Givanni Damico | July 11th, 2019
The NL East is going about how you would expect it. The Nationals started out terribly but have gone back on track, while the Braves have been consistently leading the division for almost the entire year. The Phillies aren’t doing as well as many would have thought with how good they did in free agency, while the Mets are disappointing as usual. Wait, is there another team in this division? Oh right, the Marlins. They’re pretty bad, but honestly, they’re outperforming expectations due to young pitching that has been doing very well.
Everybody is hitting. This is not a case where one or two players are carrying the team. From top to bottom, the Braves are hitting the baseball as good as any other team right now. The lowest batting average in their starting lineup is Josh Donaldson with a .250 average, but he is still hitting for power with 18 home runs and 21 doubles. In the last 28 days, Donaldson is hitting .289 with nine home runs, so everything is pointing towards him heating up. Austin Riley has been a rookie sensation with 16 home runs in his first 49 games. The core of the team consisting of Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, and Freddie Freeman have been absolutely outstanding. Acuna is slashing .292/.377/.506 with 21 home runs and an OPS+ of 124. Albies is slashing .290/.351/.486 with 14 home runs and an OPS+ of 112. The Braves signed him to a very team-friendly contract of 7 yrs/$35 million with a team option in 2026-27. Freddie Freeman has been the most electrifying and consistent player on the team. There’s nobody that doesn’t love Freddie Freeman (unless you’re a Phillies fan). Even old veterans like Nick Markakis and Brian McCann are still hitting very well. They just have the entire lineup meshing perfectly right now and that cannot change if they want to stay in the division lead.
Pitching. The Braves have struggled with their starters and definitely with their relief pitching. All across the board, they have been bad except for when Mike Soroka takes the mound. Kevin Gausman and Mike Foltynewicz have been absolutely brutal, both pitching to ERA’s above 6.00 so far. Max Fried has been alright so far, but his 10.0 H/9 rate is way too high. Getting knocked around that much will rarely provide success. Julio Teheran has been decent but nothing more. The bullpen has blown 16 saves this year. That doesn’t mean that they’ve lost all 16, but that number is still far too high. The relievers also have 16 losses to their name though, so it’s safe to say that the Braves would be a lot better if they had better bullpen pitching. I speculate that a deal will be made at the deadline between the Braves and the Giants for Will Smith, but honestly, I don’t know if they’ll make a deal at all. They should, but there isn’t a whole lot of chatter right now.
Team MVP: Freddie Freeman
Freddie Freeman is slashing .309/394/.584 with 23 home runs and 68 RBIs as well as a 147 OPS+ which leads the team by a fair margin. Not only is he a great player, but he’s a great person. He’s the most important player in this organization to the fans and to the front office. Did I mention that he’s on pace for a career-high in home runs? He does it all.
Buy or Sell? Buy.
The Braves need to buy on a high-leverage reliever. Someone like Will Smith would be great and he seems like the most likely option. They’d have to give up a prospect or two but it’s worth it so that they can sustain their World Series run this year.
The Nats have really turned it around and pitching is one of the main reasons. Max Scherzer struggled a little bit out of the gate but he has been lights out since. He’s striking out 12.6 batters per nine while only walking 1.6 per nine and has recorded an ERA of 2.30 and a WAR of 5.4. His WHIP sits at just 0.982. He’s been doing everything right since May. Patrick Corbin, Stephen Strasburg, and Anibal Sanchez have all gotten the job done as well. Corbin and Scherzer have both gone four straight starts of at least seven innings and one run or less allowed. The rotation has been on another level lately. The lineup hasn’t been awful either. They could be playing better, but there’s been phenomenal production from the likes of Juan Soto, Adam Eaton, Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, and surprisingly, Howie Kendrick. All of these guys are hitting at least .280. Anthony Rendon has an OPS+ of 150 and is currently hitting the ball as good as almost anyone in the NL. Howie Kendrick has an OPS+ of 137 and Juan Soto is at 140. Nobody expected the kind of production that we’ve seen from Kendrick (.327 BA with 12 HR).
The bullpen is really bad. Their best reliever is Sean Doolittle who has an ERA of 3.13, a WHIP of 1.366 and allows 9.6 H/9. He is 19/23 in save opportunities. These numbers would be good for a set-up man, but for your lights-out closer, it is underwhelming. Everyone else is bad with the exception of Javy Guerra who has been decent. Kyle Barraclough has an ERA of 6.39 in 25.1 innings pitched and has allowed 11.4 H/9. His FIP is 6.08. This has been an outlier year for Barraclough as he was usually very solid in Miami. Matt Grace, Wander Suero, and Tony Sipp have all struggled as well.
Team MVP: Anthony Rendon
Rendon and Scherzer could honestly be co-MVPs but since I have to pick one, I have to go with Rendon. He’s slashing .304/386/.611 with 20 home runs and 62 RBIs. He missed some time but has still managed to rake at the plate and put up comparable numbers to pretty much every other third baseman in the league. Without Rendon, the Nationals wouldn’t be sniffing the playoffs.
Buy or Sell? Neither.
The Nationals don’t have much in their farm system to give up. They should probably buy on a relief pitcher but they can’t give up anybody good who is currently with the team and they can’t give up Carter Kieboom. If I were Washington, I’d give some Triple-A guys a shot in the bullpen and DFA Tony Sipp and Wander Suero. If they can buy on a cheaper reliever like possibly Shane Greene, without giving up any major prospects (because they have none), then that would be the only way they could buy.
