5 most notable trends in NL East

June 10th, 2021

More than two months into the season, certain trends have started to emerge across the Majors. For some teams, it's an encouraging sign, while for others, it's something that will need to change if that club has postseason aspirations.

Here's a look at the most notable trend for each National League East team to this point:

Braves: Bumpy bullpen

When the Braves won a third consecutive National League East title last year, they leaned heavily on a bullpen that proved strong enough to overcome what was one of the game’s worst starting rotations. Well, the rotation has been better this year, but the bullpen has stumbled far too often. The Braves entered Thursday 25-6 when leading after six innings. How significant are those six losses? Well, to put it in perspective, they were 27-0 in those games last year and 76-6 during the 2019 season. So through this year’s first 59 games, they suffered as many losses in those situations as they had over 222 games from the previous two seasons. There’s no doubt this trend will need to change if the Braves are going to win a fourth straight division title. -- Mark Bowman

Marlins: Cutting it close

Entering Thursday, the Marlins had surrendered 32 runs in the eighth inning this season -- their most of any frame. In three of their last five losses, they have blown a lead in the eighth or later. But that only tells part of the story. Miami has scored three runs or fewer in 35 of 61 games, including being shut out six times. There is little room for error for a bullpen that has a 3.84 ERA (13th in MLB), as the Marlins rank sixth with 169 total batters faced in high-leverage situations.

"I never anticipated us being a real high-scoring team," general manager Kim Ng said on Tuesday. "I don't think that's how we're constructed. We've always said that we were very pitching-centric. I looked at it, over the last day or so, 70% of our games are determined by three runs or less. I think that says something about the pitching, that we're very much in it most of the time. With the offense, I think that really magnifies the importance of each and every run. I think if we can get some more timely runs, this would look a little bit different." -- Christina De Nicola

Mets: 45 players used in first 48 games

If that number seems inconceivable, know that at one point in May, the Mets had 17 -- yes, 17 -- players on the injured list. They quickly burned through nearly all of the significant depth pieces they acquired this offseason, including big league bench bats like Jonathan Villar and Kevin Pillar, as well as a host of Minor League free agents and waiver claims. Shortly after the Mets claimed Travis Blankenhorn off waivers from the Mariners, he became the 45th player to appear for them.

The result hasn’t been ideal for the Mets, who long ago maxed out their 40-man roster and, as a result, lost several useful pieces to necessary DFAs. But all that roster churn has helped the club stay afloat. Thanks in large part to the success of the “replace-Mets,” this group recently celebrated its one-month anniversary of taking over first place in the NL East. The Mets recently also went a full week without adding anyone new to the injury report and are slowly growing healthier into June. -- Anthony Dicomo

Nationals: Scoring with runners on base

Following a 5-2 loss to the Phillies on Saturday, manager Dave Martinez said: “Our offense, we need to get going. We need to start hitting with runners on base.”

The Nationals have been leaving scoring opportunities on the field this season. Entering Thursday, they ranked last in baseball with a .145 batting average and .468 OPS with the bases loaded. In those situations, the Nats are 8-for-55 with 26 RBIs and 18 strikeouts. They're batting .235 with runners in scoring position (23rd in MLB) and .209 with runners in scoring position and two outs (24th). With any runners on base, they are hitting .255 (ninth), but that drops to .219 with runners on and two outs (ranked 21st).

Without maximizing their chances to score, the Nationals have come up short in several strong starts by their pitchers and missed the window to pull ahead in close games. -- Jessica Camerato

Phillies: Defense continues to haunt

Philadelphia entered Thursday ranked 27th in baseball with -13 Outs Above Average. Nearly every game the Phils play, there is a ball or two (or more) that should have been caught, but isn’t. The extra outs have proved costly. It is a major problem because there really is no simple solution. The Phillies’ personnel is the personnel, meaning unless they decide to trade an everyday player or two, there are unlikely to be significant improvements until the offseason. If they are going to win, they will have to outhit and outpitch their defensive issues the rest of the way. Philadelphia has shown signs of life offensively lately, scoring five or more runs in four of its last six games, but the unit has mostly underperformed. -- Todd Zolecki