As we look to wrap up another week around the NL East, the New York Mets are surging, while the other teams are not. Let’s get into one big thing for each team in the division.
New York Mets (25-20)
One big thing: Winning through adversity
Anybody who’s read this column over the last year knows that I sometimes fall heartily into the “lolMets” camp, pointing out silly shortcomings and overall organizational failures with frequency. But I’ll give credit where it’s due: Despite being the league leader in injuries, the Mets are managing to win baseball games and currently find themselves 3.5 games up in the division.
Through the first quarter of games in 2021, we’ve seen a slew of injuries for all teams. Some clubs have weathered the storm better than others but nobody’s immune, especially the Mets. If you scroll through the injured list for New York, it is extensive. Fangraphs currently lists 16 different Metropolitans on the IL, with 12 slated as “no timetable for return”; two who will be out until at least June; one on rehab assignment; and one expected to miss four months.
Included on that not-so-heralded list are JD Davis, Brandon Nimmo, Albert Almora, Michael Conforto, Jeff McNeil, Kevin Pillar, Tommy Hunter, Pete Alonso, Seth Lugo, Noah Syndergaard, Carlos Carrasco, Jose Martinez, Dellin Betances, and Jordan Yamamoto (with a couple more sprinkled in for good measure).
Despite missing half their roster, the Mets are 4-2 over the last week, with wins in four consecutive games. Thus far this season, New York is nothing if not resilient.
Philadelphia Phillies (25-27)
One big thing: JT Realmuto is working for the Phils
One of the biggest free agent storylines over the winter was where JT Realmuto would end up. Many speculated that he would sign with another East club, the Mets, before ultimately settling on a five year, $115.5 million contract with the Phillies.
I can’t recall anyone scoffing at Philadelphia offering big money to the catcher, despite the Phillies having a clear and desperate need to improve their bullpen. Through 52 games, Realmuto has accumulated 1.6 fWAR. If you take the estimate that every win contributed to a team is worth $5-6 million, then Realmuto is on his way to fulfilling the first year of his contract, which has an AAV of $23.1 million. Realmuto is on his way to being a five win player for the Phillies, which, going by those previous numbers, would work out to $25-$30 million of value.
On the season, his wOBA and wRC+ are both second on the team, with the former coming in at .378 and the latter coming in at 140.
Atlanta Braves (24-26)
One big thing: Ronald Acuña, Jr.
In his fourth major league season, Braves’ stud outfielder Ronald Acuña, Jr., is on track to have perhaps his best season yet. His .982 OPS trails only last year’s truncated mark of .987, while his wRC+ (161) bests every previous output. He’s also currently on pace for between 48-49 home runs.
He’s striking out less frequently (19.4 percent), but he’s also walking less frequently. That said, his BABIP is .271, which means he might be experiencing a bit of bad luck at the plate (hard to believe, I know). That means it’s possible we’ll see greater numbers from Acuña moving forward.
None of that should surprise us. When your Baseball Savant metrics look like figure 1 (below), it’s easy to see that you’re one of the best hitters in the game.
Acuña will surely continue to dazzle spectators as the years progress, and will probably do so wearing a Braves uniform. A couple weeks ago, I made the declaration to my brothers that Acuña, by the time it’s all said and done, will be the best hitter in Braves’ history. I was met with ridicule but I will stand by that assertion. Acuña to the moon!
Miami Marlins (24-28)
One big thing: Run differential (again)
I am banging the drum of run differential for the Marlins once again — not because there aren’t other things to talk about, but I’m wondering when they’ll start to see the tide turn in their favor.
While the Marlins’ actual record isn’t incredibly different from their expected record, they’re still three games worse than they “should” be, which is kind of a big deal, especially considering how unwilling every team is to take control of the division.
As of this writing, Miami comes into Sunday with a +10 run differential, which is best in the division. While that number wouldn’t be attracting eyeballs in any other division, it’s enough to draw attention in the NL East. For comparison, here are the best run differentials by division:
NL East: Miami (+10)
NL Central: Chicago (+31)
NL West: San Diego (+89)
AL East: Tampa Bay (+57)
AL Central: Chicago (+78)
AL West: Houston (+45)
A few things from that data: 1) Good work by the Chicago-based teams; 2) The Astros should be obliterating the rest of the AL West (they’re the only team with a positive differential); 3) The AL East has four teams with positive differentials; 4) The Marlins would struggle in almost any other division.
As I’ve stated before, one of two things is going to happen (obviously): Miami’s run differential eventually goes from positive to negative, in which case their losing record would make more sense; or they begin to win more baseball games than they lose. Just like last year (when I was consistently wrong, you’ll recall), I expect the former.
Washington Nationals (21-27)
One big thing: Can’t seem to get right
Oh, boy. To remain abreast of the fanbase’s feelings, I often find myself perusing the Nationals’ Twitter page or subreddit. Feelings about the DC club appear to be uninspired. Over the last week of games, Washington is 2-4, including a doubleheader loss Saturday. The team is 5-5 over the last 10 — which isn’t a terrible mark — but losers of three consecutive ballgames. At present, their run differential, -21, is the worst in the division (but does suggest they should be doing one game better than they are), and fifth worst in the National League.
There was some fanfare surrounding the Nats’ offseason, with some analysts and fans alike approving of the moves made by the front office; there were, of course, detractors, as well. Throughout the offseason, I questioned Rizzo and Co. at virtually every turn, wondering where the future value could be found. It was — and is — clear that the organization has prioritized winning while players like Max Scherzer are still on the roster, and while Trea Turner and Juan Soto can be had cheaply.
But it was also clear that the Nationals had a wildly depleted farm system, an aging roster, and a nearly haphazardly stitched together team overall. The hope was that the star-studded rotation could carry the load for the team as a whole, but besides Scherzer, that dream hasn’t seen the light, between injuries and underperformance.
Newcomers, like Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber, haven’t lived up to their billing, either. While it’s relatively early on in the season and dire straits aren’t necessarily in the immediate offing, bleak days potentially lie ahead. As ominous as the darkened, rain-engorged DC sky, I’ve sensed a general foreboding feeling that this organization could toil in mediocrity for years to come if they prioritized the wrong things this season.
Obviously the front office chose its route: Win now, worry about the rest later. It’s becoming all too clear that the window for this particular club might’ve closed after 2019. It seemed to me that not enough folks were ringing the bell of concern over the offseason before, but now are beginning to understand the gravity of the Nats’ situation.
When it’s all said and done, it will be the fans who suffer through years of last place in the standings and half-empty stadium seats. By the time the organization is in the throes of defeat, personnel like Mike Rizzo will be long gone, having been fired when things headed irreparably south; the days of Scherzer dominating on the mound will become a distant memory; and any hopes of a World Series will have fled with the exodus of players out the doors.
Bleak? Yes. Dramatic? Probably. Likely? You betcha. As stated, Washington has a chance to right the ship before waters get too choppy, but the sight on the horizon isn’t convincing — and neither is this team.