The NL East was basically supposed to be over by now, with Washington well ahead of the field like American Pharoah. However, injuries have crippled the Nationals against the MLB odds.
With several players expected to be back soon, will Washington finally pull away from the Mets and a sorry batch of other clubs or do the Nationals have to continue to fight and squeak into the postseason on baseball's sorriest division? Let's think like baseball handicappers and break it down for MLB picks.
Washington (48-39, -0.1 units)
With Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth not far from returning, skipper Matt Williams is anxious to understand what kind of team he has and how similar it is to the one that left spring training projected by sportsbooks to win 97 games. Among all these injuries, they do not count the more minor ones which have caused Denard Span (before finally going on DL) and others to miss a couple games here and there with various ailments. If, and it's a big IF, Washington can become healthy and productive and build a quick 10-game lead in the division, they can nurse players along and hopefully have everyone peaking by mid-September, when the possibilities are endless. The Nats have a rugged second half start with the Dodgers and Mets at home before four battles at Pittsburgh. It seems it just about players getting well for Washington, which is their unknown.
New York (47-42, +4.3)
Here is the multiple million dollar question about the Mets, is ownership willing to help the third-best pitching staff in the National League with real live hitters capable of making New York a genuine playoff team? This seems like a simple answer, but given how the Mets front office has been quieter than Roger Goodell about Ton Brady's suspension and how all parties in the franchise handled pitcher Steven Matz, nothing is certain. With an offense averaging 3.48 runs a game it seems like the 'Miracle Mets" from 1969 that New York is 32-14 at home while is no surprise in the least they are 15-28 away from Citi Field. Unless a stick is brought in almost immediately, trips to St. Louis, Washington and a home series with the Dodgers could doom the Metropolitans before the end of the month.
Atlanta (42-47, +3.5)
Are the Braves finally willing to give up the charade they expected to compete in the division now? Atlanta is rebuilding and need to move its most valuable assets for younger prospects. To do anything else is a disservice to the fans they expect to attract to a new ballpark in a couple years. With adequate starting pitching, a rotten bullpen (14th in NL ERA) and an offense scoring less than four runs a game, Atlanta might have a two tough weeks after the break facing the Cubs, Dodgers, @ St. Louis and @ Baltimore, making them play against material for MLB picks.
Miami (38-51, -11.8)
Expected to be a wild card contender, Miami has been battered like McDonald's franchisees, coming in well below expectations. With Giancarlo Stanton and Dee Gordon sidelined, now is the time for Miami to move the likes of pitchers Dan Haren, Mat Latos and maybe even Tom Koehler to get the highest return and focus on 2016 being their year as a postseason squad. With a 14-28 mark (-11.2) away from south Florida, whether you use WagerWeb as your place to bet and get quick payouts or someplace else, playing against the Marlins on the road makes sense.
Philadelphia (29-62, -24)
In the not too far distant future the Phillies will be fairly consistent +220 to +280 road underdogs against the MLB odds, leaving sports bettors to seek big paydays or get buried chasing what might look like treasures. Once Cole Hamels is traded, even favorite roles at home will be in short supply for the worst team in baseball. Philadelphia, if it hasn't already become a very tough team to wager on for or against because of the numbers oddsmakers will post, will not even be worh looking at except in parlays and run lines.