A couple days ago, we did our first installment of our Trimester Checkup, looking at the AL East. Today, we look at its senior circuit counterpart, the NL East.
1. Philadelphia Phillies, 33-22
2. New York Mets, 30-25
3. Atlanta Braves, 28-28
4. Florida Marlins, 25-31
5. Washington Nationals, 15-40
Biggest Surprise: Raul Ibanez. Ibanez has been mashing out of his mind this year, posting a .329/.386/.676 line with 19 dongers. His signing was widely panned this offseason, as one might reasonably question the wisdom of signing a 37-year old who's never lit the world on fire to a 3 year deal. But the investment has paid off in spades as Ibanez has helped carry the offense to a 3rd-best 5.5 runs per game. The offense, of course, has had to be great, since the pitching's not picking up any slack; the staff's allowing 4.78 runs per, good for 19th in the majors. We don't mean to insinuate there's anything wrong with J.A. Happ, but when he's leading your team in VORP, that can't mean good things. Luckily for the Phils, Cole Hamels looks like he's gotten his legs back under him, and...well...that's about all that's gone well for Phils pitching.
Biggest Disappointment: This is a tough one, but we're gonna say Jose Reyes. The Mets' sparkplug has been dealing with calf injuries all year, but is still posting a meager .279/.355/.379 line, and has been out-stolen by David Wright - who is having a disappointing year in his own right, thanks mostly to a surpressed line at home. They're gonna need him to step up if they want to make moves on the Phils and hold off the Braves, who we think are going to charge upward with the additions of Tommy Hanson, Kris Medlen, and Nate McLouth. Speaking of the Braves, we'd also like to mention Garret Anderson in the disappointment column, since he's been horrible. But...we can't say we're disappointed because, well, we weren't expecting anything. We just hope that the McLouth acquisition pushes old man Anderson to the bench. PERMANENTLY. If you know what we mean.
Biggest Question: Can the Mets get some quality pitching after Johan Santana? Livan Hernandez is currently second on the team in VORP, which is laughable to us. There's absolutely no way he can sustain anything resembling an above-average performance. So, someone's going to have to step up. John Maine needs to stop walking everyone he can, Mike Pelfrey's got to start trying to strike out anyone he can, and...well, Oliver Perez is beyond help.
Moves We Think Should Be Made:
- The Phillies should trade RHP Kyle Kendrick and INF Pablo Ozuna to the Indians for INF Jhonny Peralta. The Phils have no depth up the middle, and Eric Bruntlett is an incapable defensive or offensive caddy for Jimmy Rollins. If Rollins keeps struggling and the team decides they need to take away some of his at-bats, then they're going to need to upgrade the position. Piggybacking off of our earlier trade suggestion for the Indians, they would have an available shortstop in Peralta who has shown consistent 20-25 HR pop, albeit with a sieve in place of a glove. Which is fine, we think, as long as he's playing backup duty.
- The Mets should trade OF Fernando Martinez, 3B Jefry Marte, and RHP Bobby Parnell to the Padres for RHP Jake Peavy. Assuming, of course, that Peavy will go to New York. Given his demonstrated willingness to use that no-trade clause for all it's worth, that's a definite question mark. If Peavy can't be had, they could turn to the Pirates for any of Zach Duke, Paul Maholm, Ian Snell, et al. The Pirates have a ton of young hurlers who all seem to be pitching over their heads thusfar and might make for trade bait. Alternatively, we don't see a lot on the pitching market.
- The Braves already made the move they needed to make by bringing in Nate McLouth and adding an actual Major League-caliber bat to their outfield. Now if they can jigger the playing time properly (say, so that Brandon Jones and Matt Diaz platoon in left, Gregor Blanco mans center, and McLouth slides to right; anything to get Jeff Francoeur and Garret Anderson off the field), that might be all they need to make a run at the division crown.
- The Marlins need to just stop with the Emilio Bonifacio nonsense. It's great that he had a fantastic first week, but so did Chris Shelton. Just toss him back to AAA and forget that he was even up. Chris Coghlan was a good callup, and since the Marlins only seem to work from within their organization unless they're trading guys away, we won't suggest that they do anything drastic. Like, say, upgrading their pitching. Which they need to do. Josh Johnson's great, Ricky Nolasco will come back to form, and Anibal Sanchez should post better numbers, but how long do you want to wait on that?
- The Nationals...where to begin? They already took Stephen Strasburg, so there's a big step toward relevancy. But they need so, so much more. My advice would be to flip Cristian Guzman to a team in need of a shortstop, and see if you can't get near-big league guys to keep building around Zimmerman and Dunn. Our best bet would be Cristian Guzman to the Cardinals for C Bryan Anderson and RHP Jess Todd. In them, you get two guys who, if you're desperate, can come play with the big boys by the end of the year. By the way, the Dunn signing never made sense to us. Why sign a slugger like that when your biggest strength is in the outfield, you already have issues assigning playing time, and you're not going to be a competitor anyway? Just save the money...especially since you're going to need it to pay Strasburg.
Prognostication: We see the Phillies repeating as champs. Ryan Howard looks like he's actually manging to put together an entire season of productive slugging, maintaining a .550+ SLG into June, Chase Utley has been excellent, and Raul Ibanez's decline should be offset by Jimmy Rollins rounding into form. If they can get some back-end pitching to help out their lineup's above-average output, they could be in good shape to make another run at the World Series. The Mets, despite their bullpen upgrades, are still lacking in the rotation and lineup as compared to the Phils, and can only boast a superior lineup when compared to the Braves. The Braves, in fact, should rise above the Mets and at least challenge the Phillies thanks to the addition of McLouth and healthy production from Brian McCann. The Marlins have room to improve, of course, what with all the youngsters they have. We'd like to see them call up Cameron Maybin and make like the Indians in the second half of last year. And hopefully the Nationals let Strasburg skip the minors, purely for the sake of our enjoyment. We're curious to see if anyone can really pull off that feat without turning into Chad Cordero.
1. Philadelphia Phillies
2. Atlanta Braves
3. New York Mets
4. Florida Marlins
5. Washington Nationals