Braves ‘lucky everybody is kind of treading water in the division’

Braves third baseman Austin Riley celebrates with teammate Ozzie Albies after hitting a two-run home run against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning Wednesday, April 28, 2021, at Truist Park in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Braves third baseman Austin Riley celebrates with teammate Ozzie Albies after hitting a two-run home run against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning Wednesday, April 28, 2021, at Truist Park in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The National League East, widely hailed as baseball’s best and deepest division before the season, had no team with a winning record entering play Monday.

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The top two teams in the division standings were at .500, the Washington Nationals and New York Mets, while the other three teams were two to five games below .500. Contrast that with the National League West, which has four teams with winning records.

About the only thing that has gone as forecast in the NL East is that the teams are closely bunched, suggesting the division race will be as competitive as predicted, even if the teams aren’t as strong as expected. Only 2-1/2 games separated the last-place team, the Miami Marlins, from the first-place teams at the end of the weekend.

Braves stats

The Braves — in fourth place, two games out of first — move back into division play this week with a pair of three-game series against the Nationals, starting Tuesday night in Washington, and Philadelphia Phillies, starting Friday night at 100%-capacity Truist Park.

“The good thing about the whole thing is, (although) we’re not where we want to be, nobody is running away with this division,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We’re right there. We’ve just got to keep fighting through this thing and hopefully get hitting on all cylinders.”

The Braves, who have won their division the past three seasons, are 12-16. Already, they’ve had three four-game losing streaks, including the current one.

The mediocre records across the division can’t be attributed entirely to the teams beating up on one another. Every team in the NL East has a losing record against other divisions. The combined record of NL East teams against all other divisions through Sunday was 11 games under .500 at 29-40.

The Braves are 5-8 against intra-division opponents and 7-8 against out-of-division opponents. The latter mark is boosted by their 5-2 record against the Chicago Cubs. In fact, for all games, the Braves are 7-14 vs. teams other than the Cubs, whom they don’t play again this season.

The NL East, like much of MLB, has been hard hit by injuries.

“The number of injuries is just ridiculous in Major League Baseball, and I don’t know why,” Snitker said. “We had a normal spring. It’s just one of those things, I guess. We’re just lucky everybody is kind of treading water in the division.”

The Braves’ long list of injuries got a costly addition over the weekend when starting catcher Travis d’Arnaud, a 2020 Silver Slugger Award winner, tore a left thumb ligament. He’ll be sidelined for at least two months and likely longer, with rookie William Contreras taking over as the starting catcher sooner than the Braves projected him for such a role.

Credit: Atlanta Braves

Braves manager Brian Snitker discusses thumb injury suffered by catcher Travis d’Arnaud against Toronto and how it will require surgery.

Credit: Atlanta Braves

The Braves will get back one of their key injured players this week, with pitcher Max Fried, who has been sidelined since April 13 with a hamstring strain, scheduled to start Wednesday’s game at Washington. Fried was 7-0 with a 2.25 ERA in last year’s shortened season, but the Braves will hope for a better version of him than they got in this season’s first three starts, which produced an 11.45 ERA.

Key right-handed reliever Chris Martin, sidelined since April 4 with shoulder inflammation, also is expected back “sooner than later,” Snitker said.

But starting pitcher Mike Soroka, a 2019 All-Star whose comeback from last year’s Achilles tendon surgery has been stalled by shoulder inflammation, won’t be back until sometime in June at the earliest.

The Braves are hardly the only NL East team severely affected by injuries, though.

Consider a sampling of the star-power sidelined by injuries across the division:

  • Nationals outfielder Juan Soto (out since April 20 with a shoulder strain but potentially back in this week’s series against the Braves).
  • Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg (out since April 13 with a sore shoulder).
  • Mets pitchers Noah Syndergaard (out until at least June after “Tommy John” elbow surgery last year) and Carlos Carrasco (out since spring training with a torn hamstring).
  • Phillies second baseman Jean Segura (out since April 20 with strained quadriceps).
  • Marlins outfielder Starling Marte (out until possibly June with a fractured rib).

And that’s a very partial list.

The Braves and Nationals will intersect Tuesday night on streaks in different directions. While the Braves have lost four in a row, the Nationals have won four in a row. Over the weekend, the Braves were swept by the Toronto Blue Jays in a three-game series in Dunedin, Fla., while the Nationals swept three at home from the Marlins.

The Braves ended the weekend with the National League’s third worst run differential at minus-16, better than only the Phillies (minus-17) and the Pittsburgh Pirates (minus-26). But just one team in the NL East had a positive run differential, the Marlins at plus-4. The Nationals were minus-14 and the Mets minus-12.

The Braves also ended the weekend with the worst staff ERA among the 30 MLB teams, 5.06. Their starters’ ERA is 5.30, third-worst in the majors. The team is fortunate, obviously, to be just two games out of first place in what was supposed to be a stellar division.

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NL EAST STANDINGS*

Team | W | L | Pct. | GB

Washington | 12 | 12 | .500 | --

New York Mets | 11 | 11 | .500 | --

Philadelphia | 13 | 15 | .464 | 1.0

Atlanta | 12 | 16 | .429 | 2.0

Miami | 11 | 16 | .407 | 2.5

(* — through Sunday’s games)

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