Hitters: A. The Braves team OPS has risen from .695 last year under old hitting coach Larry Parrish to .737 this year under brand new hitting coach Greg Walker. The major improvements include Michael Bourn, in a career year, posting an .815 OPS with three homers and 13 stolen bases, and Martin Prado, fully healthy this year and OPSing .864 behind Bourn at the top of the order. Chipper Jones has been an offensive force while healthy, with an .857 OPS and five homers in just 28 games. The only below average regular on offense is rookie shortstop Tyler Pastornicky, who has a .643 OPS primarily out of the eight-hole.
Pitching: B-. Typically a huge strength for the Braves, their pitching staff this year has struggled outside of Brandon Beachy, who has a 1.77 ERA to stabilize the rotation. Beachy's strikeout rate is down 3.5 batters per nine innings this year though, as he's pitching more to contact. Tim Hudson has been his usual solid self in five starts (3.03 ERA), and Tommy Hanson has pitched well in nine starts (3.31 ERA). The rest of the rotation hasn't been great though, as Jair Jurrjens was demoted to AAA (where he's getting clobbered) after posting a 9.37 ERA and walking more hitters than he struck out in four starts. Mike Minor hasn't been as on point as he was this spring, and currently has a 6.96 ERA. And then, there's rookie Randall Delgado, thoroughly uninspiring at the back of the rotation. The bullpen hasn't been as good either. Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters are still dominant, and Kris Medlen has thrived despite a 4.88 strikeout rate, but Eric O'Flaherty has been a disappointment, and Chad Durbin has just been flat-out bad.
Intangibles: B. Fredi Gonzalez isn't a very good in-game manager at all, but I can't think of him specifically costing the Braves any games this year. The Braves have also been a very healthy team this year, only using 13 pitchers and 14 hitters this year.
Overall: A-. This team has been clicking on all cylinders so far this season. They've won series in St Louis, Los Angeles, and Tampa Bay, and they really look like the best team in the NL East this season.
Hitters: C+. I mean, there have been some good hitters on this Marlins team, most notably the suddenly homer hitting Omar Infante (six homers, .925 OPS), and big-time slugger Giancarlo Stanton (nine homers, .872 OPS), but I can't help but to feel disappointed by Miami's offense. Gaby Sanchez was so bad (.539 OPS) that he was banished to AAA, and replaced at first base by Logan Morrison, who isn't doing too hot himself with a .669 OPS. Those are two starters at premium power positions that have combined for just three homers on the year. Third baseman Hanley Ramirez has seven homers, nine steals, and a .765 OPS, but that almost feels like a disappointment at this point. Jose Reyes was the team's big free agent signing, and he's got just a .677 OPS (but 12 steals). Emilio Bonifacio has stolen 20 bases (already!), but only has a .666 OPS. I don't think this is what anyone expected offensively from the Marlins.
Pitching: A-. This has been a strong suit for the team. Out of the five members of the rotation, Mark Buerhle has the highest FIP at 4.07. None of their starting five has missed a start this year. Carlos Zambrano looks reborn with a 1.96 ERA. Anibal Sanchez has actually been the staff's best pitcher, striking out a batter per inning while posting a 2.32 ERA. Long-time Marlins Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco both have ERAs over 4.00, but peripherals that suggest that they've been better than that. The bullpen hasn't been bad, aside from the disastrous Heath Bell in the closer's role (7.16 ERA, more walks than strikeouts). Steve Cishek has a 1.42 ERA and is striking out a batter per inning. Randy Choate has allowed one run all year while striking out a batter per inning.
Intangibles: C. Ozzie Guillen's mouth has already gotten him into a lot of trouble this year, but at least he hasn't led a meltdown of the team on the field. The design of Marlins Park has inadvertently helped the pitching staff become fantastic, while simultaneously punishing the team's hitters.
Overall: B+. I'm sure coming into the year, the Marlins wanted to absolutely dominant the NL East. All things considered, I'd say they're doing pretty fine right now.
