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Around the NL East: A week of missed opportunities

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USA TODAY Sports

Around the NL East: A week of missed opportunities

In a week where the division-leading Philadelphia Phillies went 3-4, no one was able to catch up because of failed opportunities. Barely any ground was gained by both the Atlanta Braves (1.5 games back) and the Washington Nationals (6.0 games back). 

If nothing changes in the division standings by season’s end, this past week would be the one to look back to. The Braves only managed two victories and the Nationals dropped two in a row to the Miami Marlins. 

The only thing that is keeping Philadelphia at the top is confidence that continues to grow with all the other teams continue to struggle to get it together.

There are a ton of National League East vs. National League East matchups this week that could flip the division this week though. Still there is plenty to watch in one of the most intriguing divisions in all of baseball. 

Philadelphia Phillies

Record: 58-47
Last 10: 5-5
Upcoming Series: @ Boston Red Sox (2), vs. Miami Marlins (4)

After taking two games and scoring 20 runs through three against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Phillies could not translate that success to the road. Losing three out of four in Cincinnati, Philadelphia missed a chance to pad to their lead in the National League East. 

Additionally their series agains the Reds showed that there are still some blaring issues with the makeup of the squad. 

Again, the starting pitching behind Aaron Nola is the obvious problem. Right hander, and the No. 3 guy in the rotation, Nick Pivetta has now dropped two straight, both bottom dwellers. One was to San Diego and one was to Cincinnati allowing nine runs in 11.1 innings. Despite the losses, he continues to show his potential in only his second year in the league.  In both those games he had nine and 12 strikeouts, meaning he is not likely a piece to be moved at the deadline. But in a perfect world, he is at No. 4 or No. 5 in the rotation. 

They are getting some consistent offense from their position guys. Since the All-Star break, the team is actually hitting pretty well. They are eighth in the majors in runs (53) and 12th in hits (89). Of course, Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, and Maikel Franco are the top heavy crew leading the team. 

They were real fortunate that the Braves and Nationals struggled. 

Atlanta Braves

Record: 55-47
Last 10: 4-6
Upcoming Series: vs. Miami Marlins (3), @ New York Mets (4)

It would not have been a terrible week for the Braves had the Phillies held strong in their series against the Reds. However, they did not and now a two-game split at Miami and losing three of four to the Dodgers at home makes Atlanta seem to be in catchup mode. 

The big story of the week though is Sean Newcomb. First his near no-hitter on Sunday, then his twitter account.

On Sunday he was one out away from his first no-hitter. He had last eight and two-thirds innings of hitless baseball against the resurgent Dodgers. With eight strikeouts and 134 pitches, Newcomb has rebounded from a rough start to the month. 

Off-the-field, he was the latest to address old homophobic, sexist, racist tweets that he sent back in 2011 and 2012. He would immediately apologize for the behavior.

"I just wanted to apologize for any insensitive material," said the 25-year-old. "That was a long time ago -- six or seven years ago when I was just saying stupid stuff to some friends. I know I have grown a lot since then and I didn't mean anything by it. It was just something stupid that I did a long time ago."

Atlanta now gets the chance what should be five-to-seven easy wins this week. 

Washington Nationals

Record: 52-53
Last 10: 5-5
Upcoming Series: vs. New York Mets (2), vs. Cincinnati Reds (4)

After the abysmal week for the Phillies, the Nationals had the perfect chance to gain ground in the division. Facing the Marlins for a four-game set, the opportunity was there. 

The Nationals split the weekend series, scoring only one run in the last two games. 

Washington continues to flirt with a .500 record as we are now fully removed from the All-Star break. Aside from Juan Soto, Max Scherzer, and the occasional home run from Bryce Harper, there is not much moving the needle right now. The biggest question is Harper actually going to be a National in less than 48 hours? Mike Rizzo is not saying he’s not an option anymore.

While Matt Adams and Ryan Zimmerman are back off of the disabled list and should give some veteran presence in the clubhouse, they lost Stephen Strasburg for some more time. Honestly, that is probably more important them right now than a couple extra older position players.

And Trea Turner became the most recent MLB star to have old tweets reemerge. Here is his and the Nationals’ response.

A must-win week during this homestead with six-games against under .500 teams. 

Miami Marlins

Record: 46-61
Last 10: 6-4
Upcoming Series: @ Atlanta Braves (3), @ Philadelphia Phillies (4)

First the Marlins got one from the Braves and two away from the Nationals in their home ballpark. Now, they look to translate that to some results on the road against the top two teams in the division. 

Rumors continue to swirl if they are going to deal J.T. Realmuto at the trade deadline to the Nationals but he has been responsible for a majority of their offense this past week. With eight hits and a .966 OPS, he decimated the Nationals and the Braves this past week. 

New York Mets

Record: 44-59
Last 10: 5-5
Upcoming Series: @ Washington Nationals (2), vs. Atlanta Braves (4)

Another all-NL East week for the third team in the division. All that is left for them is to annoy the other teams in the division and build for the future. 

