Early parity in the NL East is keeping every team in it

Most of the odds-makers had the NY Mets or Atlanta Braves running away with the NL East, and so far the Mets are just treading water with a small lead of 1.0 to 2.0 games separating them from the other four teams. There is a 3-way tie for third place right now. The Phillies are by far the healthiest team followed by the Mets, and the Braves are missing their top-2 starting pitchers, and the Washington Nationals have been decimated by injuries in key spots on their roster.

If there is any good news in regards to the Nats injury situation, it looks like they can get Juan Soto back on Friday and Jon Lester too. Stephen Strasburg is working his way back from shoulder inflammation, and hopefully Wander Suero and Will Harris can make it back soon to strengthen the bullpen.

Of course we got a scare yesterday when Trea Turner was hit by a pitch near his elbow on his left arm. He was removed from the game, and x-rays were negative. He is day-to-day.  If you were to pick a Nats’ MVP at this point, it would be Turner. He has done it on offense, defense, and baserunning.

While the offense and starting pitching are not up to the levels that were envisioned, the results have to be separated from the process in small sample sizes. Yes, Patrick Corbin has thrown 3 duds in his 4 starts, and general manager Mike Rizzo’s offseason acquisitions aren’t playing well. Josh Bell is batting .119 and Kyle Schwarber is batting .192. While Corbin could be the biggest concern, the offense is getting almost no production in the middle of the order.

“Sometimes when you’re not swinging the bat the way you’re capable of swinging, you start chasing more, ‘cause you want to swing more,” manager Dave Martinez said. “And it’s vice versa, for me. Swing less. Get a pitch you can handle, and try to hit that pitch. I do believe these guys, as they start locking in and their timing starts getting better, they’ll start taking their walks. But our chase rate has been quite high. We’ve got to get the ball back in the zone.”

Of course if you watched yesterday’s game, Schwarber was robbed of 2 RBIs and an extra-base hit on a great defensive play. But overall, both Bell and Schwarber have not been doing enough, and each have horrific K/BB rates of 9:1 and 3.75:1 respectively. Schwarber did have two web gems yesterday so he has found other ways to contribute while Bell’s glove is below average.

“It’s part of the game, and it’s not a fun part of the game,” Schwarber said as the philosopher. “You go through your routine and your process, and you’re leading up to everything for a good at-bat, and put your best possible swing on the baseball, but once the ball leaves your bat — it’s out of your control. The only thing you control is from your load through the contact. After that, it’s free reign. It definitely is frustrating, but it’s part of this game. And you know what? I think we’ll keep doing that. We’ll keep taking those hard-hit baseballs, and I think those will start landing here more.”

You have to believe the only direction for Bell and Schwarber to go is up. Last year, Bell clicked in at this point in the season and in a short season batted .226 which is almost double where he is at right now. Then you have the curious case of Victor Robles.  While statistically compared to Bell and Schwarber, it seems like Robles is a star compared to both of them, but he is batting .214 and has taken himself off of the bases three times this year with baserunning blunders. Yesterday it was a not outs gap double that he tried to stretch to a triple and was thrown out. The week before that he was thrown out trying to steal with a runner at 3rd base and no outs. These are the same mistakes that he has made every year in the league.

“For him, it’s just these young mistakes. I’ll talk to him about it,” Martinez said about Robles. “But right there, you can’t make the first out at third base.”

We have heard that speech before from Martinez in relation to Robles mistakes. You talk to him, and he repeats the same elementary mistakes. He apologizes, and then a week goes by and Robles does something else to bewilder you.

“Looking back, having the pitcher hit behind me, it would’ve been better and safer for me to stay at second base,” Robles said via interpreter Octavio Martinez.  “That would’ve been the smarter play, and then have him bunt me over.”

Maybe Robles needs a demotion to Triple-A to remind him that this is the big leagues not the little leagues where dumb plays get rewarded because of the quality of the competition. Third base coach Bob Henley had the stop sign up for Robles yesterday before he even reached the second base bag. On replay, you could see Robles did not even look at his third base coach. It snuffed out a potential big inning.

There are some bright spots as Max Scherzer, Joe Ross, and Erick Fedde have all been solid in the starting rotation. Each have thrown one dud a piece and otherwise have put together some good starts. The starter’s staff ERA is down to 5.21 but skewed from some historically bad starts from Corbin, Strasburg, and Ross’ 10-run meltdown performance, and Max’s 4 home run game on Opening Day.

If you removed the one dud game for Scherzer, his ERA would be an incredible 0.47 and using that same formula, Ross would be at 0.53. Fedde’s first start was a clunker and he has a decent 3.07 ERA in his three starts since. Add to that a bullpen that has lowered it’s overall ERA to 3.86, and there is some light at the end of the tunnel if Corbin, Strasburg, and Lester can help the starters.

On offense, maybe Yadiel Hernandez is the guy who needs to be playing daily. He has been punishing baseballs and taking his walks. You have to find the bright spots no matter where they are.

The Nationals lead all teams with being shutout five teams this season. But oddly, they are 3-2 without Soto in the lineup and finding ways to win including that key 1-0 win for Scherzer on Wednesday. It really is the little things. And somehow, the Nats are still in the hunt at only 3-games under .500 and a -24 run differential.


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