As the Washington Nationals approach the trade deadline, the pretenders have been separated from the contenders in the National League East.
In spring training, four of the five National League East teams were thought to be in contention for a playoff spot. However, as the season has progressed, it is now a three-team race.
The Miami Marlins are who everyone thought they were, namely a young team destined to linger at the bottom of the division until their young prospects come of age. And despite their General Manager’s boasting before the year began, the New York Mets have the look of a team that needs to do some serious rebuilding to get out of a two and a half year funk that has seen them post an anemic .453 winning percentage.
With roughly 40% of the season left to play, the front-running Atlanta Braves and the contending Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies are left with hopes of playing post-season baseball in 2019. In the first part of a two-part series, we’ll look at how the team’s stack up against each other. Today, we examine the strengths and weaknesses of the teams’ pitchers and catchers.
If the Nationals are to be one of the five National League teams playing in October, it will likely be due to their superb starting pitching staff. With four starting pitchers among the National League’s top 20 in Wins Above Replacement, the Nats will go as far as their rotation will take them.
Max Scherzer (NL leading 5.5 WAR) gives the Nats a legitimate Cy Young Award contender, if not favorite, at the top of the rotation. Most teams would be overjoyed to have the Nats’ second and third starters, Stephen Strasburg (3.6 WAR) and Patrick Corbin (3.1 WAR), at the top of theirs.
After a rocky beginning to the season, Washington’s fourth starter Anibal Sanchez has turned his year around and has posted a respectable 6-6 record and 3.80 ERA to date. While fifth starter candidates Erick Fedde and Austin Voth have been inconsistent, they’ve both shown flashes of talent that might make them viable options at the bottom of Washington’s rotation.
The first-place Braves’ have uncovered a gem in rookie hurler Mike Soroka, whose 10-2 record and 2.46 ERA put him in the discussion for the National League Cy Young Award as well as the Circuit’s Rookie of the Year competition. Slender left-hander Max Fried has won 10 games for the Braves; recent acquisition Dallas Keuchel is a reliable veteran with playoff experience; Julio Teheran has allowed only three earned runs in 17.2 innings over his last three starts. The downside for Atlanta’s starting staff has been the inconsistent performance of hard-throwing right-handers Mike Foltynewicz (2-5, 6.37 ERA) and Kevin Gausman (3-5, 5.71 ERA) so far in 2019.
For the Phillies, ace Aaron Nola has been strong again in 2019 (8-2, 3.77 ERA) but the rest of the rotation has been suspect at best. Veteran Jake Arrieta has been limited by a lingering shoulder injury in 2019, and his 1.449 WHIP is the worst mark he’s posted since 2011 while playing for the Baltimore Orioles. Zach Eflin started the season strong, allowing two or more earned runs in only two of his first 14 starts, but he’s been awful over his last four (22 earned runs and seven home runs in only 20 innings pitched). The Phils’ starting staff’s 4.59 ERA is the worst among NL East contenders.
Grading the rotations:
Washington: A, Maybe baseball’s best starting crew.
Atlanta: B, The emergence of Sorotka has been crucial.
Philadelphia C-, Can anyone other than Nola be counted on?