This Week In The NL East

This week was one in which many opportunities presented themselves for the Phillies to make a move in the NL East division standings, with six games against the Mets and Expos, the Phightins had a chance to make a serious dent in their five game deficit to the Braves. However the Mets are heating up, the Braves continue their hot-streak, and the Expos always present problems for the Phils. It's been a busy week in the division, so lets take a look at how the other teams are fairing.

Atlanta Braves (32-16)

After an early season slump, the Braves have regained the momentum that has made them the team to beat in the NL East throughout the '90s. Rafael Furcal and Marcus Giles are quickly blossoming into one of the top, one-two punches in the National League. Furcal is batting a solid .324 with six home runs and 17 RBI at the top of the Braves lineup, and Giles is lighting the world on fire, hitting a very impressive .340 with 27 RBI so far in 2003. These two are also a very solid double play combination that will give fits to teams trying to get on base against Atlanta. Despite the losses of Kevin Millwood and Tom Glavine, and Greg Maddux's surprisingly slow start, Braves pitchers are also starting to pick up the slack.

Going into Saturday, their first game facing Tom Glavine, the Braves are fighting to stay .500 for the week after losing two out of three to the Reds, and dropping the first game of the series against the Mets on Friday night. This week, while not the best so far for the Braves is what makes this team so unbeatable, the team can find a way to win games that they have to, and drop losses in situations that it does not severely hurt them in the standings.

Montreal Expos (30-18)

The Expos have been one of the more surprising teams in 2003. Even though the Expos have two homes this season, in Montreal and San Juan, Puerto Rico, the Expos are off to their best 48 game start in franchise history.

The Expos have been red hot this week after sweeping the Florida Marlins and have gained momentum coming into the weekend. Vladimir Guerrero is hitting .474 this past week and has only struck out three times. Guerrero is off to yet another solid start but again is going fairly unnoticed because his team plays in front of less than 20,000 fans every night. According to Expos manager Frank Robinson, catcher Brian Schneider could easily gain the starting job behind the plate if he starts hitting. He's currently batting just .243 with four home runs. This is a situation worth watching.

Philadelphia Phillies (27-21)

The Phillies continue to leave Larry Bowa and their fans scratching their heads. On one night the team lights up the Mets, scoring 11 runs including two home runs by Pat Burrell, and one by Jim Thome, and the next they once again go flat, scoring four runs and watch as the bullpen lets another game slip away.

In the grand scheme of things, this week has been one of the more successful ones this season. It began with a very solid victory against the Houston Astros, in which Kevin Millwood threw a marvelous complete game victory in homer happy MinuteMade Park and it is coming to an end with a series against the Montreal Expos. Sandwiched in between was a series against the New York Mets, which raised more questions than answers. Sure, Pat Burrell had a great game in the first night of the series, but where was he the other two? Sure Randy Wolf threw great in game two, but what happened to the bullpen? The Phils need to address the bullpen and find the offense they so dearly need, soon, before it is too late.

Despite the offensive struggles, Philadelphia could have overtaken the Expos by the end of the weekend had they swept the series in Montreal. Kevin Millwood became the first pitcher in the National League to record seven victories, and Jose Mesa notched his 100th career save as a Phillie on Friday night. Mesa also recorded 108 saves for the Cleveland Indians before joining the Phils. It will be interesting to see where the Phillies stand after six more games against the Mets and Expos next week.

New York Mets (22-26)

Hard times have befallen the Mets, but they seem to be battling through the adversity pretty well under first year manager Art Howe. Last weekend the Mets lost catcher Mike Piazza to the disabled list, and the number of healthy Mets is dropping faster then the home run apple at Shea Stadium.

Despite the injuries, New York has finally watched as Cliff Floyd is turning his season around after homering in three straight games against the Phillies and playing some solid defense as well. Floyd will be the man the Mets turn to, to pick up the offensive void left by Piazza. Roberto Alomar is also heating up, as he has hit safely in 15 of his last 19 games. While this is a solid streak, it pales in comparison to Louis Castillo's 35 game hitting streak of last season or Nomar Garciaparra's current 24 game hitting streak.

Dave Weathers emerged as a solid middle reliever for New York after pitching two solid innings against the Phillies. When the Mets get healthy and begin to believe in Howe's system, they could blossom into a solid team.

Florida Marlins (20-29)

I guess weeks like this are reasons why the Florida Marlins are the annual cellar dwellers of the NL East. The team is submerged in a seven game losing streak and with games coming up against the Cincinnati Reds, the Marlins will have to be on top of their game to climb out of this hole.

Yes, Pudge Rodriguez was out all of last week, but the way he's played this year, would it have even mattered if he were in the lineup? The former all-star catcher is batting just .255 with six home runs and 24 RBI. It's too bad those RBI are going to waste on a last place team.

Marlins pitching has been part of the problem, surrendering 28 runs in their last 7 games. That's an average of four runs per outing. Brad Penny is returning to the lineup soon, so some help could be on the way for this ailing staff.

It is unlikely that the Marlins will be able to sustain any sort of momentum in the near future, and barring a significant collapse of one of the teams above them in the division; they could be on the way to another dismal season.

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