Honestly, I can’t come up with a whole lot of good takeaways for Philly after the first half. They underperformed in every aspect. Their lineup has been mediocre with the exception of, wait for it, Scott Kingery and Jay Bruce. Everybody else is playing at a very average/expected level or worse. The starting pitching has been pretty bad and Hector Neris has been the only good reliever. Sorry to be a black cloud, Phillies fans, but I’m not happy with any aspect of your first half.
The entire pitching staff is underperforming. Jake Arrieta was a big spend for Philly and he’s currently on the IL with a 4.67 ERA. He also threatened Todd Frazier, so he’s not doing too well right now. Aaron Nola started slowly but he’s started to pick up some steam lately and has been the best pitcher in that rotation as he should be. Zach Eflin is a decent third guy but he gets hit too much. He doesn’t have strikeout stuff so it’s been pretty hit or miss for him. Nick Pivetta and Jerad Eickhoff have been pretty unreliable as well. The bullpen has been terrible. Nobody has big strikeout stuff except for Hector Neris and Seranthony Dominguez who is currently on the IL. Not to mention that Bryce Harper isn’t playing like a $330 million player right now.
Team MVP: Rhys Hoskins
Hoskins is hitting for a higher batting average than I thought he would and he hasn’t slowed down power-wise. He hasn’t really stood out this year, but he’s been the best all-around hitter on his team. He’s slashing .263/.401/.530 with an OPS+ of 140 and a bWAR of 2.0. He can’t carry the team to the playoffs, so he’s going to need some help from the rest of the lineup.
Buy or Sell? Buy.
The Phillies are still in the playoff race and they are in need of some pitching, mainly in the bullpen. The starters have been pretty bad but the bullpen has blown 10 saves and just been bad all-around. Nobody has dominant stuff that can shut down the best of hitters. Honestly, if they pick up a starter or a reliever at the deadline, that will be great news for the club. They have quite a few tradeable young players such as Dylan Cozens and some younger prospects.
New York Mets
No, for real though. The Mets had a terrible first half and those two were really the only bright spots. Jeff McNeil is slashing .349/.409/.509 with seven home runs and a 3.0 bWAR. It’s so refreshing to see a player like McNeil who just puts the ball in play and gets on base. The rest of the team has been awful. The lineup has been carried by McNeil, Alonso, and sometimes J.D. Davis. Todd Frazier, Michael Conforto, and Wilson Ramos can all get the job done but they haven’t played like a playoff-caliber team. Jacob deGrom has been the only great pitcher in that rotation. Noah Syndergaard can’t stay healthy once again, Zach Wheeler and Steven Matz have been very inconsistent, and Jason Vargas is just overperforming right now. The bullpen has easily been the worst part though. “Star” reliever Edwin Diaz has pitched to a 5.50 ERA and has allowed 10.2 H/9. Seth Lugo has been the only guy who has been trustworthy while everyone else has just been straight-up terrible. Do you think the Braves’ 16 blown saves is bad? The Mets have blown 21. The team can’t gain any traction if they lose every lead that they get.
Team MVP: Pete Alonso
Alonso has been amazing so far. He’s slashing .280/.372/.634 with 30 home runs and 68 RBIs alongside a 166 OPS+ and a 4.0 bWAR. He has shown great ability to hit for power and average and has been the only bright spot in Queens. He has a great career ahead of him and the Mets should build around this man.
Buy or Sell? Firesale.
Get rid of Edwin Diaz for a prospect, if he’s even worth that at this point. I would sell high on Todd Frazier for anything and I’d also deal Dominic Smith for a small package of prospects. Smith can play, he is just behind Alonso right now and can’t gain traction as a starter. They could try to deal Syndergaard as well as Zach Wheeler. Basically, the Mets’ season is over and they need to plan for the future.
All things considered, this team isn’t performing horribly. They have no recognizable names on their team anymore but are still playing better than a few teams in the league. Their pitching has been a true bright spot. I did a separate article on how the Marlins are set for the future (editor please link) and that has shown through their young pitching staff this year. Nobody in their lineup has hit too well aside from Miguel Rojas and Garrett Cooper, but Jordan Yamamoto, Pablo Lopez, Zac Gallen, Elieser Hernandez, Sandy Alcantara, and Caleb Smith have all shown that they can pitch and should be valuable in the future. In five starts, Yamamoto is 3-0 with a 1.24 ERA and has not given up a home run in 29 innings pitched. The pitching is just working right now but they get no run support to pick them up.
Pretty much the entire lineup is bad. There’s not much to say. They are in a rebuild now and don’t have much big league talent in the lineup so this is expected.
Team MVP: Garrett Cooper
He’s been the only one who can truly hit so far. He’s slashing .306/.375/.473 with eight home runs in 186 at-bats and has an OPS+ of 126. I couldn’t justify giving the MVP award to any of the pitchers because they either weren’t quite there or have missed significant time.
Buy or Sell? Sell.
They need to sell any person in their lineup currently for some hitting prospects. They’re not sniffing the playoffs this year, so might as well build for 2021. Miguel Rojas, Garrett Cooper, and possibly Lewis Brinson all have some value. Jorge Alfaro would be the only hitter that I wouldn’t trade if I were Miami. Caleb Smith and Trevor Richards should also be on the block for some nice hitting prospects because the Marlins are so stacked at starting pitcher that they don’t need those two. They have all the pitching they need for the future but they don’t have enough bats in the lineup.
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