Phillies, Marlins, Braves in Tight Race in NL East

May 25, 2011 by  
Filed under Fan News

With the Philadelphia Phillies falling 6-3 Tuesday night to the Cincinnati Reds, the race in the NL East tightened yet again. The Florida Marlins drew closer with a 5-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants and are only one game back of the Phillies. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Braves shut out the Pittsburgh Pirates 2-0 and trail the division-leading Phillies by only 3 games.

The NL East is now the division to watch. Although entering the season the Phillies were seen as the division’s clear-cut front-runner, it appears that this “all-star” team could be overtaken shortly by either the Marlins or the Braves.

The division is up for grabs.  Anything short of a division title would surely be seen as a disappointment in Philadelphia, and I do not disagree with them.  The Phillies have a great pitching staff that features all-stars Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels.  The team’s offense simply hasn’t delivered, and ranks 20th in baseball in runs scored. Injuries and a lack of depth have also been factors.  With a 29-19 record, the Phillies are winning but have not led the way quite as predicted.

Before the beginning of the season, I penciled in the Florida Marlins to be semi-competitive through 2012, when their new ballpark opens, and perhaps opens the owner’s pockets as well for a few big-name free agents.

However, I have been surprised by the Marlins’ best start in franchise history.  Good pitching has thus far propelled the Marlins to a solid 27-19 record. They may not feature many big names, but Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, and Anibal Sanchez have performed very well. The team’s revamped bullpen has also come up huge in holding leads.

Florida has hitting with power as well, led by contact hitter Gaby Sanchez and power hitter Mike Stanton, who has 11 home runs already this season.  Despite Hanley Ramirez’s offensive struggles, the Marlins have not needed to blow away teams with offense because their pitching has been so strong this season.

We can not forget about the Atlanta Braves, who at one time were the best team  in the National League during the 1990’s.  Just like the Marlins, the Braves’ pitching has been a major factor in their success this season.  They are ranked second in the majors with a 3.01 ERA and have recorded 31 quality starts from their pitching staff.

Hitting has been a struggle for Atlanta.  Dan Uggla, who signed a major contract in the off-season, is struggling mightily with a batting average below .200.  In fact, the Braves team leader in home runs is Jason Heyward, with seven. He, too, is hitting only .214.  The Braves’ highest batting average belongs to Martin Prado, who is hitting .286.

Despite the Braves’ offensive struggles, their pitching has been superb. In order to keep up with the races both in the NL East and in the Wild Card, the Braves will need to generate more offense to support their solid pitching.

In the end, who will come out in first place?  Right now, the NL East appears to be completely up for grabs, courtesy of some nice surprises from the Marlins and Braves.  

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Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies