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MLB End-of-April Check-In: NL East

Atlanta is rolling on the backs of Ronald Acuña Jr. and Spencer Strider.

Atlanta Braves v New York Mets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Every day, Pinstripe Alley offers updates on what the Yankees’ top American League opponents are up to through the Rivalry Roundup. The AL East is well-trodden ground there, but with the month of April coming to a close, we’re going to take a peak around MLB as a whole and check in with each of the other five divisions. Who’s surprising? Who’s underwhelming? Who’s simply mediocre at the moment? Read on and find out

First Place: Atlanta Braves (18-9)

Top Position Player: Ronald Acuña Jr. (1.8 fWAR)
Top Pitcher: Spencer Strider (1.3 fWAR)

The reigning NL East champs are on a mission, to control their destiny all the way through. Last season, Atlanta had to crawl its way back into the top, as the Mets led the division for much of the year, but this time around, Atlanta has the advantage at the start.

After a somewhat disappointing 2022 coming off an ACL tear, Ronald Acuña Jr. is off to a terrific start, with a .352/.440/.546 slash line. Sean Murphy has made a seamless transition from Oakland, making a case for an All-Star appearance with a team-leading .577 slugging percentage. Those two developments represent marked upgrades over last year’s squad.

If their nucleus of young talent wasn’t enough, the Braves are getting the most out of surprising starters in Sam Hilliard and Orlando Arcia, who have combined for 1.2 fWAR in the young season, although the latter is currently out with a wrist issue.

Max Fried missed a couple of starts with a hamstring issue, but Spencer Strider has fully taken over as the ace of this staff, with the duo forming one of the more dominant one-two punches in the National League. Jared Shuster and Dylan Dodd were two spring training darlings, but Bryce Elder is turning heads in the regular season, with his 2.17 ERA in five starts.

Closer Raisel Iglesias is progressing towards a May return, and not a moment too soon, as AJ Minter is off to a shoddy start as the team’s primary interim closer. Minter’s 2.72 FIP, and extensive track record, mitigate most of the concerns around his performance, though.

Overall, Atlanta boasts one of the best rosters in the sport and is playing like it early on, with room for improvement as names such as Austin Riley and Michael Harris heat up/get healthy.

Second Place: New York Mets (15-12)

Top Position Player: Brandon Nimmo (1.8 fWAR)
Top Pitcher: David Robertson (0.5 fWAR)

It hasn’t been smooth sailing for the Mets, particularly on the pitching side of things, mirroring the injury woes of their fellow NYC ballclub.

Justin Verlander has yet to debut in the National League, dealing with a groin injury. However, his latest rehab start went without a hitch a few days ago, and he should be back with the team next week. Max Scherzer hasn’t been his sharpest self in his first four starts and is currently serving a 10-game suspension for essentially getting thrown out of a game against the Dodgers with the sticky stuff crackdown.

Pete Alonso is doing his usual bit, second in the NL in homers with 10. Complementing him, the two big pieces of this offense have been Brandon Nimmo and his 156 wRC+, and the reigning NL batting champ, Jeff McNeil, with a .415 OBP in 2023.

The Mets pitching staff as a whole has yet to hit their stride, and it will need to do so if they have any expectations of catching up to Atlanta before it is too late.

Third Place (tie): Miami Marlins (15-13)

Top Position Player: Luis Arraez (0.9 fWAR)
Top Pitcher: Jesús Luzardo (0.7 fWAR)

The Marlins have a team wRC+ of 90. They are still above .500, even with Sandy Alcantara yet to find his peak form, alternating elite starts, such as his complete game shutout against the Twins, with uncharacteristic blowups.

A healthy Jorge Soler, and his .506 slugging percentage, paired with Luis Arraez’s elite contact skills (.427 BA) have kept the lineup afloat. Jazz Chisholm Jr. is off to a cold start (.697 OPS), and Avisail Garcia hasn’t hit a lick.

On the pitching side of things, Trevor Rogers hit the IL as soon as it looked like the southpaw was unlocking something, and Edward Cabrera remains thoroughly unable to find the zone, which kills any shot he may have at consistency. Cabrera’s 34.9 zone rate is the bottom one percentile in baseball.

The team pitching depth for days, though, and Braxton Garrett and Jesús Luzardo have done a fine job holding down the fort in the pitching staff, with 0.7 and 0.6 fWAR respectively.

Third Place (tie): Philadelphia Phillies (15-13)

Top position player: Brandon Marsh (1.2 fWAR)
Top pitcher: Zack Wheeler (1.0 fWAR)

What if I were to tell you ahead of the season that three of the top four hitters on the Phillies in fWAR would be Brandon Marsh, Bryson Stott, and Edmundo Sosa?

Philadelphia is a more fragile roster than your typical reigning pennant winner, especially with no Bryce Harper as of yet. Nevertheless, the good news is that there is plenty of plausible room for improvement.

Trea Turner’s 84 wRC+ firmly indicates the former Dodger and National has yet to truly arrive in Philly. J.T. Realmuto is also hitting below league-average, which shouldn’t continue for much longer.

Zack Wheeler is healthy, but both he and Aaron Nola boast earned run averages well above four. If history is any indicator, there should be significant improvement there.

With all of this being said, this is still a tough division with two superior teams, and Philly also lost Rhys Hoskins for the year. Even if they turn things around, it may not be enough to get close to the top of the division.

Fifth Place: Washington Nationals (9-17)

Top Position Player: Stone Garrett (0.4 fWAR)
Top Pitcher: Mackenzie Gore (0.6 fWAR)

The Nationals won’t be competitive for a very long while, and in the meantime, all they’ll look for is progress out of certain young players. Right-hander Josiah Gray seems to be figuring some stuff out, and the same could be said about Mackenzie Gore, the former a key piece in the Max Scherzer trade, and the latter, a prospect from the Juan Soto deal.

On the hitting side of things, there is not a lot to report on a rather makeshift lineup, which awaits the development and subsequent call-ups of prospects like Robert Hassell and James Wood. Keibert Ruiz is having a solid year, though, with a 112 wRC+.

All cited statistics outside of team won/loss record were active as of the beginning of play on Saturday, April 29th.