View From the Center: N.L. East Contenders
Welcome to "View From the Center", where our resident pseudo-expert slash Cincinnati Reds fan Jeff Gentil takes a regular rundown of the topics of interest within baseball's divisional landscape. Last week, team aces. This week, contenders and pretenders.
Atlanta Braves: Since their miraculous seven-run ninth inning to beat the Reds on May 20, the Braves are 12-4 and currently sit two games ahead of the Phillies on top of the East. Exactly one month ago, the Braves were in dead last (12-17) and making Bobby Cox wonder if he'd stayed one season too long. Now, the Braves are clearly a in the mix and Cox has to be reconsidering his retirement. Contenders.
Florida Marlins: With the pitching staff the Marlins have they could be contenders. They are just two games under .500 (28-30) and 5.5 games out of first. However, they are in fourth place behind the Mets, Phillies, and Braves and with limited funds to go out and make a big trade, the Marlins are unlikely to leave the bottom. With the fifth lowest payroll in baseball, ownership has shown a reluctance to spend and won't take the needed risk to make a serious run at the division. Pretenders
New York Mets: The Mets are an improved team with some very good parts. The problem is they have no-name guys having career years (Angel Pagan, Rod Barajas), while guys they should be relying on (Jason Bay, Jose Reyes) have been disappointing. They are only three games out of first, but this team is hot and cold. They rip off five games and look brilliant, then turn around and look like the Bad News Bears. But, they have ownership's ability and willingness to spend money. Contenders
Philadelphia Phillies: The two-time defending National League Champions are automatically contenders with their experience, pitching staff, and offense. They are not in first place at this point, but they are not in panic mode. If Jimmy Rollins continues to miss time due to that nagging calf injury, Juan Castro is not going to get the Phillies to the postseason. And Cole Hamels continues to look for his 2008 World Championship form. He clearly hasn't been the same pitcher since then. Contenders
Washington Nationals: The mere fact that the Nationals are just four games under .500 is a huge victory for the struggling franchise. Help is on the way in Stephen Strasburg, who will make his highly anticipated major league debut against the Pirates on Tuesday. Still, the Nats have been a pleasant surprise this season and if they can find a way to catch and throw the baseball (last in the N.L. in fielding percentage), they might be even better. Pretenders