Any player that has value, besides Noah Syndergaard, seems to be on the trading block. Asdrúbal Cabrera is now on the Phillies, Adrian Beltre is in numerous trade rumors and starting pitcher Zack Wheeler is also being looked at as well. 

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Everything you need to know about the new and improved MLB Trade Deadline

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Everything you need to know about the new and improved MLB Trade Deadline

For a long time, Major League Baseball had the best, most exciting trade deadline among the four major sports. In recent seasons, that excitement has been eclipsed by the popularity of the NBA, but baseball still stands ahead of football and hockey in terms of in-season movement.

In an effort to shake things up a bit, baseball’s trade deadline underwent some changes in the offseason.

Notably, while July 31 has always been deadline day, in past years it was a bit of a misnomer. July 31 was technically just the Non-Waiver Trade Deadline in years past. The month of August has always allowed trades to be made as long as players pass through waivers. If a player is claimed off waivers, his team can either pull him back, let him go for nothing, or negotiate a deal with his claiming team only.

This obviously made for much more limited movement in August, but it was always an option. 

Not anymore. Now? July 31 the *only* deadline.

The August revocable waivers trade deadline was always a bit convoluted, and it never made much sense to have more than one deadline. So it’s logical to think the powers that be would want to simplify things for the league.

Reportedly, Major League Baseball is hoping the change will not only help simplify in-season moves, but also help jumpstart offseason activity. The thinking is if teams have even just one fewer option to improve their roster midseason, then contenders will be forced to get aggressive in the offseason.

It remains to be seen if that will come to fruition, but one forthcoming change does seem pretty obvious. The singular trade deadline should make for a much more active July.

Both buyers and sellers have to commit to a direction earlier in the season now. Last year, for example, the Nationals executed their mini-firesale in mid-August, once it had become clear they were not going to compete for the postseason. At the end of the July they were still undecided, which is why they held onto Bryce Harper.

Considering how long it can take major deals to come together, teams have to essentially decide by the All-Star break if they are in or out on competing for October. It will be especially difficult for teams to read the writing on the wall when they are hovering around .500.

As of this writing, there are 10 teams within six games of .500 in either direction, and that doesn’t include organizations like the Red Sox, Nationals and Athletics who have quality records but are way behind runaway division leaders. Will they want to trade away controllable assets for a shot at a one-game Wild Card berth?

General Managers who can forecast their team’s likelihood of competing, and respond accordingly, will be rewarded under the new system. Orioles GM Mike Elias already began his team’s sell-off, trading Andrew Cashner away weeks before the end of July. By contrast, in 2018 both Jonathan Schoop and Kevin Gausman were moved by the Orioles with under an hour to go on deadline day.

It’s hard to perfectly predict all the ways rule changes can affect a sport, but in the case of the singular trade deadline, it’s obvious that teams are now required to commit earlier, with fewer games of information from which to work.

That’s exciting for a sport that could use some more player movement-related excitement.

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Sánchez and Adams lead Nationals in crucial win over Braves

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USA Today

Sánchez and Adams lead Nationals in crucial win over Braves

ATLANTA—Anibal Sanchez outpitched Mike Soroka and scored the go-ahead run in the fifth inning, Matt Adams homered and the Washington Nationals beat the Atlanta Braves 5-3 on Saturday night.

Second-place Washington pulled within 5 games of the NL East-leading Braves, improving to 33-14 since May 24, best in the majors over that span. Atlanta has dropped four of five.

Sanchez (6-6) got a big assist in the bottom of the fifth when shortstop Trea Turner turned a bases-loaded double play, leaping to nab Nick Markakis' liner and throwing to first to beat Josh Donaldson back to the bag.

Soroka (10-2) allowed four runs and nine hits in six innings. He had won 10 straight decisions, best by an Atlanta pitcher since Hall of Famer Greg Maddux had a 10-decision streak in 2001.

Sean Doolittle got the last five outs, facing the minimum, for his 21st save in 25 chances. He struck out Ronald Acuna Jr. with a runner at second to end the eighth and breezed through the ninth.

Washington went up 4-1 in the fifth when Sanchez reached on an infield single to third, took second on Donaldson's throwing error and scored on Turner's double. Turner took third on Adam Eaton's single and scored on Anthony Rendon's single. Eaton scored on Juan Soto's single.

The Nationals took a 5-3 lead in the eighth off A.J. Minter as Turner singled, stole second and scored on Eaton's single.

Adams went deep for the 15th time, an opposite-field homer that bounced off the top of the wall in left-center and into the stands to tie it at 1-all in the fourth.

Sanchez, who pitched for the Braves last year and helped them win the division, allowed three runs and six hits and has a 2.70 ERA in his last nine starts.

Atlanta led 1-0 in the first when Acuna reached on an infield single, stole second base, advanced on a flyout and scored on Freddie Freeman's single.

Brian McCann's ninth homer, a two-run shot in the sixth, chased Sanchez and cut the lead to 4-3.

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NBC Sports Washington's Michael Stearman contributed to this Associated Press story.