The National League East, expected to be perhaps the best division in baseball, has started the season reeling behind the Nationals and Braves, the only two teams with winning records. The Mets started out hot, but they have dropped back to .500 and remain the Mets. The Marlins have stumbled to a 7-8 start while their manager flirted with the third rail.
The real story of the division now, though, is the Phillies. They lost again last night, dropping them to 7-10, further into last place. They have dropped three straight, and as their latest defeat played out, their fans in Arizona chanted, “Let’s Go Flyers!”
It is early, too early to declare the Phillies’ window closed, but their rough start carries with it real problems. Cliff Lee, 33, is on the disabled list. With Ryan Howard and Chase Utley out for at least another several weeks, dealing with major injuries, their offense has scored 2.82 runs per game.
The Phillies are old – their average batter is 31.6 years old, oldest in the National League – and it shows. Third baseman Placido Polanco, 36, is hitting .200/.218/.241. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins, 33, is hitting .242/.282/.273. Their only regular player younger than 29 is second baseman Freddy Galvis, a 22-year-old with a 58 OPS+.
The names of the players who carried the Phillies to five straight division titles have remained largely the same, but their health and ability level has changed. The Nationals already have a 5 ½ game lead in the division. That does not seem crucial – making up 5 ½ games over 145 games is certainly doable – but if they can’t right the ship until Howard and Utley return, the Phillies could fade sooner than anyone imagined. The standings don’t matter much now, but they will soon.
With the Phillies currently scrambling, does any team in the National League really scare you? The Cardinals are the defending champs and have a solid lineup, but their ace, Adam Wainwright, is struggling following Tommy John surgery. The Braves? The Dodgers, even after their hot start? The Nationals, even with their rotation, won’t start scaring anyone, either, until they start scoring more than 3.62 runs per game. Whos is the NL favorite?
The league sure appears to be wide open for taking. And, stunningly, the Phillies have major questions to answer before they can be considered one of the teams ready to do so. For the first time in a long time, they, like rest of the NL East, are just gazing up at the Nationals.
FROM THE POST
The Nationals’ fast start has validated their preseason optimism, and now they have to keep it going on the West Coast.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse was off.
Harrisburg was off.
Winston-Salem 4, Potomac 1: Matt Swynenberg allowed no earned runs in 5 1/3 innings on nine hits and no walks, striking out three. Justin Bloxom went 2 for 4 with a double.
Hagerstown was off. Alex Meyer is scheduled to make his fourth start tonight.