The National League East is beginning to tighten with two of the projected division favorites, the Braves and the Nationals, beginning to play up to their potential at the same time the Mets’ backups who performed so admirably are reverting to career norms.
Let’s look at this past weekend and the coming week.
NEW YORK METS
The Mets survived injuries to Jeff McNeil, Brandon Nimmo, J.D. Davis and Michael Conforto on the strength of their superlative starting pitching and what the club refers to as the “Bench Mob” complete with the T-shirt modeled by Kevin Pillar.
Kevin Pillar gets the hitter of the night belt! pic.twitter.com/HSAAr9AzXj — SNY (@SNYtv) June 17, 2021
The toughness and resilience of the club are epitomized by Pillar, who returned from a broken nose and facial fractures after taking a Jacob Webb fastball to the face in Atlanta against the Braves. Still, no team could withstand the litany of injuries the Mets have encountered.
Their pitching cannot maintain this current pace and the bullpen is taxed because of repeated games in which they used an opener amid a flurry of doubleheaders. Losing three of four in Washington against the resurgent Nationals, mostly because of a lack of hitting, the Mets will not remain in first place for the duration unless their injured everyday players return in the near term.
As predicted, the Phillies had a 2-4 road trip through the difficult terrain of Los Angeles and San Francisco. That might be acceptable were it not for the reality that the Phillies’ entire season has largely consisted of win one, lose one; look good one day, terrible the next. Much of that is due to their shortness at the back of their starting rotation, the lack of production from expected key performers like Alec Bohm, and injuries to Didi Gregorius, Jean Segura, and Bryce Harper.
Despite his poor performance in the rubber game with the Giants, Zack Eflin has been generally reliable.
Daily News | Zach Eflin ties career-high by allowing four homers and other observations from the Phillies’ 11-2 loss to Gabe Kapler’s Giants https://t.co/IBMQxBKds9 — Philly Daily News (@PhillyDailyNews) June 20, 2021
This is indicative of what is happening with the Phillies. They do not need the type of drastic makeover that past Dave Dombrowski-led organizations have in the immediate aftermath of him taking command. They do need a few tweaks and perhaps an acknowledgment that some of the younger players whom the previous regime labeled as its future simply aren’t.
They’ve apparently done that with Scott Kingery. Dombrowski, unencumbered with the yoke of having drafted or signed them with his job on the line should they fail, is free to make that call and move on in search of players who are part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
As a team, the Nationals are heating up. is about as hot as any athlete can be without spontaneously combusting after hitting five home runs in two games and nine in the past 11 games.
Kyle Schwarber's 9 homers were the most ever hit during one Nationals homestand, blasting past the previous mark of 6 by Adam LaRoche (2012) and Bryce Harper (2015). (Per @EliasSports) — Mark Zuckerman (@MarkZuckerman) June 20, 2021
With the three wins against the Mets immediately following their sweep of the Pirates, they’ve won eight of 10. Within a week, they’ve gone from hearing unsolicited advice as to whether they should put Max Scherzer up for auction and what they should ask for to looking like a team that may want to consider buying judiciously at the trade deadline.
For a roster that talented, they were bound to eventually start playing closer to their potential. It’s impossible to know the scope of the negative impact their COVID outbreak had on their season. The cancellation of so many games at the season’s outset and how far they fell behind were obvious problems. Once their key starting pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Scherzer went on the injured list, it would have been east for the club to punt the season. They’re three games below .500 and five games behind the first-place Mets. This week, with six games against the mercurial Phillies and the last-place Marlins, they could conceivably be at or over .500 by the weekend.
After pitching inconsistency defined the Braves’ unexpectedly poor first third of the season, they won three of the four games in their weekend series with the staggering Cardinals. In those victories, they got precisely what they needed – what they were expecting before the season – from Charlie Morton, Max Fried, and Drew Smyly. Smyly pitched 5.2 no-hit innings in the 1-0 win Sunday night.
Drew Smyly allows just one hit in a dominant showing on Sunday Night Baseball! #ForTheA 📸 @Braves pic.twitter.com/Vrpoo9J71x — Frontline (@FrontlineAM) June 21, 2021
Should that continue, they certainly have enough firepower at the plate to return to playoff contention within the next month and make it reasonable for GM Alex Anthopoulos to be as aggressive as he usually is at the trade deadline. They head to New York for four games – including Monday’s doubleheader – against the Mets.
The Marlins broke out the lumber for the first two
games of their three-game series in Chicago against the Cubs. Adam Duvall is suddenly almost as hot as Schwarber with four home runs in two games.
𝙏𝙃𝙀 𝙃𝙊𝙏𝙏𝙀𝙎𝙏 𝙃𝙄𝙏𝙏𝙀𝙍 𝙄𝙉 𝙈𝘼𝙅𝙊𝙍 𝙇𝙀𝘼𝙂𝙐𝙀 𝘽𝘼𝙎𝙀𝘽𝘼𝙇𝙇 🔥 Adam Duvall hits a 2-run HR in the 1st inning to follow up his 2 HR, 6 RBI game last night — Marlins lead 3-0 in the first inning!#MIAvsCHC #MLB #JuntosMiami pic.twitter.com/CiCqSWgye3 — Bally Sports Florida: Marlins (@BallyMarlins) June 19, 2021
Sunday’s 2-0 loss was disappointing due to the combination of not being able to score against Cubs journeyman starter Alec Mills, who entered the game with a 6.11 ERA, a 64 ERA+, and a 5.24 FIP. In other words, they should have been able to muster some offense against him. The club sits at 31-40 with the Blue Jays and Nationals set to visit Miami this week.