Second Half Preview: NL East

Atlanta Braves
What Went Right: Atlanta's outfield of Martin Prado, Michael Bourn, and Jason Heyward has been the best in baseball, combining for 11.8 fWAR in the first half while missing just five games among the trio. Andrelton Simmons was a vacuum at shortstop after getting called up at the beginning of June, putting up defensive numbers that haven't been seen in such a short period of time before. Closer Craig Kimbrel remains the best in the ninth inning in all of baseball. Chipper Jones has looked like the Chipper of old while healthy. Brandon Beachy has a 2.00 ERA as a starter. Kris Medlen has morphed into a solid long man out of the bullpen after missing nearly all of 2011 recovering from Tommy John surgery.

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What Went Wrong: Atlanta's rotation has largely been disappointing, and Beachy (the team's best starter) will miss the rest of the year after Tommy John surgery. Atlanta's bullpen has taken a step back aside from Kimbrel, and Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters have both taken a huge step back, with Venters making his way to the DL. Simmons broke a bone in his hand, and wil miss at least the next month. Jones has dealt with injuries (as usual), and the man the Braves acquired to be his backup (Juan Francisco) has been awful. In fact, the entire Braves bench has been pretty bad outside of backup catcher David Ross. Brian McCann, Dan Uggla, and Freddie Freeman have all had extended slumps on offense this year

Best Case Scenario: The Braves offense puts it all together, and turns into a juggernaut in the second half behind the outfield trio at the top of the order. Venters and O'Flaherty become (at the least) capable hands in the pen, and the rotation is strengthened by the acquisition of a big name veteran to lead the team to the playoffs.

Worst Case Scenario: Heyward's recurring injury problems get the best of him again. Without Heyward, the offense falls into the doldrums and runs are at a premium for a listless bunch. The rotation continues to struggle, and Frank Wren isn't able to deal for an impact arm this month. The Braves fall into fourth place in the division, and ownership cleans house on the management team after the season.

Key Player: Mike Minor. Minor's first half was extremely disappointing thanks to some lack of control and a tendency to allow a high amount of home runs. With rookie Randall Delgado scuffling along in the rotation and Jair Jurrens sitting on the edge of mediocrity, Minor needs to step up in the second half and solidfy Atlanta's rotation, especially if the addition of Ben Sheets is a bust.

Miami Marlins
What Went Right: Well….not a whole lot, considering how heavily hyped the Marlins were coming into the year. Giancarlo Stanton has continued his path to becoming an absolute monster at the plate, and seemed like a lock for a five or six win season this year. Second baseman Omar Infante has continued to be a solid regular since coming over in the Dan Uggla trade two winters ago. No one in the rotation has missed a start, and they've all ranged from average to great. Justin Ruggiano has been on a crazy tear since moving into the starting lineup.

What Went Wrong: Everything else. Stanton, the team's best player, had to undergo knee surgery and will miss six to eight weeks. The bullpen has been a disaster, led by high-priced closer Heath Bell. Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes have been thoroughly uninspiring on the left side of the infield. First baseman Gaby Sanchez was a disaster, and was replaced by veteran Carlos Lee, who was a terrible hitter outside of Houston for the last couple of years. Center fielder Emilio Bonifacio has only played in 39 games.

Best Case Scenario: Reyes and Ramirez start to hit like they have for their entire careers, and Lee is reborn with a new team. Bell pitches like he did as a Padre and turns into a shutdown guy, and Stanton comes back earlier than expected. The rotation remains healthy and takes a slight step forward into the upper tier of the league, and the Marlins are able to sneak into the playoffs.

Worst Case Scenario: Everything continues to go how it's gone. Without Stanton, the offense completely collapses and becomes one of the worst in the league. The Marlins don't have any assets to sell at the break, and play the season's final two months with a listless veteran team that loses 90 games.

Key Player: Jose Reyes. Reyes has a .714 OPS in the first half of the season, and is only hitting .264. His walk and strikeout rates are fine, and if more balls start dropping for him, he could turn into the player he was last year for the Mets. And right now, the Marlins absolutely need a burner like Reyes in their lineup.

New York Mets
What Went Right: RA Dickey has been one of the best players in baseball, coming out of nowhere to run roughshod over the National League. David Wright has been the best third baseman in baseball and one of the best players in the league after an extraordinary first half that nearly saw him hit five wins. Shortstop Ruben Tejada is outperforming the departed Reyes in less playing time this season. Scott Hairston is one of the best bench bats in the league. Starters Johan Santana and Dillon Gee have been very good following Dickey in the rotation.

What Went Wrong: Jason Bay is hurt (again). Ike Davis was largely terrible in the first half, but started turning it on offensively before the break. Mike Pelfrey had Tommy John surgery after just three starts. Free agent relievers Jon Rauch and Ramon Ramirez have been pretty much a waste of money. Andres Torres is being outperformed by Angel Pagan, who was traded for this winter, to a ridiculous degree. Lucas Duda has been a little above average on offense, but has been one of the worst defensive players in the league.

