by Christian S. Kohl
After two months have passed in the 2012 season, the first thing most will note when glancing at the NL East is, all teams are playing above .500. This remains the only division in the league sporting all teams with a winning record, currently leaving the Phillies in the unfortunate position of sitting dead last at 27-25.
This race will represent by far the tightest and deepest of any division in the National League. Currently, the leaders at 29-21 are the youthful and electric Washington Nationals. The names on everyone’s minds in Washington are always Strasburg and Harper, and so far neither has disappointed. Harper has already knocked 4 homers while sporting a ferocious arm and a keen baseball understanding, managing to record a steal at the plate. Strasburg also continues to dominate, using his arsenal of overpowering pitches to record a 2.64 ERA and 70 strikeouts. More impressive still is his teammate Gio Gonzalez, off to a blistering start at 7-1, 79 K’s, and a 2.14 ERA. These two are an absolutely fearsome 1-2 combo, and for the time being all systems are rolling for the Nats.
Meanwhile, the Marlins are playing it a bit more old-school, sitting in second with 29 wins under Manager Ozzie Guillen. He relies on two veteran workhorses in Buehrle and Zambrano, combining for 135 innings pitched across this two month stretch. Add longtime reliever Heath Bell into the mix with ten saves, and it’s plain to see this team is relying on experience to get the job done. Aside from a league leading 60 stolen bases, they don’t light up the stat pages, but in the early going they’ve managed to register a healthy amount of the most important statistic of all; wins.
Likewise, the Mets also sport a seemingly unimpressive batch of individual and team statistics, yet win when it counts and sit above both Atlanta and Philly at 28-23. Their team ERA is next to last in the league, and rank just 14th in team home run totals. Moreover, closer Frank Francisco has allowed 14 earned runs with batters hitting .287 against him. This division is too deep for the Mets to not make moves in order to battle for a title or the wildcard.
All discussion of the Phillies begins and ends with starting pitching. The work of Hamels, aside from the infamous Harper beaning, has been nothing shy of outstanding. Cliff Lee has failed to benefit from any run support, pitching to a respectable 3.00 ERA across 8 starts yet has failed to record a win. Halladay has also started slowly, despite a massive innings workload. He currently sits 4-5 with an ERA a shade under 4. In order to defeat these other formidable teams, this staff must pitch the way it’s capable of, and the offense must give them enough runs to win low scoring games.
Lastly, the Braves have won just two of their last ten, yet still impress with 28 wins and a solid winning percentage. Much of that can be attributed to Brandon Beachy, managing a dominant 1.67 ERA across 66 innings. Their offense is a bit of a patchwork, with many factors contributing but nobody standing out. 5 players have 5 or more homers, but nobody has more than 8. With veteran presences in Bourn and Chipper Jones, the Braves feature a host of experience and guys who know how to get it done.
Washington holds the lead now, but this is really anybody’s division. The impact of the Werth injury may be substantial, and the Philly starters warming to the summer months may be too much for any of the teams to handle. This one will not be a runaway, and of all MLB divisions, the NL East is far and away the most likely to require the full 162 games to sort out. Stay tuned.