On May 25, the Nationals were a fourth-place team, 21-31 and 10 games out in the National League East.
Since then, the Nationals have gone 9-4 to cut the deficit to seven games. They split four games over the weekend in San Diego.
It’s not easy to pick up ground on four teams in one division.
But, it’s only June. The NL East looks like a four-team race.
Philadelphia is holding on to first place despite standing-room-only with their relievers on the injured list. The Braves have added Dallas Keuchel to their rotation and Mets have the potential to have four strong starters in the rotation.
The Phillies have been leading the division for 58 days, but the big story in Philadelphia is the steady steam of injuries in the bullpen.
The latest came over the weekend when it was announced that Seranthony Domínguez is likely to have Tommy John surgery. Domínguez was working on a streak of six consecutive scoreless outings.
The injury means that the Phillies have seven relievers on the injured list, including Tommy Hunter, David Robertson, Víctor Arano, Edubray Ramos, Pat Neshek, Adam Morgan and Domínguez.
Ramos, Neshek and Morgan should be back in the next 10 days. And Hunter, who was injured in spring training and hasn’t pitched all season, could return in two weeks. David Robertson, out since April 15, has elbow soreness and won’t return until July.
Héctor Neris is the closer, the only relief pitcher left from the roster on opening day.
For now, the Phillies bullpen, according to the MLB.com depth chart, has two rookies (Edgar Garcia and JD Hammer), a pitcher moved from the rotation (Vince Velasquez), two lefties (Austin Davis and José Álvarez), a Triple-A starter (Ranger Suárez) and an experienced, but struggling pitcher, Juan Nicasio.
The Mets’ Stephen Matz struck out 10 batters over the weekend against Colorado, adding to the idea that the Mets rotation is coming around with four starters that can dominate.
Matz, whose injuries have delayed his chances of living up to high expectations, has given up two or fewer runs in seven of his last nine starts.
Noah Syndergaard pitched seven scoreless innings Sunday. Jacob de Grom is solid. And Zack Wheeler has pitched at least seven innings in six of his last seven starts. Jason Vargas has a 3.57 ERA as a No. 5 starter.
Now the Mets are trying to correct the worst bullpen in the NL.
The Braves signed Keuchel to be in their rotation, although when he pitches hasn’t been determined.
And given the spring training signings and poor performances by Alex Cobb (Orioles) and Lance Lynn (Twins) last season, who knows what Keuchel will bring to the Braves?
Keuchel won the AL Cy Young Award for Houston in 2015. He’s got a 3.31 ERA in 10 postseason appearances, nine of them starts. He was a key in Houston’s 2017 World Series championship.
He’s won four Gold Gloves and, when he’s on, he’s getting a lot of easy ground balls to handle for the Braves’ strong infield defense, and he’s back with Brian McCann, his former catcher with the Astros.
But Keuchel, 31, gave up a league-leading 211 hits in 204 innings last season for the Astros.
The Braves are in need because they are developing a rotation and trying to contend at the same time. Starters Mike Soroka, 21, and Max Fried, 25, will have innings limits in the second half.
Mike Foltynewicz hasn’t found his consistent rhythm since starting the season on the injured list. Julio Teheran, 28, has been strong.
Sean Newcomb began the season in the rotation, but moved to the bullpen to help a thin relief corps. He could help in the rotation.
Top-notch pitching prospects Bryce Wilson and Kolby Allard are each 21, There’s also Touki Toussaint and Kyle Wright, each a blue-chip prospect.
It’d be risky for the Braves to rely on youth.
Speculation is that it Kevin Gausman could be out of the rotation when Keuchel is ready.
Gausman is having his typical first-half struggles, something Orioles fans know well.
Gausman had three consecutive starts of at least six innings before giving up 15 runs combined in two starts against the Nationals and Pirates.
But should Braves fans worry about Gausman?
He’s got a career 4.95 ERA in the first half of the season and 3.53 in the second.