NL East: Buy, Sell or Does It Matter Since Washington’s Sleep Wal….Wait. What?

So, somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 games ago, one wag (that’s old-timer for smart-alec punk) dismissed the entire National League East except Washington, who was guaranteed to “sleep walk through the division.”

Little problem with that.

Washington has been asleep alright, but not winning at any particularly rapid pace and has been far behind just about everyone in the the division, except the lowly Miami Marlins.

After a brief sign of respectability, the New York Mets went into free-fall and the Atlanta Braves then took over and have led for the most part since. The Philadelphia Phillies started with a much-maligned couple of really relatively minor managerial missteps by first-year skip Gabe Kapler who had to learn how to listen to his gut while not letting it screw his team out of a loss.

Fast forward 80 games and Atlanta and Philly are tied for first. The Nationals are 5.5 out of first place and are trying to overcome the psychological trauma of going 5-17 which included a sweep at the hands of Toronto and two straight series losses to the Phillies.

The Nationals present an interesting dilemma because of how much they struggled in the first half of the season. Adam Eaton finally got off the disabled list and has been solid. But Bryce Harper has looked like a 38-year-old at the end of his career: He’s being out-thought during at-bats and is pulling off pitches badly. He’s still seeing the same number of pitches, but his batting average on balls in play is .212. He looks like he did two years ago when he struggled then too. It just seems like he’s trying to win every game by himself. But there’s no reason for it. The Nats have one of the best offenses in the big leagues and they also have rookie outfielder Juan Soto who’s hitting .300 and could hit at least 15 home runs.

Maybe Harper is a once-in-a-lifetime talent, but I’ve never seen evidence it’s sustainable. Too often, he acts like the game is all about him. He’s played fewer than 118 games three times. He’s incredibly streaky. And I think he can do Washington more good by leaving than by staying. And I’m a fan who loves seeing one player stay with the same club.

There has to be a team that thinks it can sign him and build around him. A number-one starter and a couple of prospects is a fair trade. If Washington can pull that off, I think they have a real chance to catch fire and win with what they have.  Of course the argument can also be made that Harper will have a second half to make us forget the first. Maybe. Stop sleep-walking. Start trading. Go for the pitchers.

As for Atlanta and Philadelphia, they’re both cute. They’re in first place way later than anyone thought. But, are they really going to come out of nowhere to win the World Series? I think not. Both have been building for the playoffs and they both might make it. But, then what? Philly isn’t ready yet to make a run deep in the playoffs and their offense is sub-par. Unless you can find a second-half player to carry them, you have to sell the weak links, hopefully get prospects to help next year and really make a run then…and with a year of playoff experience.

As for Atlanta, they’re in a little different boat. They have Nick Markakis, Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies who are all hitting with power and more than .280. On the mound, Anibal Sanchez is two runs per game below his recent seasons’ averages. That can’t hold up. So, sell him, start Matt Soroka, who’s 20, and hope for the best.

What happened to the New York Mets?

The loss of starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard really hurt, but the death knell has been the loss of Yoenis Cespedes. As he goes, so goes the offense.

So not only are the Mets without a decent fourth or fifth starter, but they’re not supporting the top three starters either. The team is last in batting average and it’s not like they’re making up for it with home runs.

Jacob DeGrom has an ERA of 1.88 in the last month. Record? 1-3. And it’s not just the last month. The whole year is like that. Support for Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler isn’t any better and both have pitched really well.

Also, consider this: Third baseman Todd Frazier’s hitting .191 the last month and that’s better than platoon shortstop Jose Reyes and platoon first baseman Dominic Smith.

Recommendation: SELL. Sell…like almost everything, pitch forks, wheel barrows, old fence posts, whatever. Second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera will be 33 next year. He’s hitting better than .290 the last month. Somebody can part with a high-quality minor league pitcher. Wilmer Flores has similar numbers and someone will be fooled by that even though he hasn’t been any great shakes offensively for the year overall or his career. And someone will remember the playoff highlights Michael Conforto had and take a flier on him and his .216 average.

This is ugly. Keep the DeGrom bell cow and anything else decent with a P in front of their names and buy a new farm.

Speaking of ugly, meet your 2018 Miami Marlins starting pitchers. You can’t blame the offense. They’re in the middle of the pack offensively. But, you can’t really blame the pitchers either, all of them, because they’re learning on the job.

Recommendation: go in the corner and repeat after me, “La la la la” while you wait for your starters to figure it out…and Jose Urena looks like he might be. He reaches 96 mph on the radar gun. He’s got the talent. Caleb Smith was, shall we say, “Not good” in his rookie campaign of nine games. 2018 has been much better and the last month even better as his ERA now hovers a little over four. Dan Straily is a veteran who has performed about like a fourth starter should. And then the sixth starters show up. Wei-Yin Chen is not the answer. Trevor Richards doesn’t have the experience to really let anybody know whether he has a future or not. Let’s just say, lately, “it hasn’t been good.” The good news? As much as they’ve struggled, the Marlins have crawled out of the cellar.

Or should we say, the Mets… have crawled in.

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