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Why is the NL East so blah? A team-by-team look at division struggles

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Why is the NL East so blah? A team-by-team look at division struggles

At 12-12 on the season, the Nationals’ record ranks seventh among 15 NL teams. 

They would be three games out of first place in the NL West, two-and-a-half games back in the NL Central. But they play in the NL East, so they’re sitting in first place, a half-game ahead of both the Phillies (14-15) and Mets (11-12). The Braves (12-16) and Marlins (11-16) are within shouting distance still, despite slow starts to the season.

It’s early, sure, but this is not really what anyone expected. The Braves played at a 94-win pace in the shortened 2020 campaign and came within a win of the World Series. The Mets got a new owner (Steve Cohen) and a new superstar (Francisco Lindor) this offseason, and expectations were as high as they’ve been in years. The Nationals still have Max Scherzer and Steven Strasburg atop the rotation, with Juan Soto in a lineup with slugging additions Kyle Schwarber and Josh Bell. 

MORE: Mike Trout’s career-best start has us wondering what’s possible

The Phillies completely revamped a bullpen that tanked their playoff hopes in 2020, and retained key offensive pieces in J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius. The Marlins were coming off a surprising playoff berth last year and brought back lots of young rising stars. 

But here we are, in early May and the entire division is in a collective funk. It seems unlikely, of course, that the division will be won with a .500 record, but the thoughts of the Braves and Mets challenging for 100-win totals are probably gone. Before we look too far ahead, though, let’s take a look at what’s gone wrong so far. 

Here’s why the Braves have been mediocre

The Atlanta offense has been wildly streaky so far this season, and when the bats go cold, they go very, very cold. The Braves scored a total of three runs in their first three games of the season, against the Phillies. They managed just one hit and zero runs in a double-header against the Diamondbacks on April 25. Ronald Acuña Jr. is hitting like an MVP candidate and Austin Riley has been very good of late, but most everyone else is off to a slow start. Batting averages aren’t everything, of course — like Wikipedia, a good place to start looking as long as you dig a bit more — but Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, Marcel Ozuna, Travis d’Arnaud (who’s now on the IL) and Cristian Pache are all batting .229 or worse. 

In the rotation, Ian Anderson (3.27 ERA) and Huascar Ynoa (2.96) have been good, but the rest of the rotation? Woof. Here are the runs allowed by Braves pitchers in a recent eight-game stretch: 5, 7, 7, 0, 0, 9, 13, 6. Guess which two were started by Anderson and Ynoa. Yep. The starting pitching’s been an issue. 

Will it last? The Atlanta hitters are too good for this to continue. Freeman, for example, had a .462 on-base percentage last year (when he won the NL MVP), and he’s at .344 this season. Marcel Ozuna had a 172 OPS+ in 2020, when he led the NL in homers and RBIs; he has a 58 OPS+ this year. 

Eventually, the Braves hope to have Mike Soroka and Max Fried back in the rotation, but the team can’t bank on health or sustained success for either. More immediately, the Braves need veterans Charlie Morton  (5.08 ERA) and Drew Smyly (8.05 ERA) to be better. The club signed both to one-year deals in the offseason — a practice that had been beneficial in recent years — but both have been disappointments so far. 

Here’s why the Mets have been mediocre

Well, we know why the Mets’ brass thinks the club has been struggling around .500. The powers-that-be fired hitting coaches Chili Davis and Tom Slater after a loss to the Cardinals on Monday night. The timing felt a little strange, considering that the Mets had scored 17 runs in the previous three games (and won two of those three), but offensive production certainly had been an issue. In 12 of the first 23 games, the Mets failed to score more than three runs. They’ve lost three games started by ace Jacob deGrom when deGrom lasted at least six innings and gave up one or zero runs. 

Here’s a deeper dive into what’s plagued the Mets’ offense so far this season.

Will it last? The offense will get better. Pete Alonso and Michael Conforto have already heated up after slow starts. Jeff McNeil, who owned a .319 career average in 248 games heading into this season, isn’t going to hit .235 all year. And Francisco Lindor? He’s a legitimate superstar in his Age 27 season facing the pressure of a new team, a new fan base and a new contract. He’s allowed a first-month hiccup. He’ll be just fine. 

