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NL East Roundup - Washington Nationals still trying to get out of basement...

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A look around the NL East and where things stand ...

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Washington Nationals Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

We’re past the quarter point of the season in Major League Baseball, and even though we shouldn’t cast anyone aside until we begin to get closer to the All-Star break, this season’s contenders and pretenders, as it were, might be beginning to take shape around baseball.

The NL East remains an intriguing division. There’s still no bona fide frontrunner and even the last place Nationals remain 3.5 games back of the division-leading Mets.

For those with a dog in the race, it’s good that there’s no team like the Red Sox, White Sox, Padres, or Dodgers in the division. With that said, let’s jump into it.

New York Mets (21-18)

One big thing: Worst division leader

Based on past writings, I’m sure it seems like I have a vendetta against the Mets, but I don’t! Simply put, the Mets are the gift that keeps on giving. When it’s bad in New York, it’s laughably bad. When they’re supposed to be good, they’re still bad. Even when they’re good, against all odds, they’re still just not very good.

That’s currently where the Mets find themselves in 2021; they’re leading the division, sure, but the other four clubs are within an arm’s length from them, with two clubs within three games and all clubs within four. The Mets would be fourth place in a loaded NL West, second place in a not-so-good NL Central, third place in the AL West, third place in the AL Central, and barely fourth place in the AL East. While that practice has no practical purpose, it helps to illustrate that the Mets are, well, the Mets.

Atlanta Braves (22-24)

One big thing: Freddie Freeman

Remember when Freeman was struggling mightily out of the gate? I hardly do. On the season, Freeman has a wRC+ of 126 and 12 home runs. Interestingly, he’s striking out and walking at exactly the same rate, 16.1 percent for both. Those numbers won’t stay married in that way for the rest of the season, but it would certainly be interesting if they did. That occurrence would be reminiscent of the former Athletics’ outfielder Khris Davis hitting .247 for four consecutive years. Talk about consistency.

Over the last week, Freeman has a 216 wRC+, .499 wOBA, three home runs, and has accumulated 0.6 fWAR. (As an aside, the Braves beat the Pirates Friday night 20-1, which is the team’s biggest win since beating the Marlins 29-9 on September 9 last year.)

Philadelphia Phillies (22-24)

One big thing: Zack Wheeler

Wheeler, the former Met, turned in a strong performance in his last start, which came on May 18 against the Marlins. He pitched seven innings, allowing one run, and striking out 10. According to Fangraphs, Wheeler established a 0.29 FIP during that outing. That mark is second only to Joe Musgrove over the last week (0.01). FIP is more impressive over the long run, of course, as a small sample is a small sample, but Wheeler did amass half a win in his effort Tuesday.

Miami Marlins (21-24)

One big thing: Are you good?

The Marlins continue to spurn critics (and burn me), boasting a positive run differential — no longer the only team in the division to do so, thanks to the Braves 20-1 effort — at +9. Despite that, the Marlins are three games under .500 (xW/L: 24-21).

It’s still somewhat challenging to establish the Marlins’ “legitness,” as the team doesn’t seem strong enough to pull off a wild card bid, and despite being in a subpar East, as it’s turned out, there’s still no way they can make a run for the division, right?

The Fish carry an 87 wRC+, 13 points below what would be considered average production. That puts them one place ahead of the Tigers (18-27) and, interestingly, the Mets! Conversely, the pitching staff is pumping out a 3.45 ERA on the season (seventh in baseball) and a respectable 3.59 FIP, which is also good for seventh in baseball. If the Marlins hang around, it’ll be on the backs of their pitchers.

Washington Nationals (19-23)

One big thing: Stras is back

I went back and forth deciding whether or not this slot should be about Stephen Strasburg’s return or a potential Josh Bell surge in numbers. You can tell from the title which I chose. Bell has been better lately, but let’s continue to let him work before focusing on a hot streak just yet.

On Friday night, Strasburg pitched in his first big league game since April 13.

Strasburg received a standing ovation as he exited the game with the Nats leading the Orioles 2-0 in the sixth inning. He ultimately turned in 5.1 innings for the Washington cause, allowing one hit, no runs, walking four, and striking out four. He threw 72 pitches that night, but more than anything else, it was nice to see Strasburg back on the mound.

The Nationals’ payroll department is now nursing an albatross contract for the oft-injured Strasburg. Crucial to their success — and to eliminate money squandering (almost a pun) — the Nationals need a healthy, active, and contributing Stephen Strasburg. For the first time since his successful April 7 start against the Braves, they got that.