NL East Breakdown Through One Month and Lingering Concerns for Each Team

The Phillies are coming off of a productive weekend. After losing the series opener to the Marlins, they won three in a row, picking up ground as the rest of the division stumbled.

The Mets, Braves and Nationals all lost two in a row Friday and Saturday. Those teams' bullpens were the root cause of struggles again, allowing a combined 14 runs in 10 innings on Saturday.

With the regular season just over a month old, the Phillies are 16-12. That's a 93-win pace, and only two NL teams have a better record - the Dodgers and Cardinals.

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On Sunday, Gabe Kapler said he thinks even better baseball is ahead of the Phillies, and it should be encouraging to the organization that they've played well despite a rash of injuries.

The Phils have already used 35 different players this season, second-most in the majors to the Mariners' 36. 

These last two weeks showed us just how important Jean Segura is to the Phils' lineup. With him out, they went 4-6 and averaged 2.9 runs per game. In Segura's first full game back Sunday, he went 3 for 4 with an RBI triple and two runs scored. He's hitting .347 on the season with a .919 OPS.

Bunched up

Most expected the NL East to be a hotly contested division in 2019 because the Phillies, Braves, Mets and Nationals are four of the top eight or nine teams in the National League. 
There's something to like about each NL East contender. The Phillies have one of the deepest lineups in baseball. The Nationals have one of the deepest rosters overall. The Braves have a formidable heart of the order. The Mets have as much starting pitching as any team.

A month in, these four teams are separated by three games. The Phillies, Mets and Braves have all scored between 141-145 runs. The Nationals aren't far behind at 138.

The only MLB team that has played more division games so far than the Phillies is the Rangers. The Phils are 13-8 already against the NL East, having played nearly 30% of their division games.

While all four teams are strong, there's something to dislike about each of them as well, mostly the bullpens.

Bullpen outlook

If you've been frustrated at times by the Phillies' relief corps, you should check out the rest of the division. 

• The Nationals' bullpen has a 6.57 ERA, second-to-last in the majors. They entered the season heavily reliant on hard-throwing righties Kyle Barraclough and Trevor Rosenthal to be their setup tandem. Rosenthal allowed 12 runs in three innings and is already on the IL without a timetable to return. Barraclough has a deceptively low ERA but has a 1.66 WHIP and he'sallowed seven of eight inherited runners to score. The Nats have had a lot of trouble getting the ball to elite closer Sean Doolittle.

• The Mets' bullpen hasn't been much better, ranking third-to-last in the majors with a 5.52 ERA. They've had the same issue bridging the gap from the starting pitcher to their elite closer, Edwin Diaz. Setup man Jeurys Familia has put 22 men on base in 11⅔ innings and has allowed a run in six of his last eight appearances. The Mets have also already overworked key relievers Robert Gsellman (17 IP) and Seth Lugo (16⅔ IP), who lead the division in innings among relievers.

• The Braves don't have a closer and have struggled to protect leads. Arodys Vizcaino is out for the season and his replacement, A.J. Minter, has a 9.35 ERA. The Braves are 5 for 9 in save opportunities and barely escaped Sunday when Luke Jackson replaced Minter in the ninth.

• The Phillies have a 4.27 bullpen ERA. The other three teams have combined for a 5.50 ERA from their relievers.

Each of these teams could use Craig Kimbrel, though the Mets are a longshot because they could only offer him a setup role. Keep in mind that at this point, any team that signs Kimbrel would likely have to wait three or four weeks before he's ready to contribute in a key late-inning role at the big-league level. You don't just sign and automatically run in for the ninth inning after not having a spring training ramp-up period.

Other lingering concerns

• Anthony Rendon is off to a MVP-caliber start to 2019 but is banged up. He was hit by a pitch in the elbow last Sunday and has missed six of seven games since. He played on Friday but showed up Saturday with swelling in the elbow and was unable to play either of the last two games.

If he's forced to hit the IL, or if the elbow snaps the early-season pace he was on, the Nationals will be a much lesser offensive team.

• The Braves' rotation has been as bad as expected. They were thrilled to welcome back Mike Foltynewicz this weekend but he's only one guy. The Braves have a 4.99 ERA from the rotation and their starters have averaged just 5.1 innings. Only the Mets have received fewer innings from the starters, which is hard to believe.

• Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard have a combined 5.70 ERA in 60 innings. Both should improve as the season wears on but deGrom, like Aaron Nola, likely will not come close to matching last season's insane production. And the Mets have to be somewhat concerned about Syndergaard, who has labored every time out and somehow allowed 40 hits in 34 innings despite possessing perhaps the best stuff of any starting pitcher in either league.

• Are the Phillies built to win close, low-scoring games? It's been tough for them early, especially with David Robertson and Tommy Hunter both out with flexor strains. When scoring three runs or fewer, the Phillies are 3-9 and have lost six in a row.

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