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NL East Preview For The Week Of April 22-28

Elsa, Getty Images

Once again, the week has proven to be a topsy-turvy endeavor for all five teams, including a remarkable three loss streak for Atlanta, a rousing first season of the “John Buck Show” in New York, and, once again, a resoundingly inept performance for the Miami Marlins. Philadelphia has been pushing to get back into the NL East conversation, while Washington is simply trying to prove that 2012 wasn’t just a one hit wonder. All that and more will be talked about in this week’s NL East Preview for April 22-28.

Atlanta Braves:
Current 2013: 13-5
Estimated 2013: 13-5
This Week: 3-3

Wow, a slump against what used to be the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates? That’s right. It all started with Tim Hudson getting blown out in a shutout loss, then Paul Maholm lost in a duel against a struggling James McDonald (who was spectacular after seeing highlights of him striking out batters). Finally, it was another solid outing for Kris Medlen, though the team went belly up behind him. All in all, their losses were my gains, as my 2013 predictions are on target for them heading into the week.

So, this week is going to be tough, with the Braves playing all six games on the road. First, they have a three game set against the hot Colorado Rockies, where their resurgence has been underplayed, to say the least. Atlanta puts Mike Minor on the mound today against a Rockies team that has clubbed 28 home runs, only one less than the Braves themselves. There will be three great games and at least one will come down to who has the best home run potential. I would worry most about Hudson in this series, as I think Minor will perform his duties well and keep his shiny .95 ERA relatively clean. Teheran will also have a bounce back game, though he may still face competition from Troy Tulowitzki, a destructive Dexter Fowler and Carlos Gonzalez. But, the Braves lose this series 2-1.

Up next is yet another road series, this time in Motor City. When a contending team like Atlanta faces the fast hands of the Detroit Tigers, someone has to fall. Justin Verlander has been dominant this season, but not lights out. Anibal Snachez and Doug Fister are also big names with tiny ERAs, but all eyes are on the turbulent Rick Porcello. I think you’re going to see Doug Fister keep up his season and Rick Porcello get lit up. Paul Maholm will also come back and perform well. But, don’t count out guys like the Upton Bros. and Brian McCann. All three of them have potential to get red-hot and knock in two or three runs in a contest. The Braves are going to take advantage of a key match up and win the series 2-1.

Miami Marlins:
Current 2013: 4-15
Estimated 2013: 5-14
This Week: 3-3

What a pleasant sight to see the Miami Marlins live up to their potential and take a game from both the Nationals and the Reds. Against tough competition, one would have figured they’d fold like a cheap lawn chair at a little league game. But, the team toughened up and tasted victory. This week, I’m going out a limb and saying they do even better and maybe prove that they aren’t out to merciless torture their fans in a way no other sporting team has done before.

Jamie Sabau, Getty Images

First on the Marlins list is a humdrum Minnesota Twins team that hasn’t been spectacular, but hasn’t been off the charts bad, either. Whichever way the winds blows so will the games. Ricky Nolasco pitches against Kevin Correia in a battle of who can maintain tempo, while Josh Willingham and Joe Mauer will continue to try and put at least a couple runs on the board. The two games series will end in a draw, while people will continue to ask who exactly Justin Ruggiano is and why he hasn’t been traded out of Miami yet.

Following a trip up north, the Marlin will come back to Chicago for a four game series against the Cubs. The poor Cubbies are almost as waywardly bound as the Marlins, except I can still name a few people on the team. Jeff Samardzija has been impressive this year, giving those who doubted his ability last year something to chew on now. But, leave it to the Marlins to spoil at least two games. I can’t even imagine Wade LeBlanc getting out of the fourth inning, but Sanabia could see his ERA drop below five and into respectable territory. Don’t get your hopes up for Giancarlo (Mike) Stanton to hit a home run, either. I’ve been saying it for three weeks now and he’s putting up Adam Dunn numbers… without the RBI and homer potential. If they trade him now, they could probably get a sweet pile of wristbands and a couple minor leaguers. This series is another split.

New York Mets:
Current 2013: 9-8
Estimated 2013: 10-9
This Week: 4-2

As suspected, John Buck and Matt Harvey are making this team a talked about franchise in places outside of New York. Even the Mets are surprised to be where they are, thanks to the strength of Harvey’s arm on the mound (.93 ERA, 32 strikeouts, 4-0 record) and John Buck’s clubbing (7 homers, 22 RBIs, .290 BA). A thorough whooping of the Nats makes them a dangerous team, especially in a stronger than usual NL East.

