The NL East Is (Mostly) off to a Pitiful Start in 2024

Four out of five NL East clubs sit multiple games below .500 with double-digit negative run differentials so far this season.

Jazz Chisholm Jr. of the Miami Marlins attempts to catch the ball against the Los Angeles Angels during the fifth inning of the game at loanDepot park.
MIAMI, FLORIDA - APRIL 03: Jazz Chisholm Jr. #2 of the Miami Marlins attempts to catch the ball against the Los Angeles Angels during the fifth inning of the game at loanDepot park on April 03, 2024 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

Reigning NL MVP Ronald Acuña Jr. and the Atlanta Braves have won three of their first five games, which represents a dominant opening act in a division whose four other participants have gotten off to suboptimal starts at best.

Atlanta took two of three games from their biggest current foes — the Philadelphia Phillies — to open the season. A 3-2 start would be fairly pedestrian in any other division, but among NL East teams, the Braves are the only club that’s not at least two games under .500.

As Brian Snitker’s squad vies for a seventh consecutive division title, they have a +21 run differential in five games, as opposed to a -68 mark from the four other teams combined.

The Phillies have reached the NLCS in consecutive seasons, overcoming slow starts to grab Wild Card spots and make deep runs in October. During spring training this year, the Phillies talked about getting off to a better start and competing with the Braves for the NL East title. There’s still time, but at 2-4, March/April has felt pretty familiar for the Phillies so far.

Ad – content continues below

Granted, the Phillies lost two of three to a World Series contender in the Braves, and then another two of three to a team with playoff aspirations in the Cincinnati Reds. They have a soft portion of their schedule coming up, with matchups against the Washington Nationals, St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Colorado Rockies and Chicago White Sox. The Pirates, at 6-1, are the only one of those teams with a winning record right now.

But Trea Turner, Nick Castellanos, Alec Bohm, Whit Merrifield and Johan Rojas are all off to slow starts at the plate, and the Phillies have begun to dig themselves an early hole.

As noted above, the good news for the Phillies is they will open up their first road trip of the season by going to Nationals Park for three games this weekend. Like the Phillies, the Nationals are off to a 2-4 start. Unlike the Phillies, the Nationals don’t have a roster loaded with All-Star candidates that makes you think they have a chance to get the train back on the tracks.

CJ Abrams and Jesse Winker are both hitting at strong clips to open the season, but Lane Thomas — supposedly one of the better hitters on the roster — is batting just .083. Righty Josiah Gray, the lone All-Star for the Nationals a year ago, is 0-2 with a 14.04 ERA, an extremely concerning start for someone Washington hopes can become a building block.

The Nationals can look forward to top prospects James Wood (No. 6 overall), Dylan Crews (No. 11), and Cade Cavalli all making an impact at some point this summer. Don’t expect a lot of curly W’s this season, though.

The New York Mets didn’t exactly enter the season with high World Series odds. Still, they looked like they could be frisky at the outset, especially when they added six-time All-Star J.D. Martinez late in the spring.

Ad – content continues below

However, the Mets scored all of five runs over a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers on Thursday. Thanks in large part to a game-tying home run by Pete Alonso in the bottom of the ninth inning of game two, they managed to win their first game of the season.

Brandon Nimmo and Francisco Lindor are both off to ice-cold starts, but you have to think they will come around. It’s less clear that 35-year-old Starling Marte or young third baseman Brett Baty are going to hit enough for the Mets to overcome a 1-5 start.

New York also has to overcome their general lack of starting pitching. Kodai Senga had an excellent rookie season but is out indefinitely with a shoulder capsule injury. Tylor Megill — who looked like he had a chance to take a major step forward in 2024 — recently joined Senga on the injured list with a shoulder strain.

Amazingly — no Mets pun intended — New York isn’t off to the worst start among the five teams in the NL East. Instead, it is the 0-8 Miami Marlins, who look like a squad that’s going to go from a playoff participant in 2023 to one of the five worst teams in baseball in 2024.

Miami was already without former NL Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcántara for the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. They learned Thursday that 20-year-old phenom Eury Pérez also needs to undergo the procedure, which will not only cost him all of 2024 but probably cut into 2025.

Edward Cabrera and Braxton Garrett are on the injured list as well, dealing with shoulder impingements. That’s a problem for a team built around pitching.

To make matters worse, the Marlins offense wasn’t even good last year when they won the NL’s second Wild Card spot. Miami finished 29th in runs scored a year ago, and that was with Jorge Soler clubbing 36 home runs.

Ad – content continues below

Soler departed this winter for a lucrative three-year deal with the San Francisco Giants, and the only notable hitter new president of baseball operations Peter Bendix brought in was former AL batting champion Tim Anderson, hoping for a bounce-back season.

Skip Schumaker looked the part of one of baseball’s next great managers a year ago, guiding the Fish to just the fourth playoff appearance in franchise history in his first season on the job. But Connie Mack probably couldn’t lead the 2024 Marlins to anything better than fourth place in the NL East. And even that feels like a stretch.

The reality in this division is that the Braves are built much better than the rest of the clubs, at least for the regular season. Of the four other teams, the Phillies are probably the only ones who can realistically hope to overcome their slow start and make something of the 2024 campaign.