Best Case Scenario: Dickey and Wright keep up their dominance, and Santana gets stronger as the season goes on to power the team. Davis starts to hit like he's capable of, and Bay comes back and is able to contribute in some sort to the team as the Mets contend for the playoffs for the rest of teh season.

Worst Case Scenario: The league figures Dickey out, and he sports an ERA around 4.00 in the second half. Wright vastly cools off in the second half, and the team reconsiders not trading him when his value was highest. Bay doesn't play for the rest of the year, and Davis gets nothing figured out. The Mets slip from their great first half, and finish under .500 again.

Key Player: Ike Davis. Davis has 12 homers this season, but just a .659 OPS for the season. That's not acceptable for a first baseman. He had a .926 OPS with six homers in June, and if he produces like that for the rest of the year, he could possibly finish with 25 homers and an .800 OPS. The Mets desperately need someone aside from Wright in their lineup to mash the ball, and Davis could be the guy if he puts it all together.

Philadelphia Phillies
What Went Right: Carlos Ruiz has been the best catcher in baseball during the first half of the season, and there's really been no contest. Hunter Pence has been a solid hitter in right field, but not as good as he was last year. Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee have been excellent in the rotation, even though Lee didn't get his first win of the year until last week.

What Went Wrong: Chase Utley and Ryan Howard just came back, and the team has won just one game since Utley's return. Roy Halladay has been on the DL since the end of May with a strained lat. Second baseman Freddy Galvis, starting for Utley at second for most of the first half, fractured a bone in his back and then was nailed with a PED suspension. The bullpen has been a complete disaster aside from Jonathan Papelbon, who hasn't been nearly as good as he was with the Red Sox in prior years. Vance Worley and Joe Blanton have looked like back-end starters at best. The left field platoon of Laynce Nix and John Mayberry Jr has resulted in Juan Pierre playing every day. Shane Victorino has struggled and caused locker room discord. Third baseman Placido Polanco looks a step away from cooked.

Best Case Scenario: Post-break, Utley and Howard go on an absolute surge to turn the offense into something respectable. Halladay comes back with a vengeance next week, and his return amps up the rest of the team to play at another level. The Phillies play .700 ball in the second half, and force their way into playoff discussions.

Worst Case Scenario: Utley and Howard don't look 100%, and aren't difference makers for the team. Ruiz hits a slump and starts hitting like he has for the rest of his career. The team melts down, trades Victorino and Hamels, and loses 100 games.

Key Player: Shane Victorino. Will the Phililes keep the impending free agent in the wake of his issues on Sunday before the team's game against the Braves? Or, will they trade him and try to extract some value from the talented, albeit hot-headed, star? If they keep Victorino around, will he hit like he has in the first half to give the team absolutely nothing positive, or will he start hitting like he was over his entire career, and provide a spark?

Washington Nationals
What Went Right: Well, mostly everything. Gio Gonzalez looked like an ace after coming over from the A's in the winter, and Stephen Strasburg pitched like a guy who had never been hurt in his life. Uber-prospect Bryce Harper has held his own and given the team a lot of media coverage. Shorstop Ian Demond has tapped into unheard of power for him, calling back memories of Danny Espinosa from last year. Adam LaRoche rebounded from an injury-plagued 2011 and hit like he normally does in the second half in the first half of the year. Reliever Tyler Clippard has been finally given the closer's role, and has been dominant.

What Went Wrong: The Brad Lidge and Chien-Ming Wnag experiments were disasters. Lidge was released, and Wang might be next. Ryan Zimmerman was awful in the first half, but started to heat up late. Jayson Werth broke his wrist, and hasn't played since early May. Michael Morse has looked nothing like his 2011 self after coming off the DL in June. The Nationals have went through a handful of catchers, including starter Wilson Ramos, after a glut of injuries.

Best Case Scenario: Everything keeps humming along for the Nationals, while Morse and Zimmerman heat up to turn the team into an elite one. Strasburg passes his innings limit with no ill effects, and Washington heads to the playoffs.

Worst Case Scenario: It all just starts going bad. Strasburg is shut down when he hits 160 innings, and the team falls off a cliff. Morse and Zimmerman can't got hot, Harper starts cracking under the pressure, the rest of the rotation is lost without Strasburg, and Desmond's power disappear. The Nationals fall out of first place in the NL East, and get into a dogfight for a wild card berth.

Key Player: Ryan Zimmerman. Prior to the Harper/Strasburg era, Zimmerman was the face of the franchise. Hell, he just signed a contract extension this spring, and you could argue that he still IS the face of the franchise. But the team needs more from him right now. He only has a .694 OPS and eight homers, but five of those have come in the last two weeks. That two weeks absolutely needs to be a jumpoff point for the rest of his year. 

About Joe Lucia

Joe is the managing editor of The Outside Corner and a contributing author at Awful Announcing. He lives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and is stuck somewhere between tolerating and hating Pittsburgh and Philadelphia sports.

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