll return home for three games with the Royals. Could this be the week when everything gets on track? Or will some or all components fall apart again and lead to another downturn. With the inconsistency we’ve seen lately, it’s anyone’s guess at this point.