Here’s why the Nationals have been mediocre

Mostly, the Nationals have had trouble staying healthy. At the moment, both Juan Soto and Stephen Strasburg — two pretty key players — are on the IL. Jon Lester just finally came off the IL and threw five shutout innings in his debut with the team. Among position players, only four guys have played more than 17 of the club’s 24 games. 

And some of the healthy guys have struggled. The team acquired Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber to add punch to the lineup — the two combined for 75 homers in 2019 — but they’ve hit only four, with OPS+ numbers of 42 and 71, respectively. In the rotation, Patrick Corbin has had two good starts and three disastrous starts, adding up to an 8.10 ERA, and Eric Fedde (4.43 ERA) and Joe Ross (4.64) have been OK at best. 

Will it last? At some point, the Nationals will get healthy. At least, that’s the hope. And if the regulars get back to their regular production, there’s no reason this team can’t contend. Max Scherzer has been his normal brilliant self and Brad Hand hasn’t allowed an earned run as the closer. Trea Turner has been outstanding (146 OPS+, with six homers and seven stolen bases), and veterans Ryan Zimmerman (.319 average) and Josh Harrison (.361) have been great. 

Here’s why the Phillies have been mediocre

The Phillies might not have a massively glaring issue — their offense is OK though far from great, their pitching is OK but far from awful, etc. — but the .500ish record is what you get when a team with a small margin for error fails to do the little things right. On a lot of nights, those mistakes are made by the defense. Look at the Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) stat. The Phillies are 27th of 30 MLB teams, at minus-11. The Nationals, on the other hand, are plus-21. That’s a huge difference. 

Here’s an example: In the April 29 game against St. Louis, the Phillies had a 1-0 lead in the fifth and Aaron Nola was cruising. Odubel Herrera dove for a ball he wasn’t going to catch and allowed the runner, Andrew Knizner, to hustle to second base. That extra base led to an intentional walk (a questionable decision by Joe Girardi), and that led to this … 

Will it last? Let’s put it this way: If 96 or 97 wins is what it takes to win the NL East, the Phillies probably aren’t going to compete for the division title. But if the goal is 90ish? They could be in that conversation. 

Here’s why the Marlins have been mediocre

Among teams that haven’t missed several games for COVID reasons, only the Pirates and Tigers — two teams expected to finish last in their divisions — have scored fewer runs this year than the Marlins, who have 107 in 27 games. They’ve been shut out four times already this year and scored two or fewer runs in 10 games. Starling Marte, Jazz Chisholm and Brian Anderson are all on the IL, though Anderson is expected to return soon. Marte’s likely out until June, and the club is hoping to have Chisholm back without an extended absence with a hamstring issue. 

Will it last? The Marlins are a tough team to peg, but here’s the truth: With the outstanding trio atop the rotation (Sandy Alcantara, Trevor Rogers and Pablo Lopez), as long as the offense rebounds a bit and the rest of the rotation/bullpen is serviceable, the Marlins should stay within shouting distance of the division lead. 

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NBA playoff schedule 2021: Full bracket, dates, times, TV channels for play-in, playoff games

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NBA playoff scenarios 2021: Updated playoff picture, seeds ahead of play-in tournament, first round

It hasn’t been an easy NBA season, but the league managed to navigate the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and reach the playoff stage.

This year’s postseason will look slightly different with the addition of the play-in tournament, which will expand the field from 16 to 20 total teams. But when it comes down to the playoff bracket, the mission is still the same: Win 16 games, and capture the Larry O’Brien trophy.

NBA STANDINGS: Seeding scenarios, breakdown for playoff spots

Here’s everything you need to know about watching the 2021 NBA playoffs, including TV schedules for play-in and playoff games.

NBA playoff bracket 2021

(NBA)

How to watch NBA playoff games

NBA playoff games will once again be split between ESPN and TNT. First- and second-round games are scattered across both networks. Every NBA Finals game will be shown exclusively on ABC.

The primary outlets for live-streaming 2021 NBA playoff games are Watch ESPN and Watch TNT, both available on desktop and by downloading the mobile apps.

Games on ESPN can also be streamed on fuboTV, which offers a 7-day free trial.

NBA playoff schedule 2021

Note: This section will be updated when first-round matchups are finalized.

