NL playoff picture: Phils must bury Nats in June

NL playoff picture: Phils must bury Nats in June

June 7, 2013, 11:15 am
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June is a crucial month not just for the Phillies, but also for the Washington Nationals.

The Phils’ June schedule features one winning team in 27 games. The Nats, without their two best players, have 16 of their next 19 against teams over .500, including their first trip to Citizens Bank Park. Building a five- or six-game advantage during this period is a must for the Phils.

Just before the 40 percent mark of the season, four of the five teams in the NL East have performed exactly how most expected.

The Braves have a .617 winning percentage, which puts them on a 100-win pace.

The Phillies have hovered around .500 all season, finally eclipsing the mark in Game 61.

The Mets are 10 games under .500 and the Marlins are a laughing-stock and divisional punching bag.

The one team that has performed well below expectations is the Nats, who enter the weekend 29-30 and a game behind the Phillies.

The Nats have dealt with injuries to nearly every important piece, including Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos, Ross Detwiler and Danny Espinosa. Strasburg just hit the DL and Harper has a visit scheduled with Dr. James Andrews about his unimproving knee. All is not well in the nation’s capital.

Aside from the injuries, Washington just isn’t hitting. The Nats are 29th in runs scored, 28th in batting average and dead last in OBP.

Denard Span started off well but has a .318 on-base percentage out of the leadoff hole. Zimmerman hit half of his six home runs in one game. Washington’s second basemen have hit .200, the catchers have batted .234 with very little power and the left fielders are at .235.

Miami’s role in the division

A scheduling quirk could come back to bite the Phillies. Each team plays every division foe 19 times, and the Phillies have already seen the Marlins 13 times. The Braves have only played (and won) three games against Miami. Atlanta has 30 games remaining with the Marlins and Mets compared to the Phillies’ 19. That will be a key factor in determining the NL East.

Luckily for the Phils, they’ve only seen the Braves and Nats three times apiece, giving them plenty of time to help decide the division on their own.

Wild-card watch

If you think the Phillies have a better shot at the wild card than the division, consider that only two teams currently separate them from a playoff spot -– San Francisco (31-28) and Colorado (32-29).

At 36-24, the Reds are the third-best team in the NL and a virtual lock for one of two wild-card spots. The rest of the league will be fighting for the second berth.

There just aren’t too many contenders outside of the top-five in the NL wild-card race. After the Phils in the standings are the previously mentioned banged-up Nats, the Padres and Dodgers.

Even if you assume L.A. will eventually come around, Colorado’s thin pitching staff gives it the look of a team destined to fade. The Rockies are being carried right now by three hitters –- Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki and Michael Cuddyer –- who have had a hard time staying on the field in recent years.

The Phillies should be hoping the Giants start to run away with the NL West because if there’s one pretender currently leading a division, it’s the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The D-backs are 34-26, but are a mediocre team in nearly every offensive and pitching category. The solid record can best be explained by two volatile factors: They have the best record in the NL in one-run games (14-8) and in extra-inning affairs (7-2).

Those trends simply don’t last. The Orioles had insane marks last season –- 29-9 in one-run games and 16-2 in extras –- but are just a game over .500 in each category this season with virtually the same roster.

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