This week, the Mets take on the slumping L.A. Dodgers, who at 8-10 are not displaying the skills that a bloated payroll affords you. I suspect that Jonathan Niese and Matt Harvey spin two beautiful games of baseball, confusing the likes of Juan Uribe and Carl Crawford, while Hefner puts up solid stats, as well. What will kill the Mets this week is a bullpen that offers up more runs than a high school track meet. The Mets can take the series, but should not have to pray every time they reach the eighth inning.

Up next for New York’s second team is a home series against the Phillies. I’m really looking forward to these games because the teams are almost polar opposite. Both have batting averages within five points of each other, but that’s where the similarities end. The Mets control both the number of RBIs and runs scored by a wide margin, but the Phillies have connected on more hits and caused more strikeouts. The Mets should win two games simply by relying on John Buck and Lucas Duda to provide the pop, while relying on a good rotation of pitchers to keep the games low scoring. If they lose more than one game, it might be safe to say the bullpen did it.

Philadelphia Phillies:
Current 2013: 8-11
Estimated 2013: 9-10
This Week: 4-3

Looking at the Phillies this season is like looking at a tank full of brightly colored beta fish. They’re all pretty impressive on their own, but once they catch sight of another, they attack each other with a fury that leaves you wondering what just happened. They just can’t seem to get out of each other’s way. An injury to the always-consistent John Lannan isn’t going to make matters any better.

The week begins with a four game home stand against the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are making a push at being an interesting team again. After taking three of four from the Braves, Pittsburgh is bursting with confidence. This spells bad news for a Phillies team that just came off a split series against the Cards. A.J. Burnett is going to pitch with the sole purpose of declaring himself the leader on that team, while Jonathan Pettibone is simply filling in until Lannan comes back from the DL. Philly will not be impressed with Andrew McCutchen’s skills, and will keep three of the four games in the City of Brotherly Love.

To end the week, the Phils travel to New York to face the Mets, who have already been mentioned in this piece as a team that could be evenly matched, but isn’t right now. Keep Chase Utley and Michael Young on your radar, since they’ll be the ones to watch against Gee and Niese, but otherwise, just wait for Hamels to hit the mound and take a game for the fans. If he gets lucky in his first games, Pettibone could be an interesting choice coming into the series, since he is unproven so far and might throw the Mets hitters off their game. In essence, this series could go either way, but nerves and a barrage of singles will keep the Phillies from taking this home.

Washington Nationals:
Current 2013: 10-8
Estimated 2013: 13-5
This Week: 4-3

Mike Stobe, Getty Images

The Nationals are the exact definition of hot and cold. The season isn’t even a month old and already the Nats have been shut out three times, allowing 26 runs in those contests alone. Of course, they’ve also been on the right side of two shutouts, though the success was nearly as great with only 5 runs to their credit. The wins and losses have been lop-sided all season and consistency has been tough to come by. With a little luck, the Nats will settle down a bit more and start hitting their stride again. This may not be that week, though.

Starting off the week, Washington faces stiff competition in the team that destroyed their post-season hopes six months ago. The Cards are coming into Nationals Park for three games, and face a line-up of Haren, Detwiler and Strasburg. Haren has been a disaster this season, despite making $13 million dollars, while Detwiler has proven to be a gem even with a much lower paycheck. Strasburg has had an up and down year and doesn’t look as dominate as he did before being shut down. It’s going to be a tough row, but with Harper in the field and Werth picking up a little stream, two out of three isn’t a hard guess to make. It won’t be nearly as hard as what’s coming up next.

Oh, Lordy. The Nats are going to meet the team that set the tone for this season by whipping them 15-0 in the fourth game of the season. I don’t think we’re going to see that again, but there is worry for concern. Depending on how Detwiler and Haren perform, this could be a 3-1 or 1-3 series, whereas I think Zimmermann will be a ray of sunshine through his level head and smart play. Gonzalez is quickly losing what he had last year, but is still quite serviceable. In addition, Harper, Desmond and Span will have to pick up for the injured Ryan Zimmerman until he can come back. It won’t be easy but it will be fun, so fans can take solace in a 2-2 split.

That’s it! Four weeks in and the season is shaping up well. Unknown contenders are coming out of the woodwork, while others are showing that this simply isn’t their year. April is coming to a close, but with the warmer weather comes a hot summer. Until next week, have fun!

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