The National League East is one of the tightest division races as the baseball season turns toward the finish line for the regular season. The Atlanta Braves have streaked to a nice lead, but the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets are just a hot stretch away from making it tight at the top of the standings.
A division title might be the only way an NL East team gets into the postseason, with the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds, and St. Louis Cardinals all above every division team in the Wild-Card standings. As far as the other two teams in the division, the Washington Nationals and Miami Marlins are building toward 2022.
Check out BetUS to see the odds for all of the division races.
Atlanta Braves (65-56)
The season-ending injury suffered by Ronald Acuna Jr. was thought to be a crushing blow to the Braves’ chances at winning the NL East for a fifth straight season. Atlanta has gone 21-12 since the injury, heading into Friday’s series opener against Baltimore with a 3½-game lead in the division.
Much of that has to do with the play of two other Atlanta All-Stars, first baseman Freddie Freeman and second baseman Ozzie Albies. Freeman, the reigning NL MVP, has found his form again and is coming off hitting for the cycle on Wednesday, which raised his batting average to .301.
“You know me, I like the three at the start of the batting average,” Freeman said after Wednesday’s win. “Obviously, I didn’t get off to the start I wanted this year, but luckily, it wasn’t a 60-game season.
“I feel for about two or three months, I’ve been doing pretty well, so I have six weeks to close this out. So I have to keep going.”
Atlanta picked up Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson, and Jorge Soler to fortify its lineup, while its rotation is picking up steam of late. The Braves have a key eight-game stretch against the Yankees, Giants, and Dodgers starting Monday, but if they can get through that in decent shape, they should be the favorites in this race.
Braves Homestretch Grade: A
Philadelphia Phillies (61-59)
The Phillies were flying high and tied atop the division just a little over a week ago, but six losses in eight games have them looking up at the Braves. A groin injury to first baseman Rhys Hoskins certainly hasn’t helped, as he leads the team in home runs and RBIs. He should be back any day now, and the Phillies need him.
Consistency has been a problem for the Philadelphia offense, as shown by its seven total hits over two games against Arizona this week, and having Hoskins and Bryce Harper hot is a key to the Phillies’ division title hopes. Getting consistency from the starting rotation will be key as well. Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola have been workhorses, but manager Joe Girardi has had to cobble together his starting staff at times.
Philadelphia has a nice road ahead of it, though, with 27 of its final 41 games against teams that are currently fourth or fifth in their respective divisions and have little to no hope of playoff contention.
Phillies Homestretch Grade: B
New York Mets (60-60)
The Mets were also flying high just a couple of weeks ago but are in the middle of a stretch of four straight series against the top two teams in baseball, the Giants and the Dodgers. Injuries have hurt New York, especially the elbow injury for Jacob deGrom, who has been out since July 7 and will likely be shut down for the season.
Injury has also taken the team’s top trade-deadline acquisition, shortstop Javier Baez, as he’s been out with back spasms, as well as Francisco Lindor, who has been sidelined with an oblique strain. Top hitter Pete Alonso was hit by a pitch on Wednesday and is considered day-to-day, but there’s not a lot of time for New York to get healthy if they want to stay in the division race.
The Mets do get 14 straight games against the bottom two teams in the NL East starting next weekend but only have one series apiece left against the Phillies and Braves, so they’ll need some help.
Mets Homestretch Grade: C-
Washington Nationals (52-68)
The Nationals made their intentions for the rest of the season known at the trade deadline when they gutted the team in multiple trades. Kyle Schwarber, Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, and Jon Lester were among those sent packing, leaving Juan Soto to try to keep the Nats competitive the rest of the way.
Washington has some rebuilding to do, so jettisoning some veterans now is only going to speed up the process. Unfortunately, that means another year without the postseason after the magical 2019 run to the World Series title.
The Nationals have a chance to play spoiler with a 14-game stretch against the top three teams in the division standings at the end of August into early September, but that’s really all there is to play for now.
Nationals Homestretch Grade: D
Miami Marlins (51-70)
The Marlins have some nice pieces for the future, but we’ve heard that before. The starting trio of Trevor Rogers, Sandy Alcantara and Pablo Lopez are all 25 or younger, so there’s great potential there. The Marlins’ pitching staff has the 11th-best ERA in baseball (3.91) despite one of the worst records in the game.
Veterans Starling Marte and Duvall were dealt away at the trade deadline, and Jesus Aguilar might have joined them if he wasn’t on a one-year deal currently. Building for the future is a yearly occurrence in South Florida, and this year is no exception.
Playing against playoff-contending teams in 10 of their final 13 series won’t make things easy on the young Marlins.