Defending NL East champion Braves stay right on Phillies heels in mid-May

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Ronald Acuna Jr and the Braves are defending NL East champs

One week ago today, the Philadelphia Phillies (27-19) were seven games over the .500 mark in first place in the National League East Division standings. They led the second place Atlanta Braves by three games, and were four up in the loss column over both Atlanta and the New York Mets.

Following a week in which they went 4-3, the Phillies are now eight over that .500 mark. But the Braves also fared well, cutting into that lead. Atlanta now trails by 2.5 games, three in the loss column. Meanwhile, the Mets have fallen six back in the loss column, with the Washington Nationals even further in the rear view mirror at eight games out.
After dropping three of four games to the Milwaukee Brewers, the Phillies rebounded to sweep out the Colorado Rockies in three games over the weekend at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies are now 4-3 during what was a tough 23-game stretch of their schedule.
Now comes the most difficult part of that rough stretch, with 13 of the next 16 games on the road. It all starts with a seven-game road trip this week. Four games at Wrigley Field against the NL Central Division-leading Chicago Cubs followed by a three-game series next weekend with the Brewers at Miller Park.
During this series against the Cubs, fans of the Phillies will experience a first. On Wednesday night, Chicago will send lefty Cole Hamels to the mound. It will mark the first-ever career start for Hamels against the team for whom he broke into the big-leagues, won 114 games over 10 seasons, and captured both the World Series and NLCS MVP awards during the 2008 postseason championship run.
As always, my NL East Beat report reveals how each of the Phillies divisional rivals fared over the course of the past week: games scores, pivotal performers, key injuries, and other important updates on each team are included.

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST DIVISION STANDINGS

EAST DIVISION

    <th aria-label="Win-Loss %" class=" poptip hide_non_quals center" data-filter="1" data-name="Win-Loss %" data-stat="win_loss_perc" data-tip="Win-Loss Percentage
    W / (W + L)
    For players, leaders need one decision for every ten team games.
    For managers, minimum to qualify for leading is 320 games.” scope=”col” style=”background-color: #dadcde; border-color: rgb(116, 118, 120) rgb(170, 170, 170); border-image: initial; border-style: solid; border-width: 1px; float: none !important; margin: 0px; opacity: initial; padding: 0px 12.375px; text-align: center;”>W-L%

    <th aria-label="Games Back" class=" poptip sort_default_asc center" data-stat="games_back" data-tip="Games Back of Division/League Leader
    Computed as games over .500 of leader (W-L) minus games over .500 of team divided by two.
    Typically computed at the end of play for a particular day.
    Blank for 1st game of DH.” scope=”col” style=”background-color: #dadcde; border-color: rgb(116, 118, 120) rgb(116, 118, 120) rgb(116, 118, 120) rgb(170, 170, 170); border-image: initial; border-style: solid; border-width: 1px; float: none !important; margin: 0px; opacity: initial; padding: 0px 12.375px; text-align: center;”>GB

    East Division
    Team W L
    Philadelphia Phillies 27 19 .587
    Atlanta Braves 25 22 .532 2.5
    New York Mets 20 25 .444 6.5
    Washington Nationals 19 27 .413 8.0
    Miami Marlins 13 31 .295 13.0


    ATLANTA BRAVES (4 – 2)

    Summary: The Braves lost their first and last games this past week, but took four in a row in between. They captured two of three from the Brewers over the weekend, the same club that had just left Philly after winning three of four.
    Veteran first baseman Freddie Freeman paces the Braves offense, slashing .318/.408/.581 with a team-high 11 home runs and 24 extra-base hits. Ronald Acuna Jr. last year’s NL Rookie of the Year, is slashing .281/.372/.480 and is second on the club with nine long balls. He and Freeman are tied with shortstop Dansby Swanson for the team lead with 29 RBIs apiece.
    The Braves offensive attack has been very similar to the Phillies. Double-digits one game, struggling to score in the next. Atlanta has scored two more runs, but has also played one more game. But their attack has been more dynamic, with an OPS at .783 ranking 3rd in the National League. Compare that to the Phillies .739 mark, which is ranked just 8th of the 15 teams.
    Rookie right-hander Mike Soroka has been excellent in the rotation: 4-1, 0.98 ERA, 1.009 WHIP, 23 hits allowed over 36.2 IP with a 34/14 K:BB. The 21-year-old has a streak of four consecutive Quality Starts going on at the moment. 25-year-old lefty Max Fried is 6-2 with a 2.86 ERA, 1.132 WHIP and a 46/11 K:BB while allowing 46 hits over 50.1 innings.
    Key injuries: Starting center fielder Ender Inciarte is on the 10-day IL with back spasms. He could return this coming weekend, and will be evaluated later in the week. Righty reliever Darren O’Day has resumed throwing after suffering forearm tightness, but has no timetable.
    Upcoming: The Braves also go on the road for seven games this week. They begin with four at beautiful AT&T Park against the host San Francisco Giants, who at 20-25 are in last place in the NL West Division. Atlanta then travels to Saint Louis to take on the slumping Cardinals, losers of 13 of their last 17, for three games next weekend.

    MIAMI MARLINS (3 – 2)

    Summary: The Marlins enjoyed their first winning week of the season thanks to a sweep this weekend of the visiting New York Mets at Marlins Park. Still, the Fish are buried in last place in the NL East standings. Their 13-31 record is the worst in all of Major League Baseball.
    Former Phillies catcher Jorge Alfaro has just one home run in his last 13 games, yet his half-dozen long balls continues to lead the Marlins. Alfaro is also on top of the Miami leader board with 13 RBIs. Veteran first baseman Neil Walker has 10 extra-base hits, second on the club, and his .293/.374/.431 slash line make him the closest thing the Marlins have to a consistent threat.
    Lefty starter Caleb Smith continues to turn in an All-Star caliber campaign. The 27-year-old southpaw is 3-1 with a 2.25 ERA and 0.917 WHIP. He has allowed just 30 hits over 48 innings across eight starts with a 64/14 K:BB ratio. Smith struck out eight and allowed just four hits in his most recent outing vs Tampa Bay last Sunday. But lasting just 5.1 innings in that start snapped a six-game official Quality Start streak.
    Key injuries: Alfaro suffered a left calf strain in Saturday’s game and was held out of the Sunday lineup. He is considered day-to-day. Righty reliever Drew Steckinrider suffered flexor strain in his right forearm. He hopes to rest it and return after the MLB All-Star Game break in mid-July.
    Upcoming: Following an off-day on Monday, the Marlins will travel to Detroit for a three-game Interleague series with the host Tigers at Comerica Park. Then it will be a four-game wraparound series with the Washington Nationals from Friday through next Monday at Nationals Park.

    NEW YORK METS (1 – 5)

    Summary: It all began so well for the Metropolitans. After winning their first game of the week, they had fought back to the .500 mark and were in second place. But then, disaster struck. A losing streak that has now reached five games, with the last three against the Marlins, the worst team in baseball.
    The Mets were shutout by Miami over the final two games and have now gone scoreless in 19 straight innings. Their offensive attack has generated more than four runs just five times over the last 18 games. To put that into perspective, the Phillies mercurial offense has done it twice as much over their own most recent 18 contests.
    First baseman Pete Alonso, who began the season on fire and was the leading NL Rookie of the Year candidate over the first five weeks, has fallen flat. The 24-year-old is slashing just .167/.239/.452 over his last dozen games.
    Their big off-season trade acquisition, veteran second baseman Robinson Cano, is slashing just .196/.237/.268 over his last 14 games. The now 36-year-old Cano is owed $96 million over the next four seasons – after this one is finished. Ouch.
    On the mound, starters Noah SyndergaardJacob deGrom and Steven Matz have all enjoyed solid seasons, as has new closer Edwin Diaz. But the overall staff ERA and BAA are both just 12th of the 15 National League ball clubs.
    Key injuries: Starting right fielder Michael Conforto suffered a concussion and will be out until at least the weekend. Veteran Jason Vargas, who has pitched poorly out of the fifth starter role, suffered left hamstring tightness. He is beginning a minor league rehab assignment. Outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and infielder Jed Lowrie both continue out with no timetable. Lefty reliever Luis Avilan has soreness in his left elbow and hopes to try throwing again soon.
    Upcoming: Mickey Callaway is just 97-110 over parts of two seasons. He had best start getting it turned around during a seven-game homestand this week, or could find himself at the top of the managerial on-the-chopping-block lists. The Mets host the Nationals for four, then welcome in the Tigers for a three-game Interleague weekend series.

    WASHINGTON NATIONALS (3 – 3)

    Summary: Continuing an extremely disappointing and injury-riddled start to their season, the Nationals only tread water with a .500 week that kept them eight games below that break-even mark on the season. Washington has now fallen a full eight games back in the standings.
    22-year-old center fielder Victor Robles has been a bit of a disappointment. Robles is tied for the team lead with eight homers, leads the club with eight steals, and is second with 30 runs scored and 16 extra-base hits. But he is also slashing at just the .241/.297/.451 mark.
    Their other young phenom outfielder, 20-year-old Juan Soto, is hitting just .246 on the season. Last year’s NL Rookie of the Year runner-up does lead the Nats with 27 RBIs, however.
    In a dozen games since returning from a stay on the Injured List, third baseman Anthony Rendon has slashed .289/.373/.556 with 10 runs scored, eight RBIs, and eight extra-base hits. He continues to be the most consistent Nationals offensive threat. He also remains unsigned beyond this season, a situation that could become more interesting should the team stay out of the race, he stay healthy, and the season drag along with him remaining unsigned.
    Shortstop Trea Turner missed 40 games after breaking his finger on a poor bunt attempt against the Phillies during just the fourth game of the season. He returned this past week, and the speedster’s presence in the lineup should help rejuvenate the Nationals attack. Washington is just ninth in both runs scored and OPS in the NL this season.
    Key injuries: First basemen Matt Adams and Ryan Zimmerman remain out. Adams could begin taking swings this week after missing time with a left shoulder strain. Zimmerman is suffering from plantar fasciitis and hopes to begin running soon. The club’s fourth starter, Anibal Sanchez, was pitching terribly before hitting the IL with a left hamstring strain. He has no timetable. Relievers Trevor RosenthalJustin Miller and Koda Glover are all on the IL. Rosenthal could return soon.
    Upcoming: The Nationals begin a key 10-game stretch within the division on Monday. They visit Citi Field to take on the Mets in four games to open the week. Then it’s back home for four with the Miami Marlins in a wraparound series from Friday-Monday. Next Tuesday and Wednesday they will visit Atlanta.

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