, National League East Clubs Take Aim At Pitching-Packed New York Mets, The Nzuchi News Forbes

National League East Clubs Take Aim At Pitching-Packed New York Mets

, National League East Clubs Take Aim At Pitching-Packed New York Mets, The Nzuchi News Forbes

As expected, the National League East is tight.

Not as expected, only one of the four contenders has won more than it’s lost.

That’s amazing in a season that has passed the one-third marker and is only three weeks away from the All-Star Game.

The division was supposed to be a horse-race but four of the five studs have turned up lame.

The Atlanta Braves have won three titles in a row but their three main rivals all beefed up during the off-season and are making life uncomfortable for the defending champions.

The New York Mets, financially fortified by new owner Steve Cohen, have parlayed powerful starting pitching into a four-game division lead.

Jacob deGrom, who started against Atlanta at CitiField Monday night, entered play Monday with a microscopic 0.45 earned run average, 25 consecutive scoreless innings, and a .423 batting average (11-for-26) that easily leads NL pitchers. He actually has more runs batted in (6) than runs allowed this season (4).

The ace of the Mets not only has his third Cy Young Award sewn up but may be the most likely candidate for Most Valuable Player honors too.

In fact, he’s both the heart and the pace-maker of the Mets, who started a Monday doubleheader with a best-in-baseball 2.05 earned run average and .741 winning percentage in their home park. But those stats are now being tested.

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Runs are at a premium at CitiField, a pitcher-friendly park where runs are even rougher to find when deGrom pitches. He worked five scoreless innings, yielding only one hit, as the Mets beat the Braves, 4-2, in the first game Monday, lowering his earned run average to 0.50.

In the second game, however, Ronald Acuna, Jr. hit the only home run of the night and made it stand up as the Braves won the seven-inning nightcap, 1-0. It was the second day in a row that a solo home run by Acuna gave Atlanta a 1-0 win to split a twinbill.

For the Mets, the doubleheader was the start of a six-day, eight-game homestand – four each against the Braves and Philadelphia Phillies – as they play 12 straight games against division rivals.

, National League East Clubs Take Aim At Pitching-Packed New York Mets, The Nzuchi News Forbes

In first place since May 8, the Mets have managed with a patchwork of journeymen and minor-leaguers after injuries to regulars Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto, and Jeff McNeil, among others. At one point, they had 17 players on the injured list simultaneously.

McNeil returned in the first game Monday, with Conforto due back later in the week.

Injuries have also hit the Braves, who lost Travis d’Arnaud, Marcell Ozuna, Mike Soroka, and Husascar Ynoa for significant lengths of time after failing to plug bullpen holes left by the free-agent departures of veteran relievers Mark Melancon, Darren O’Day, and Shane Greene (since re-signed but struggling).

Closer Will Smith blew a 1-0 save opportunity in Philadelphia last week and narrowly averted a similar disaster in New York Monday night, yielding two singles and a hit batsman to load the bases before Kevin Pillar lined to third and pinch-hitter Brandon Drury popped to second to end the game. Bullpen implosions have cost the Braves 18 wins so far this season.

Atlanta won the division by four games during the virus-shortened, 60-game season of 2020, when the Miami Marlins surprised by placing second and securing their first playoff berth since 2003. The Marlins are back in their accustomed basement spot, looking up at the other four teams, but are within striking distance. The Fish have promising young pitching plus notorious streak hitter Adam Duvall, an ex-Brave who had consecutive two-homer games against the Chicago Cubs over the weekend.

The biggest surprises, so far, are the Phillies, currently second, and the Washington Nationals, who went from wild-card winners to world champions in 2019 but have struggled since.

The Phils have not done much since 2011, the last time they finished with a winning record. Instead of counting on Bryce Harper to justify his 13-year, $330 million contract with every at-bat, the Phils have parlayed the pitching of Zack Wheeler – another free-agent signee – with the hitting of Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto into a record hovering around the .500 mark. Shortstop Didi Gregorius has missed a lot of action with injuries.

Washington, in the meantime, has watched newcomer Kyle Schwarber, signed to a one-year, $10 million deal from the free-agent market, steal the thunder of incumbent All-Stars Juan Soto and Trea Turner with a two-game, five-homer outburst against the Mets over the weekend.

Although Max Scherzer is aging and Stephen Strasburg has trouble staying healthy, the Nats normally feature dependable starting pitching.

Each of the contenders has been consumed with problems prior to the July 30 trading deadline. Atlanta badly needs bullpen help, Philadelphia seeks to shore up a porous defense, and Washington needs a more consistent offense.

Catching the Mets won’t be easy, since New York is getting better-than-expected results from pitchers Marcus Stroman and Taijuan Walker and believes injured pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Noah Syndergaard to rejoin the rotation in the second half. In addition, trade acquisition Francisco Lindor is showing signs of life after signing a 10-year, $341 million contract extension.

As Monday play began, the Mets had a 36-29 mark, four games ahead of Philadelphia, five ahead of both Washington and Atlanta, and eight up on Miami.

The season could be determined on the final weekend, when the Mets finish with a three-game series in Atlanta’s Truist Park. But it could also be determined by which contender reaps the biggest rewards at the trade deadline.

Atlanta general manager Alex Anthopoulos stated last week that he’s been given the green light to expand his team’s $142,340,751 payroll, which Spotrac ranks 14th among the 30 teams. According to Spotrac, the Mets rank third at $196,745,781, with the Phils fifth at $184,565,041 and the Nats ninth at $170,619,533. Miami’s payroll of $60,623,748 ranks 27th in Spotrac’s current listing, ahead of only Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland.

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