When the season began, the Washington Nationals were coming off a 98-win campaign and had pulled off moves – acquiring a center fielder, strengthening their bullpen – that made the team look improved. The Atlanta Braves, who won 94 games in 2012, had overhauled their outfield in an effort to keep pace. The Philadelphia Phillies were coming off their first non-winning season in a decade, and – aging as they were – professed that they were determined to reverse course.
Now, as the final two months of the season approach, the National League East looks far from a division that will send multiple teams to the playoffs. Rather, it looks like the worst division in the sport.
In a season that promises to provide pennant races across leagues and from coast-to-coast, the NL East is a blowout. The Braves’ lead over Washington is 11 1/2 games. That’s greater than the entire gap in the NL West – in which the Dodgers lead last-place San Francisco by 10 games. Indeed, no other division leader had more than a 3-1/2-game lead over the second place team.
But it’s more than that. The Braves moved into a tie for first on April 5. They have not spent a day in second since. On April 16, they notched the last of a 10-game winning streak that gave them a 12-1 start and an early 4-1/2 game lead in the division.
The next day, they lost – and began a stretch of more than half the season in which they were a decidedly mediocre 45-44. Yet during that time, they increased their lead to eight games.
By just about any measure, the NL East trails the other five divisions. It’s the only one with just one winning team. It has the worst winning percentage (.476, compared to the American League East’s .546). The Nationals, Phillies, Mets and Marlins all rank in the bottom third in baseball in run differential, and the division’s cumulative run differential of minus-135 would be last in baseball if not for the AL West’s minus-144 – a figure weighed down almost solely by Houston’s minus-158. (Think about that number for a minute.)
The Nationals’ winning percentage stands at .481 – on pace for a 78-84 season. The last team to finish second in its division with a record that bad: the 2005 Arizona Diamondbacks, who went 77-85 – good for second in a division so lousy, San Diego went 82-80 and won it comfortably.
Is the 2013 NL East that bad? The Braves save it from being so. But with two months to go in what was a promising season, the rest appears putrid.
This week’s MLB power rankings: