There's no denying that this has been an extremely rough campaign for the Braves -- especially since the second half of the season commenced. You've heard this a few times now, but there was a time when the Braves were 42-42. It's either sad or hilarious that being .500 could be considered "the good ol' days" of this season, but the Braves are now in a position where they have to win just one out of their final six games to avoid a 100-loss season. They made a furious run for the #1 pick, but a "hot streak" of five wins out of six earlier this month probably killed the Braves' chances at getting that pick. With that being said, getting the #2 pick in next year's draft won't be that bad -- especially considering that there isn't really a consensus choice for the #1 overall selection in these early days.
So, you'd think that things would be super bleak for a team that could potentially lose 100 games this season if things get really bad over this final week of play, right? Admittedly, things aren't exactly sunshine and lollipops around here. Even though the minor league system is currently thriving, there's no guarantee that prospects such as Mallex Smith and Tyrell Jenkins will pan out, among others. The Braves could end up being like the Cubs and/or Astros and enjoying contention soon just as easily as they could end up being one of those teams that's destined to spend a few years in the wilderness of non-contention. That's just how baseball can be sometimes when it comes to rebuilds. With that being said, the Braves still have the sheer amount of prospects and financial flexibility to at least feel justified in feeling good about the future.
Despite all of these issues in the present day, the Braves may not be in the worst position in this division. As a matter of fact, they absolutely are not in bad shape when compared to the majority of their contemporaries in the comedy of errors that is the NL East. The current division champions are the only team that's on solid, concrete ground right now, and that team is the Mets. They have a lovely quartet of young pitchers, and their front office has shown the ability to make smart, astute deals, which leads you to believe that the Mets are probably going to be here to stay. We figured that they were going to be decent this season, but I didn't think that they'd end up emerging as the model club of the division. Yet, here we are: We're all looking up at the Mets while wondering what in the world just happened. Baseball's a funny game. Now, let's check on the state of the rest of the division. It's not pretty, that's for sure.
What in the world is going on in Washington?
Boy, did this train go off the rails or what? As Scott pointed out on Twitter, everyone's favorite team to pick in the offseason had themselves an absolutely calamitous season. The lone bright spot has been the incredible performance of Bryce Harper, who has solidified himself as one of baseball's elite talents and should probably win the National League MVP Award this season. It's just too bad that Jonathan Papelbon decided that he wanted to snuff that bright spot out by attempting to choke Harper out in the dugout.
The dugout fisticuffs put the icing on what's been a sour cake for Washington this season. Granted, you have to be doing something right when a low-80 win season is considered a massive disappointment and they're lightyears ahead of where they were when they first moved to the nation's Capital from Montreal, but still: They had huge aspirations and to come up as short as they did has to be an extremely bitter pill to swallow. This is a club that's currently at a major crossroads when it comes to whatever's left of their championship window.
Miami's gonna Miami
The result of the Dan Jennings managerial experiment is that the Marlins have decided that they want their former GM-turned-manager to become a GM-turned-manager-turned-executive-again. So basically, the Marlins don't know what they're doing. They have incredible talents in the form of Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez, and they also have solid building blocks in the for of Christian Yelich, Dee Gordon, and Adeiny Hechavarria. The problem is just that nobody really trusts this team to be able to build upon that foundation. Jeffrey Loria's track record as owner of that team indicates that they're going to have one year of incredible success or they'll otherwise be irrelevant. This year was yet another case of the latter, and they spent most of 2015 hanging out with our Braves in the cellar of baseball.
With names such as Dusty Baker and Manny Acta floating around for their eventual managerial opening, there isn't exactly much reason to expect the Marlins to make a quick turnaround anytime soon. If Fernandez and Stanton are healthy, they'll be alright, but "alright" might be this franchise's ceiling as long as they keep on finding ways of impeding their own progress.
The Phillies are tardy to the rebuilding party
2015 will be marked as the year in which the Philadelphia Phillies finally got serious about rebuilding. They've traded away most of the faces that helped lead them to a World Series title and years of legit contention, and they finally cut ties with Ruben Amaro, Jr. The problem is that most of these moves should've been made a couple of years ago, and it could be argued that the Phillies could've saved themselves a few years of ineptitude by acting sooner.
The fact of the matter is that they're finally acting, but they'll still have a few years of pain ahead of them. They'll be taking the #1 pick in next year's draft, but unlike the Braves, it doesn't seem as if they're attempting to fast-track a rebuild into contention. It appears as if the Phillies are a long way from being contenders, but at least they've finally decided that it's time to really get serious about transforming themselves from a dumpster fire to a decently-ran team.
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Now, don't you feel better about the Braves' current lot in life? Seriously, when compared to the rest of the division, the Braves are in a pretty solid state. Granted, they've still got two-to-three years before we're supposed to expect to see this team back rubbing shoulders with the contenders in this sport, but at least it appears that the Braves have a plan. Meanwhile, their rivals are either just now entering their championship window (Mets), possibly exiting their championship window via defenestration (Nationals), acting on delayed reaction sensory (Phillies), or just flailing around aimlessly (Marlins). The NL East isn't exactly baseball's model division, which is why the Braves should feel good about their chances of climbing back to the top of this division in due time. I just hope that you're ready to endure a bit more pain before that day comes.