Circling the bases: NL East edition

The Major League Baseball season is halfway through, and the divisions are mostly very tight. The Kansas City Royals have a sizable cushion in the AL Central and the St. Louis Cardinals have established themselves as the runaway favorite in the NL Central. Every other division either is, or feels, like a tight race heading into the All-Star break.

However, the NL East is beginning to appear as though it could be a runaway by the time we hit August. The Washington Nationals began the season poorly, and people began to whisper, then yell, about what could be wrong with such a talented club. Anytime you have a starting rotation of Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasberg and Jordan Zimmermann, you are not allowed to have a bad week.

Well, consider those problems a distant memory. Washington entered Tuesday with a 3.5 game lead on the New York Mets, who are looking more and more by the day like a team ready to fade into oblivion. New York was off to a blazing start in April, making many believe that the best team in baseball might reside in Queens. However, the hitting has been non-existent and the road record absolutely brutal.

Meanwhile, the rest of the division ranges from mediocre to absolutely, horrifyingly brutal. To give the Atlanta Braves some credit, they were supposed to be one of the worst teams in baseball according to many of the prognosticators during spring training. However, Atlanta has at least put forth a respectable showing, sitting only five games back of first place and one game under .500 with a 41-42 mark.

Then there are the Miami Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies, two teams that might as well pack it up and start golfing immediately. Miami is the surprise of the two, because many had picked the Marlins to make the playoffs after they acquired Dee Gordon and Mat Latos in the offseason to join their already formidable roster. However, while Gordon is an All-Star, Latos has been horrific and Marcell Ozuna, once a prized young outfielder, was demoted to the minor leagues last week.

The Phillies have the worst record in the majors with a 28-57 mark, and suffered the indignity of former manager Ryne Sandberg quitting on them in the middle of the campaign. It was embarrassing for the Hall of Famer, and continues to be for proud veterans such as Chase Utley and Cole Hamels. Hamels is expected to be traded over the next few weeks, perhaps jump-starting a rebuilding process that should have began three years ago.

All told, Washington is running away with this thing unless the Mets can get a bat or two at the trade deadline. In other words, exactly what the fine folks in the capital district were hoping for in April.

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