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NL East Roundup - Washington Nationals still stuck in basement...

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Our weekly look around the NL East, where finally there are two teams at or above .500...

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Washington Nationals Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to another edition of National League East roundup. Most of the division is still staggering along, while the Mets have opened up the second widest margin of any division. Highlights and lowlights abound, let’s get to it.

New York Mets (32-24)

One big thing: Jacob deGrom

I mean, right? At this point, everyone is well aware of what Jacob deGrom is doing for the Mets. Pick any of his numbers out of a hat, advanced or otherwise, and prepare to be impressed. ERA? 0.56. FIP? 0.92. WHIP? 0.53. ERA-? 15. fWAR? 3.7. Are you tracking? The guy has allowed four earned runs and driven in five himself.

A shriek-inducing moment did break out in his last start, however. After six innings, deGrom was pulled with what ended up being right flexor tendinitis. A season can be derailed at any moment; once the best player on a team falls, it’s time to begin speculating whether or not the team will follow him. Luckily for folks in New York, deGrom is expected to make his next start.

Philadelphia Phillies (31-31)

One big thing: Bullpen

Remember last year how the Phillies’ ‘pen was historically bad? They carried a 7.06 ERA through 186 innings pitched and a HR/9 mark of 2.09. They were nearly half a run worse than the Colorado Rockies’ bullpen.

While the Phillies’ bullpen still isn’t in the top third of the league — it’s not even in the top half by most metrics — it is vastly improved over a year ago. That inflated ERA from 2020 has shrunk to 4.58, 22nd in the league; its HR/9 is down to 1.35, 25th in the league. As I said, it’s not good but it’s much more along league norms than last year’s output.

The Phillies were four games under .500 last year; had they carried a league average bullpen last year, they likely would’ve finished the season at breakeven. This year, the bullpen has increased its ability to perform, but there’s still room to grow, obviously.

Philadelphia’s starters carry a 3.96 ERA, which is 13th in baseball. As it stands, it’s the rotation that’s stringing along this club at .500 on the season. The offense has been underwhelming (93 wRC+) and the bullpen still has strides to make. If this team is going to be competitive, the offense has to, at the very least, contribute in a way that was expected of them, while the bullpen needs to claw its way to league average, which would approximately be a 4.06 ERA.

One final note: Thanks to the lackluster offense and suboptimal — but still better than last year — bullpen, the Phillies have a -12 run differential, which suggests they should actually be under .500 at 30-32. In other words, it’s only a matter of time before their record more accurately comes to reflect their results.

Atlanta Braves (29-33)

One big thing: Inconsistency

Losers of four consecutive games and 4-6 over their last 10, the Braves can’t find consistent success. After taking two of three from the Dodgers over last weekend, they were bested two of three times against the Phillies and are now at risk of being swept at home by the Marlins.

Atlanta, whose -4 run differential suggests they might be a bit unlucky in terms of record, weren’t picked by many to win the division again (except by yours truly) but they’re looking largely incapable of vying for a playoff spot, period.

At six games back in the division, it’s a sobering reality if it begins to set in that you probably won’t win the division because of the talent around the National League. Many expected the Dodgers to win the West and the Padres to secure a wild card spot. Enter: San Francisco Giants. Like the NL Central in the mid-2010s, the West could command three playoff spots, leaving the runners-up in the East and Central to begin booking tee times.

The Braves still have a young team, save for Freddie Freeman. Going forward, they’ll have the talent to compete; but after last year’s leap forward, it’s tough to swallow that the Braves might not be quite ready for consistent contention.

Miami Marlins (29-35)

One big thing: The run differential!

Here’s a running theme in these roundups: Run differential. Last week, I spoke about how the Marlins run differential finally flipped to being negative, thus more closely mirroring what their record was. Fast forward a week and that differential is positive once again at +8. Aside from the Mets (+21), the Marlins have the best differential in the division.

Despite all that, the team is 29-35 and fourth place in the standings. Their x/W-L says they should be four games better than what they are, which is kind of a big deal. Four games better gives them the highest win total in the division.

Yet, the Marlins continue to toil under .500 despite a differential one would expect to yield winning outcomes. Against all odds, Miami might finish the season under .500 with a positive run differential. It just goes to show: Our metrics don’t always work out. We’ll probably monitor this phenomenon each week moving forward. So, if run differential bores you, skip the Marlins’ section each week.

Washington Nationals (26-35)

One big thing: Can’t score

The Nationals are third worst in baseball in terms of runs scored. They’ve plated 228 runs, which is seven more than the floundering Pirates’ 221 and 12 more than the Mets’ 216. Unlike the Mets, the Nationals don’t find themselves riddled with injuries at all times, nor do they find themselves at the top of the division.

The team’s 90 wRC+ is 21st in baseball; their 59 home runs rank 27th in baseball. Washington has had to rely on Max Scherzer and portions of the bullpen to keep them in baseball games. Even then, they can’t always win.

The last three games against the Giants have gone this way: Loss, 1-0; Win, 2-0; Loss, 2-1. It doesn’t take a mathematician to tell you that’s an average of one run per game. Their 3.74 runs per game is 29th in baseball, ahead of only Pittsburgh (3.51). Very simply, you can’t win if you can’t score.

This development is a bit surprising. I think many had high hopes surrounding new acquisitions Kyle Schwarber and Josh Bell. I think people expected Juan Soto to be an MVP candidate. Last season, the Nationals scored 4.88 runs per game, which was 10th in baseball. In their World Series season, they scored 5.31 runs per game, sixth in baseball.

At what point do we have to accept that this team just isn’t very good this year? I belabored that point in the offseason, imploring the front office to better gauge their current viability to compete, realize the prospects are well diminished from a couple years ago, and begin preparing for the future. Obviously, they didn’t do that. Now we’re stuck with a Nats team in neutral — or worse — with hopes for the future somewhat bleak. Mediocrity could become commonplace once again in DC.