New York Mets
Hitters: A-. David Wright has been the best hitter in the National League this year, and I don't think anyone could have predicted that coming into the year. He's hitting .403/.503/.604 for the season, and talk about a long-term extension for him to stay in New York is gaining traction. The rest of the team hasn't been as good, but they haven't all been pitiful. Rookie Kirk Nieuwenhuis has a solid .753 line after getting called up to replace Andres Torres on the first weekend of the season. Shortstop Ruben Tejada is actually outhitting former Met Reyes, with a .762 OPS (and just one steal to Reyes's 12). A couple of disappointments: Jason Bay has dealt with injuries (shocking, I know), but does have a .776 OPS while healthy. First baseman Ike Davis has rumors of AAA swirling around him after a pathetic .503 start to the year
Pitching: B-. Johan Santana has been the story of this Mets team, and has looked like the Johan of old, striking out a batter per inning and posting a 3.24 ERA for the season. He's only thrown 50 innings, but the Mets will probably remove the reins once he gets more used to in-game action. RA Dickey has been good as the number two behind Santana, with a 3.45 ERA. The rest of the rotation has been bad, starting with Mike Pelfrey getting Tommy John, Dillon Gee and his ERA approaching 5.50, and the newly-extended Jonathon Niese forgetting how to pitch effectively. The bullpen has also been a disaster, aside from flamethrower Bobby Parnell and the situational Tim Byrdak. Free agent signees Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch both have ugly ERAs (with Francisco's actually currently sitting north of 7.00, despite a 10.19 strikeout rate), and don't appear to be worth the money.
Intangibles: B. Due to the apparent "obvious" eventual struggles by the Mets this year, everyone wrote them off before spring even started. I think that's taken a lot of pressure off of the team so far this year.
Overall: A. If I told you that on May 23rd, the Mets would be three games out of first in the NL East and ahead of the Phillies in the division...what the hell would your reaction have been? Exactly. Their -31 run differential indicates that it won't last for long, but enjoy it while it lasts.
Hitters: D. I've seen some Phillies fans trying to rationalize the team's offensive struggles based on the point of "we're third in the division in runs scored!" While that is true, and the Phillies team OPS is near the middle of the pack, there is a lot to be concerned about here. The team's 6.6% walk rate is second worst in baseball, and their .124 ISO is tied for third worst. So essentially, a top ten league BABIP is why the slash stats look so nice. Catcher Carlos Ruiz has been awesome, with a .973 OPS and seven homers this year, but the rest of the team has largely been a horror show. After Ruiz's .397 OBP, the next closest regular is Juan Pierre at .343. Did I mention Juan Pierre is playing nearly every day? Yeah. Jimmy Rollins looks washed up (right after getting a nice extension), John Mayberry Jr failed in his attempt to be part of a productive platoon, Placido Polanco looks done...there isn't much to be happy about here.
Pitching: B+. It's the Phillies pitching staff, what do you expect? Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Cliff Lee have been their usual selves, with each having a FIP under 3.00 for the season. Joe Blanton is also pitching quite well, and is the fourth starter (joining the aforementioned three) with a walk rate under 2.00. Vance Worley is striking out a batter per inning, but is currently out. His replacement, Kyle Kendrick, is terrible. Philly's bullpen has had mixed results. Jonathan Papelbon has largely been as advertised, even if his usage has been spotty. Newly called up Jake Diekman has been an absolute monster in a small sample size. Antonio Bastardo has been wildly effective. But the rest of the pen has been ugly.
Intangibles: C-. Charlie Manuel is not doing a very good job at managing this team this year, and his questionable bullpen decisions have cost the team multiple games. There's also the case of general manager Ruben Amaro, who set the team up so poorly in the offseason that last night, Hector Luna and Mike Fontenot made up the right side of the infield.
Overall: C. Considering everything that's happened so far this year, the Phillies are only two games under .500, have a neutral run differential, and are 5.5 games out in the NL East. It could be much, much worse.
Hitters: B. Even without Michael Morse in the lineup, the Nationals have been holding strong. Ian Desmond has eight homers, but a .305 OBP which dampers things a bit. First baseman Adam LaRoche has been a freak, homering seven times and posting a .927 OPS after an offseason that had his future in DC in question. Bryce Harper has been a catalyst since getting called up, OPSing .814 in just 23 games. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has struggled when healthy, however.
Pitching: A+. The Nationals have three starter worth at least one win, and one more at 0.9. The best of the bunch has been Gio Gonzalez, striking out 11.36 batters per nine innings with a 1.98 ERA. Stephen Strasburg is right behind him, with a 10.87 K rate and a 2.21 ERA. Even fifth starter Ross Detweiler, once left for dead, is delivering, posting a 3.65 ERA for the year. Washington's bullpen has been OK, and is led by Tyler Clippard, who has a 10.80 strikeout rate and 3.15 ERA. The rest of the crew is largely forgettable, but Sean Burnett and Craig Stammen both have ERAs under 1.50 this year.
Intangibles: B-. The Nationals have been killed by injuries this year, most notably to Morse, Jayson Werth (broken wrist), and Wilson Ramos (torn ACL). Those are three starters missing from a lineup that could be the kings of the NL if everyone was healthy.
Overall: A. Everyone said the Nationals were a year or two away. Well, they're currently leading the NL East by half a game over the Braves, and have the second best winning percentage in the National League. Their time is now.
TEAMS: Atlanta Braves, Miami Marlins, Chicago White Sox, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, Washington Nationals
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