May 18

Game (play-in) Time (ET) National TV
Hornets vs. Pacers 6:30 p.m. TNT
Wizards vs. Celtics 9 p.m. TNT

May 19

Game (play-in) Time (ET) National TV
Spurs vs. Grizzlies 7:30 p.m. ESPN
Warriors vs. West No. 7 10 p.m. ESPN

May 20

Game (play-in) Time (ET) National TV
Game 1 Winner vs. Game 2 Loser 8 p.m. TNT

May 21

Game (play-in) Time (ET) National TV
Game 3 Winner vs. Game 4 Loser TBD ESPN

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Stephen Curry wins 2nd NBA scoring title, helps Warriors clinch 8th place with 46-point gem

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Stephen Curry's ridiculous scoring run with Warriors, explained in four stats

Sunday was another great day for Stephen Curry and the Warriors as they wrapped up two important distinctions.

First, the team secured eighth place in the Western Conference with a 113-101 victory over the Grizzlies, their sixth win in a row. That means it will play a win-and-in game against the Trail Blazers or Lakers in the NBA’s inaugural play-in tournament. A loss to Memphis would have dropped Golden State to ninth and forced it to win twice in the play-in to reach the playoffs.

Second, Curry secured the NBA scoring title for the 2020-21 season with this first-quarter basket.

The bucket was part of a 46-point effort in which Curry jacked up a career-high 36 shots (making 16) and 22 3-point attempts. He also had nine assists and seven rebounds, but his scoring was what was most needed as he accounted for 40.7 percent of the Warriors’ points.

MORE: NBA play-in tournament, explained

Curry himself made more 3-point shots than the Grizzlies did Sunday.

Curry finished the season averaging a career-high 32.0 points per game. It was just his second season averaging 30-plus points per game. The other came in 2015-16 when he averaged 30.1 points and won his first scoring title.

His ’20-21 numbers could have been even better. He averaged 36.9 points in his final 24 games. He totaled fewer than 30 points just twice in that span and shot 49.1 percent percent from the field.

He carried the Warriors to a potential playoff berth with Klay Thompson (Achilles) unavailable. Now, he’ll look to take the team farther.

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Wizards’ Scott Brooks pokes fun at LeBron James with play-in tournament comments

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Wizards' Scott Brooks pokes fun at LeBron James with play-in tournament comments

The Wizards closed the 2020-21 NBA regular season with a torrid stretch. They were 17-6 in their final 23 games and went from a likely lottery team to a participant in the NBA’s inaugural play-in tournament.

Washington finished its climb up the standings Sunday. It defeated the Hornets 115-110 to secure eighth place in the Eastern Conference, which is a win-and-in spot in the conference’s four-team tournament.

Under the old playoff format, the Wizards would’ve clinched the No. 8 seed and guaranteed themselves a spot in the posteason with Sunday’s win. They would have started playing for their lives in a seven-game series, not a one- or two-game set.

MORE: Knicks clinch No. 4 seed in Eastern Conference

Wizards coach Scott Brooks saw that as an opportunity to poke fun at the play-in tournament and LeBron James’ recent comments about it.

“I’m with the King,” Brooks said. “Who created this play-in thing? Whoever did that, they need to be fired.”

Seconds later, Brooks affirmed that he was just kidding. He was paraphrasing James’ comments from May 2 when the Lakers star said that “whoever came up with that s— needs to be fired.”

Unlike James, Brooks thinks the play-in tournament is a net positive for the NBA, despite his team finishing eighth in the East.

MORE: How the play-in tournament works

“I love this [format]. It created so much excitement the last two weeks and, as we all know, any time you can create excitement and meaningful games in the last 10 games of the season is great for everyone involved,” Brooks said. “Fans, TV partners, everybody. I love it. Even though we’re not the 8-seed, I still love it.”

The play-in tournament gave fringe playoff teams like the Wizards incentive to compete later into the season. Brooks is right about that. Now, it’s a matter of whether the on-court product will match the late-season chase to make (or avoid) the tournament.

With stars like Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Jayson Tatum, Ja Morant, Domantas Sabonis and one of James or Damian Lillard guaranteed to participate in the play-in, there is a good chance it will live up to the hype.

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