Atlanta, GA

Why Is There No Competition in the National League East?

IBWAA

By Dan Schlossberg

I finally figured out the National League East: the Mets are playing like the Braves while the Braves and Phillies are playing like the Mets.

At least, that’s how the 2022 race looks when compared with the 2021 version.

The Mets, even without injured pitchers Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom, can do no wrong. Their new managers makes the right decisions. Their once-horrid defense now catches and throws with precision. Their bullpen is suddenly reliable. And even the no-names promoted from the minors (see Nick Plummer) produce the minute they reach the majors.

As for Atlanta, it seems the Braves have found a myriad of ways to lose. Matt Olson, a Gold Glove first baseman signed to succeed departed free agent Freddie Freeman, can’t catch anything more than a cold. Adam Duvall, last year’s National League RBI leader, has lost his power. Marcel Ozuna shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near left field.

The pitching is equally pathetic, often doling out more walks than strikeouts. Charlie Morton is showing his age. Nobody in the bullpen can hold a lead. And the Braves never met an extra-inning Manfred Man they didn’t allow to score.

Amazingly, Philadelphia is worse. With the possible exceptions of the injured Bryce Harper and the fading J.T. Realmuto, they don’t have a player worth his salt at a single defensive position. Harper has an elbow issue that restricts him to DH duty, while second baseman Jean Segura has a fractured finger likely to keep him idle for at least three months (see you in September).

The Phils spent lavishly and foolishly in the free agent market, resulting in an outfield that has Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber at the same time. It is not a situation that satisfied manager Joe Girardi, who wound up with a pink slip Friday.

Zack Wheeler’s frustration is also obvious — every time he pitches. Aaron Nola is only a fraction of his former self. And Corey Knebel is completely unpredictable as closer.

Shall we go on?

At the rate things are going, the pitching-rich Miami Marlins might finish ahead of the flailing Phils. It’s doubtful that the Washington Nationals will, however, even if Juan Soto starts hitting like Juan Soto. Their pitching is just too horrendous, though Stephen Strasburg is certain to help when he returns sometime in the next few weeks.

Looking ahead, the Braves face a much easier schedule than the Mets. Plus they know they’ll soon get slugger Eddie Rosario, starter Mike Soroka, and closer Kirby Yates off the injured list.

Atlanta also has a winner’s pedigree, with four straight NL East crowns and a world championship to show as proof of talent. Plus Brian Snitker, the league’s oldest manager and the team’s longest employee: 45 straight years.

It will no doubt be interesting to see what the trade deadline brings. While Steve Cohen might be content to rest on his money bags, the other four clubs in his division will be doing their best to make his second half unpleasant.

The Braves might even succeed, since their play during the first two months of this year nearly parallels what they did in 2021. A year ago, they didn’t even hit .500 until Aug. 6, then caught fire and played like the second coming of the 1914 Miracle Braves.

No matter what happens, it certainly figures to keep fans entertained.

Former AP newsman Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is weekend editor of Here’s The Pitch, national baseball writer for forbes.com, and author of 40 baseball books. Contact him by e.mail at ballauthor@gmail.com.

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