Inside the Standings: West Coast Baseball Edition

Inside the Standings: West Coast Baseball Edition

Of course April 16 is far too early to make much of the standings in the NL East... but it's not too early to take a peak, and who's that in first?

You see, the problem is not so much that the Phillies currently reside in fourth place in this season nine games old, trailing the upstart division-leading Nationals by 2.5. The problem is that the Nationals are actually in excellent position to build up a solid lead over the course of the next week and a half.

Tonight, Washington begins a four-game set with the lowly Houston Astros, followed by three games with a Miami Marlins squad that hasn't exactly been lighting the world on fire so far, and finally three with the San Diego Padres, who you will read more about below.

Meanwhile, the Phillies are beginning a 10-game west coast swing tonight. Depending on how they fare, and whether or not the Nats can capitalize on the seemingly light slate ahead for them, this could quickly become a fairly intimidating lead before a month's worth of baseball has even been played.

So far, the Nationals are taking care of their business. They took two of three off a sorry Cubs team, two of three off the moderately surprising Mets -- but they're still the Mets -- and three of four off an average Reds club. If they can keep it up, Washington's series with the Los Angeles Dodgers starting April 27 could be on a collision course to feature two of the best records from the National League.

I suppose we should be grateful the Phillies will manage to avoid the white-hot LA Dodgers on this trip, owners of the best record in baseball and a six-game winning streak. In fact, the Dodgers aren't on the docket until June, and hopefully at least Chase Utley will be back by then.

Instead, the first west coast swing of the season features dates in San Francisco and San Diego, both of whom have been slow out of the gate, with a stop in Arizona on the way back, where five of the club's six wins have come at the expense of the aforementioned.

The Giants (4-5) got off to a rough start in Arizona, eating a three-game sweep served up by their division rival, but have since rebounded. San Fran is 4-2 over their last six, with the big difference coming on the mound. After allowing five or more runs in each game against the Dbacks, the Giants have held opponents to three or fewer in all four of their victories.

So far, the missing link is still Tim Linececum, who will start tonight's game against the Phillies. Lincecum is 0-1 with a 12.91 ERA in two starts, most recently allowing six earned runs in 2.1 frames against the Colorado Rockies. If he finally gets it going tonight, this series becomes a big early test for Philly.

The Padres (2-8) have been mired in a perfect storm of putrid offense and lousy pitching. They've been held to two or fewer runs in half their games, while allowing four or more in eight of ten so far. In the National League, only the Pirates have been worse at the plate across the board.

Let's be perfectly honest: the Fightins haven't been much better than San Diego at the dish, but Philly's starting pitching is keeping them in games. Pads starters on the other hand have thrown just 54.1 innings, while their relievers have been called upon for 38. By comparison, the Phils have only needed 22 innings from their bullpen in 2012 -- a huge disparity for 6% of the way through the season.

The Diamondbacks (6-3), as we mentioned, may have padded their win total a bit by jumping all over the Giants and Padres, but the Rocks may have pulled them back down to earth over the weekend. Colorado took two of three off of Arizona, a club that has had little trouble producing runs (tied for 4th in the NL), though they haven't exactly kept anybody other than San Diego off of the scoreboard.

The Dbacks have posted five or more runs in two-thirds of their games so far, but the Giants and Rockies also averaged that total against Arizona, revealing possible vulnerabilities for the reigning NL West Champions. Whether the Phillies can take advantage remains to be seen, but there is at least an expectation that runs should not come quite as easily for Zona either.

We'll check back in with the standings when the Phils return home, where they'll be getting back down to business with a series of NL East opponents -- including a head-to-head with the pesky Nationals.

On deck: Cubs, Braves, Nats, Mets

Tonight's lineup: Aaron Altherr bats 5th for Phillies in season debut

Tonight's lineup: Aaron Altherr bats 5th for Phillies in season debut

Aaron Altherr, activated by the Phillies Thursday afternoon, bats fifth and plays right field in his season debut in Atlanta. 

Sometimes one hitter can make a lineup look much different. Altherr's presence in the middle of the Phillies order provides them with three power hitters, something they've seldom had this season. He provides some protection out of the five-hole for Tommy Joseph and Maikel Franco, who precede him.

Cesar Hernandez remains in the leadoff spot for the Phillies after going 3 for 4 with a walk Wednesday to raise his batting average to .290. 

Cody Asche may soon lose playing time as the Phils' outfield picture gets more crowded, but for now his lineup spot appears safe. With Peter Bourjos on the DL, Asche gets the start in left field and bats eighth.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, RF
6. Carlos Ruiz, C
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Cody Asche, LF
9. Aaron Nola, P

Phillies reinstate Aaron Altherr, place Peter Bourjos on 15-day DL

Phillies reinstate Aaron Altherr, place Peter Bourjos on 15-day DL

The player who was projected to be the Phillies' opening day rightfielder and No. 5 hitter is finally ready to play. The Phils on Thursday reinstated outfielder Aaron Altherr from the disabled list after he missed the season's first 103 games with a wrist injury.

Altherr takes the 25-man roster spot of Peter Bourjos, who was placed on the 15-day DL with a right shoulder sprain.

Altherr, 25, impressed with power late last season, hitting .241/.338/.489 for the Phillies with 11 doubles, four triples, five home runs and 22 RBIs in 161 plate appearances. 

He tore a tendon sheath in his wrist on a diving catch attempt early in spring training, had surgery and missed about four months in total. The Phils were patient with Altherr during his rehab assignment, giving him the full 20 days before making the decision to add him to the active roster. In 13 games at four different levels during the rehab stint, Altherr went 14 for 41 (.341) with two doubles, a homer and seven walks.

Bourjos injured his shoulder running into the wall at Marlins Park earlier this week. The injury will keep him from being traded ahead of the Aug. 1 non-waiver deadline, but Bourjos could be moved in August. He hit .410 in June but was slumping before the injury, hitting .148 over his last 14 games.

Marlins reinstate 2B Dee Gordon after 80-game drug ban

Marlins reinstate 2B Dee Gordon after 80-game drug ban

MIAMI — Miami Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon issued an apology on Twitter addressed primarily to his young fans as he returned from an 80-game suspension for a positive drug test.

"I know I let you down, and I'm sorry," Gordon said in a video. "Complacency led me to this, and I'm hurt. I urge you guys to be more responsible than I am about what goes into your body. I wouldn't wish this on anyone."

Gordon, who won the NL batting and stolen base titles last year, was reinstated before Thursday's game against St. Louis.

Gordon tested positive for two performance-enhancing substances and was suspended in late April. Gordon acknowledged in April that he unknowingly took the banned substances.

Marlins president David Samson said then that the second baseman had betrayed the team and its fans. On Wednesday, Samson said the Marlins are glad to have Gordon back.

"I believe that America and our fans and our players and us, we're a pretty forgiving society," Samson said. "It's important Dee ask for that forgiveness, and he has, and he'll receive that. He's got to continue to work to get himself back in with his teammates and the fans and my son."

In his video, the 5-foot-11, 170-pound Gordon said he learned from his mistake.

"I thought being the smallest guy I would never fail a drug test," he said. "I didn't pay attention at all and I didn't meet the standards. That's my fault and no one else's. But don't give up on me."

To make room on the roster for Gordon, the Marlins designated for assignment infielder Don Kelly, who had two triples in Sunday's victory. Even without Gordon, the Marlins have remained in contention for their first playoff berth since 2003.

Last year Gordon batted .333, stole 58 bases, became an All-Star for the second time and won his first Gold Glove. The season earned him a $50 million, five-year contract in January.