DIVISIONAL OUTLOOK: NL East—A tale of two Uptons

Atlanta Braves

Somewhat lost in all the talk about the poor starts of B.J. Upton (OF, ATL) and Jason Heyward (OF, ATL) is the terrible slump that Justin Upton (OF, ATL) has been in since the end of April. The younger Upton has mustered a .197 batting average with 3 HR, 14 RBI and 52 K over his last 157 AB. Furthermore, he had a .205 xBA and 85 PX and 9% HR/F in May followed by a .179 xBA, 47 PX and 6% HR/F so far in June. Chances are, he’ll bounce back to an extent, but it is alarming to see Upton with a 67% ct% (which would be his worst since 2010) after striking out just 19% of the time in 2011 and 2012.

Heyward and the elder Upton have begun to show some signs of life. Heyward has put together a .328/.379/.525 with 3 HR and 4 RBI in 61 AB in June as his h% and HR/F% have regressed after absurdly low numbers through the first two months of the season. Upton has shown a much better ct% (74%) this month compared to the first two months (65% and 54%) along with an improved Eye (0.75). Though he has hit just .231 in June, he has a .292 xBA and 161 PX. A mechanical adjustment to his swing designed to try to get his left foot down quicker has already paid dividends.


Miami Marlins

As suggested on June 6, Kevin Slowey (RHP, MIA) was demoted to the bullpen to make room for Nathan Eovaldi (RHP, MIA). Eovaldi had been on the disabled list since late March with right shoulder inflammation. Slowey will serve as the team’s long reliever for the time being.

In other pitching news, Henderson Alvarez (RHP, MIA), who has been on the DL since March 27 with right shoulder inflammation, made his second minor league rehab start June 18. Barring a setback, he is expected to make two more starts before returning to the rotation later this month.

Tom Koehler (RHP, MIA) will likely be the odd man out once Alvarez is ready. Koehler pitched pretty well in his first four starts (3.24 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 3.0 Cmd in 25 IP), but he has struggled since, losing twice while posting a 9.18 ERA, 1.56 WHIP and 1.8 Cmd in 16.2 IP over three outings.


New York Mets

When Ike Davis (1B, NYM) was sent to Triple-A, manager Terry Collins initially moved Daniel Murphy (2B/1B, NYM) to first base and gave Jordany Valdespin (2B/OF, NYM) a chance to take over at second base. That arrangement lasted just six games; Collins decided on June 17 to move Murphy back to second base and shifted Lucas Duda (OF/1B, NYM) from left field to first base. Time will tell how long they choose to stick with this plan.

Valdespin managed just three hits and one RBI in 23 AB while striking out five times over that six-game span. Defense was also a problem with this arrangement as Valdespin made an error and Murphy made two errors at first base.

Obviously, this opens up a spot in left field, but it remains to be seen how playing time will be doled out there. Kirk Nieuwenhuis (OF, NYM) and Collin Cowgill (OF, NYM) split time there on June 17 and 18, but Cowgill has since been designated for assignment. The team has also acquired Eric Young Jr. (OF, NYM) from the Rockies and recalled Andrew Brown (OF, NYM) from Triple-A Las Vegas.

Young can play all three outfield positions and may see plenty of playing time as he brings a much needed element of speed to the team. A switch-hitter, he could take over as the primary center fielder in place of Juan Lagares (OF, NYM) or he could assume that role in left field. Lagares has not provided much at all offensively (.192/.213/.295 with 1 HR, 3 RBI and 0.10 Eye in 78 AB).

Brown is a corner outfielder with plenty of past experience at first base. Given Duda’s struggles vs. LHP (.646 OPS in 277 AB lifetime vs. LHP), it’s possible the right-handed hitting Brown could see some time at first base vs. LHP in addition to action in the outfield.

Davis, incidentally, has a .192/.344/.269 through his first 32 PA with Las Vegas.


Philadelphia Phillies

Carlos Zambrano (RHP, PHI), who signed a minor league contract with the Phillies on May 15, could soon join the starting rotation. The 32-year-old threw seven shutout innings for Triple-A Lehigh Valley on June 18, allowing five hits and a walk while fanning six. He now has a 0.95 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 3.8 Ctl and 7.3 Dom in 28.1 IP combined between Single-A, Double-A and Triple-A (12 IP, 9 H, 2 ER, 11 K/5 BB at Triple-A). Zambrano has the ability to opt out of his contract on July 1 if he is not in the major leagues. Barring an injury to one of the team’s starters, Jonathan Pettibone (RHP, PHI) would be the odd man out should Zambrano be called up from Triple-A.

Pettibone pitched well in his first three starts, but he has fallen on tough times since, particularly of late. Over his past four starts, the 22-year-old has 6.98 ERA, 1.86 WHIP, 4.2 Ctl and 5.1 Dom in 19.3 IP. Left-handed batters have given him fits (.325/.408/.488 with 4 HR in 123 AB) so far in his rookie season.


Washington Nationals

Anthony Rendon (2B/3B, WAS) has hit extremely well since being recalled from Triple-A Syracuse on June 4 (.410/.452/.641 with 1 HR and 5 RBI in 39 AB). His defense has been solid as well, particularly considering his limited experience at second base. If he continues to play well, one would think Danny Espinosa (2B, WAS) would have a very difficult time getting his job back from Rendon.

Espinosa, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list on June 4 with a right wrist fracture, began a minor league rehab assignment at Syracuse on June 13. He has two hits (both singles) and seven strikeouts in his first 13 AB there. On June 19, he was activated from the DL but optioned to Syracuse, an indication that the Nationals will look to Rendon to provide an offensive spark.

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.