Six weeks into 2011, the National League East has shown us some competitive baseball. Arguably baseball’s toughest division, certain players within the division are giving reason to support that claim, while critics could point to the players who aren’t filling the bill going into mid-May. To that note, here is our first installment of the Beasts and the Leasts of the NL East by position.
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Beasts of the NL East:
SP1: Josh Johnson: He’s the best pitcher in baseball to this point. A 1.63 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP lead all of MLB, as well as having allowed only 10 earned runs. The Marlins will be a factor all season with him leading their staff.
SP2: Roy Halladay: As with Johnson, the Phillies won’t have long losing streaks with Halladay leading the rotation. The second winningest active pitcher in the major leagues has a 25-3 record as a Phillie in 28 starts when given the lead. Just a few more seasons in a row like his last few will put him in the Hall of Fame.
SP3: Jair Jurrjens: Jurrjens wasn’t expected to have this good of a start this season after an injury-plagued 2010. However, he has allowed the fewest earned runs in the majors, so far (8), and is second only to Johnson in ERA (1.66 to 1.63). He’s a big reason the Braves’ rotation is the best top to bottom in the division.
SP4: Tommy Hanson: A little inconsistent, but even then, Hanson is number seven in the NL in ERA and number six in BAA. Once he irons out the inconsistencies, he’ll be the new ace of the Braves’ staff.
SP5: Anibal Sanchez: Sanchez has quietly emerged as the Marlins’ second-best pitcher, tossing two near no-hitters through the season’s first six weeks. In his last two starts, he hasn’t allowed a run in 15 innings and has struck out 20. He and Johnson provide the Marlins with a formidable top-two in their starting rotation.
1B: Gaby Sanchez: After his first full season with the Marlins, Sanchez hasn’t suffered a sophomore slump from his rookie season. If anything, he has progressed better than fellow 2010 ROY candidates Jason Heyward and Buster Posey. His .331 batting average ranks ninth in the NL.
2B: None: As hard as I tried to pick just one 2B, I couldn’t do it. The highest batting average belongs to Omar Infante of the Marlins, who’s batting a cool .230 — almost 100 points below his All-Star season of a year ago. No beasts at second for now.
3B: Placido Polanco: An elite hitter who seems to fly under the radar, Polanco is a career .304 hitter in 12 major league seasons. He set the Phillies’ record last month for most hits in April with 41.
SS: Jose Reyes: After two injury-filled seasons, a healthy Reyes is once again showing his potential. He’s the best player on a team full of disappointments.
LF: Martin Prado: Along the lines of Polanco, Prado is another quiet star who continues to produce. He is a clutch hitter and an above-average defender at a new position. The Braves go as he goes.
CF: Shane Victorino: One of the best center fielders in all of baseball, Victorino is a huge part of the offensive success of recent years for the Phillies. This year is no exception, as he leads all NL CFers in fielding percentage, while batting .284.
C: Brian McCann: The best catcher in the National League and perennial All-Star, McCann has continued his success this year and has emerged as a team leader.
Leasts of the NL East:
SP1: Javier Vazquez: A league-worst 7.55 ERA and more walks than strikeouts isn’t what the Fish expected from a pitcher just two years removed from a very good season.
SP2: R.A. Dickey: 1-5 with a 5.08 ERA is a significant drop off from last year’s solid performance.
SP3: Chris Volstad: A 5.77 ERA is a full run above his career ERA.
SP4: Mike Pelfrey: Good at home, Pelfrey is terrible on the road, going 0-5 with an ERA near 9.00 since last August.
SP5: Jonathon Niese: A 5.07 ERA is a tough start from a decent 2010.
1B: Adam LaRoche: A .188 batting average and .286 slugging percentage can’t be overlooked, no matter how well he plays defensively.
2B: Dan Uggla: A .200 batting average isn’t acceptable for the free agent who was supposed to stabilize the Braves’ below-average offense.
3B: David Wright: A career .302 hitter, Wright is batting .226 and is near the top of the NL in strikeouts with 43.
SS: Hanley Ramirez: As with David Wright, Ramirez’ career .309 batting average is nearly 100 points higher than this year’s .213. Six fielding errors put him near the top of the NL in that category.
LF: Raul Ibanez: Despite recent success, an 0-for-35 slump that included 13 strikeouts has dropped Ibanez’s batting average to .230.
CF: Nate McLouth: Even after having success after being dropped to the eighth spot in the lineup, McLouth continues to be a below-average hitter and defender.
RF: Jason Heyward: Like his teammate Uggla, Heyward’s season is starting off poorly. A .220 batting average (.186 at home) constitutes a sophomore slump.
C: Carlos Ruiz: As with Nate McLouth in 2008, Ruiz had a career year in 2010. The 2011 season hasn’t been so kind to Ruiz, who is batting only .218.
Since only a quarter of the season has passed, players certainly have time to improve. If each of the “Leasts” starts could turn things around to match 2010’s performances, the National League East could easily be the most competitive division in baseball.