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Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 07/26/2012

NL East rapidly changing around the Nationals


The National League East is changing quickly around the Washington Nationals. The Miami Marlins have unloaded players just as swiftly as they added them this offseason. The Atlanta Braves are desperately trying to add more arms for the pennant race, wooing the top available starters. The New York Mets proclaimed they were buyers but the season has begun to slip away. At a crossroads, the Philadelphia Phillies locked up their young left-handed starter with a gigantic contract, but moves could be coming.

Meanwhile, the Nationals have stayed out of the trade fray so far and continued to win.

In many ways, what has happened around them may be to their benefit. The Marlins essentially threw up a white flag on the season. The Phillies addressed their future but still have present concerns. The Mets don’t have a sought-after major leaguer to swap to bolster their porous bullpen. The Braves have not yet been able to add a starter to strengthen their rotation depth, and when they do, they will likely dip into their prospect pool.

The Nationals have been stellar against division opponents: a 25-14 record. The only division team they have a losing record against is the Marlins, a changing team.

Early in the season, the Marlins showed flashes of being a formidable foe when they swept the Nationals in late May. But the team has since vastly underperformed, some players were unsettled and ownership quickly decided to change the team’s direction, essentially admitting they erred in how they built the team over the winter.

This week, they shipped away three-time all-star infielder Hanley Ramirez (who feasted on left-handed pitching and the Nationals more than any other division opponent) and reliever Randy Choate (who hadn’t allowed a hit to the Nationals this season and made Bryce Harper look uncomfortable at the plate). They also traded infielder Omar Infante and right-handed starter Anibal Sanchez (who never lost to the Nationals in his career).

The Braves have sought to solidify the back of their rotation, one of their most glaring weaknesses. They reportedly had a deal in place for Chicago Cubs right-hander Ryan Dempster, but it wasn’t completed because the pitcher had the ability to nix the trade. Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Zack Greinke now seems like a possible target.

While Ben Sheets has been a pleasant surprise and could alleviate the loss of top starter Brandon Beachy, the rest of the Braves starters have 4.00-plus ERAs except Tim Hudson. A rotation that includes Tommy Hanson, Mike Minor and Jair Jurrjens is wholly underwhelming. Even if the Braves add a top starter, it may not be enough to patch up the rest up of the starting pitching.

The last-place Phillies have been linked to other teams in talks about unloading veteran players such as outfielders Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence, and possibly others. Giving Coles Hamels the second-largest contract ever for a pitcher (six-year, $144 milllion extension) helps their future but how will the team fix one of the worst bullpens in baseball? The Mets face the same problem with their bullpen and, as their season has slipped away in the second half, they seem less likely to be buyers to fix it.

As the landscape changes around them, the Nationals have been afforded the luxury of perspective: They can watch as division rivals alter their rosters. They may add the middle infield depth they seek but overall don’t see any glaring needs. And nothing yet has happened in all the moves across the division that makes the pennant race tougher for them.

FROM THE POST

The Nationals match the high-water mark since baseball returned to Washington, 19 games over .500, with a 5-2 win over the Mets behind 11 strikeouts by Stephen Strasburg, Adam Kilgore writes.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Espinosa figuring things out

Werth could return within a week

Davey not taxing rotation

Rodriguez creates another mess

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Rochester 5, Syracuse 3: On rehab, Jayson Werth leads off and plays right field, finishing 0 for 3 with two walks and a strikeout. Also on rehab, Chad Tracy was the designated hitter and went 0 for 3 with one walk. Starter Zack Duke allowed five runs, four earned, on 10 hits over seven innings.

New Hampshire 8, Harrisburg 3: Brian Goodwin, Jimmy Van Ostrand and Chris Rahl each drive in a run.

Lynchburg 3, Potomac 1: Alex Meyer allows one run, unearned, on two hits and strikes out five hitters in six innings. He has yet to allow an earned runs in two starts at Potomac.

Lakewood 10, Hagerstown 3: Center fielder Billy Burns went 2 for 4 and drove in a run.

Auburn 8, Vermont 7: Left fielder Mike McQuillan and designated hitter Estarlin Martin each drive in three runs. Anthony Rendon was added to the roster after five games with the Nationals’ GCL affiliate.

By  |  07:00 AM ET, 07/26/2012

 
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