The Race For The NL East Pennant With Eight Weeks Left

At the beginning of the 2012 season, the NL East was set to become the elite division of the major leagues.  Both the 102-win Phillies and the 89-win Braves looked to continue their strong dominance with relatively the same rosters, while the Marlins and Nationals added major talent during the off-season.  Only the Mets appeared hopeless after adding no one worth mentioning and letting perhaps their best player, Jose Reyes, fall into free agency.

Now, with just 47 games left in the season, no one can say they could have predicted what has happened.  The Phillies, who have won the last five NL East titles, have fallen to the bottom of the division as a result of untimely injuries and less than spectacular pitching.  The Marlins have also dropped in the standings because of inept offensive production (29th in runs scored) despite the addition of Jose Reyes.  The Mets, while being the surprise of the majors at the beginning of the season, have come back to reality after the All-Star Break. The Braves have pretty much been the only team without surprise.  They have placed themselves in position for a wild card spot, and still have a chance to win the division. It’s thhe same place they have for the past couple of years.  The Nationals, on the other hand, may be the surprise of the year.  With amazing pitching leading the way, Washington has moved comfortably into the position they have only dreamt up for years.

These unexpected standings have led each team to approach the trade deadline a little different than they had in the past couple of years.  Buyers turned into sellers, and sellers turned into buyers, while one team did absolutely nothing.   Here is the updated status on each team’s updated chances at the NL East title.

Washington Nationals (- GB)

The only way the Nationals can lose a playoff spot this year is if they let the pressure get to them and blow up.  So far though, in games with a playoff feel, Washington has looked very strong.  With the best record in the majors, the Nationals, if anything, were rumored to be searching for a starting pitcher at the trade deadline with Strasburg nearing his limit. Reports flew that the Nationals were interested in pretty much every pitcher that was made available, from Zack Greinke to Ryan Dempster.  In the end, the Nationals added Kurt Suzuki, a much-needed defensive upgrade at catcher, a little past the deadline.  They also picked up middle infielder Cesar Izturis.  Currently, the NL East title is in their hands.  All they have to do is finish what they started.

Atlanta Braves (4.5 GB):

The Braves recent success has been foiled by the Nationals current success, but at least they have made it a title race.  At the trade deadline, the Braves were actively searching for a pitcher to fill their injury-depleted rotation.  They thought they had acquired the Cubs’ current ace Ryan Dempster, but Dempster blocked the trade late into discussions.  Eventually the Braves settled for another pitcher from the Cubs, Paul Malhom.  They also added utility outfielder Reed Johnson in the same trade.  These additions were improvements, but the Braves will still have to fight to win their 12th NL East title.

New York Mets (16 GB):

Despite losing 21 of their last 30, the Mets did absolutely nothing at the trade deadline to improve.  At the beginning of the season, they were the surprise of the league competing at the top of the division behind R.A. Dickey’s breakout season, but since the All-Star Game they have come back to reality.  At 16 games out and just 47 games remaining this season, the Mets are out of contention.

Philadelphia Phillies (18.5 GB)

The Phillies are also done this year.  As a result, at the trade deadline they cleared some salary room for the future but at the same time gave away a large chunk of their offensive production.  Hunter Pence, the team’s leading home run hitter, was sent to the Giants for three prospects, and Shane Victorino, their everyday center fielder, was shipped to the Dodgers for two pitching prospects.  They also gave up their innings eater, Joe Blanton, to the Dodgers for players to be named later.  For the Phillies, this season can be classified as a wash, but their future is still bright with three of the best starting pitchers in the league.

Miami Marlins (19 GB):

If the Marlins had any chance at the trade deadline, they let it go quickly by being by far the biggest sellers in the league. They parted ways with three of their starting four infielders including their former superstar Hanely Ramirez, while also giving away starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez and three of their best relievers.  This fire sale perfectly sums up the extreme disappointment the Marlins’ front office has felt this season, but these trades may have also sacrificed seasons in the near future.

Joe Drugan

About Joe Drugan

Joe is the Managing Editor of The Nats Blog and host of the Nats Talk On The Go podcast. He's been blogging about the Nationals since 2010 and with The Nats Blog since 2011.