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Around the NL East: Will the Mets offense show consistency?

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Around the NL East: Will the Mets offense show consistency?

ATLANTA BRAVES

Atlanta continues to scuffle, losing five out of its last six games, including a weekend sweep at the hands of the Nationals. Pitching has been the Braves' Achilles heel recently, so you'd have to figure it's only a matter of time before the organization shakes things up to generate a spark. That was the talk after Wednesday's 5-1 loss to the Reds, as the club is reportedly considering removing veteran Eric Stults out of the rotation in favor of top minor league prospects Matt Wisler or Manny Banuelos. If they were to go ahead with that plan, each member of the rotation would be under the age of 25. 

As for the offense, Atlanta's lineup took a hit when Kelly Johnson was put on the 15-day disabled list with an oblique injury. Johnson, who batted cleanup, was in the midst of a career revival as he lead the club in home runs (5) and RBI (18). He'll be replaced by minor-leaguer Todd Cunningham. 

MIAMI MARLINS  

The Marlins had a 3-4 week, dropping to third place in the NL East thanks to the Nats' recent surge. But anyone who's watched baseball highlights in the past few days knows that the most memorable moment for the Fish in recent days was Giancarlo Stanton's mammoth home run Tuesday night against the Dodgers. Estimated at 475 feet, the ball cleared the entire ballpark, leaving the Dodger Stadium crowd ooh-ing and aah-ing in the process. Never mind that it came in an 11-1 loss; it just goes to show how Stanton is among the game's most fun players to watch (along with you-know-who). 

NEW YORK METS  

Losers of three straight, the Mets are clinging to a tenuous 1 1/2 game lead in the division. While the starting rotation has remained mostly steady, it's the hot-and-cold offense that's keeping them from becoming one of the better teams in the NL. Take this four-game set with the Cubs as an example: New York has scored just five runs total in the first three games, and are in danger of getting swept in a four-game series at Wrigley Field for the first time since 1992.

On the season, the Mets are collectively hitting .235 and are ranked 26th in the league in home runs with 23 long balls. The offensive inconsistency gives the pitching staff too narrow a margin for error each night. Luckily, the rotation has been more than solid -- the starters' ERA is a big league best 3.04 -- but pitching alone can't win games. 

Since the 11-game win streak, they've gone 7-11 while the division rival Nats are making a steady climb up the standings. If the New York offense doesn't right the ship quickly, it looks like there will be a new division leader this time next week. 

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES  

The bad news: The Phillies are tied for the worst record in the majors at 12-23. The good news? The team's most tradable asset, Cole Hamels, has rebounded from his tough April. After going 0-2 with a 5.00 ERA, the lefty starter has gone 3-1 with a 2.72 ERA over his last five starts. It seems like this section of Around the NL East reads like a broken record each week, but the Phillies can't move forward as an organization until they get the Hamels situation settled. Ditto for other veterans like Ryan Howard, Jonathan Papelbon and Chase Utley. The only question is how and when these deals get done. 

[RELATED: A grand conclusion to a wild Nats win]

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Nationals-Phillies postponed on Monday night

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Nationals-Phillies postponed on Monday night

WASHINGTON -- Bryce Harper came back to the District on Monday. No baseball was played.

Rain storms cycled through the DMV starting around 6 p.m. at first delaying the series-opening game between the Nationals and Phillies, before it was finally postponed at 10 p.m. The game will be made up as part of a split-doubleheader on Wednesday. The first game is at 1:05 p.m., the second at 7:05 p.m.

The Tuesday starters for both teams remain the same: Patrick Corbin for the Nationals and Jake Arrieta for the Phillies.

Washington will need an extra starter during the week because it is playing seven games in six days. For instance, the Nationals could call someone up to pitch the first game Wednesday, and have Max Scherzer pitch on regular rest Wednesday night. The doubleheader being played Wednesday instead of Tuesday allows the Nationals plenty of time to import a starter for the day, if they choose to do it then.

However, Tuesday’s forecast is also rain-filled. Stay tuned.

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Nationals introduce first round pick Jackson Rutledge, who is ready to work

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Nationals introduce first round pick Jackson Rutledge, who is ready to work

WASHINGTON -- Jackson Rutledge may still be years away from the majors, but as the Nationals' 2019 first round pick toured the team's ballpark for the first time on Monday, he sure looked the part as a big leaguer.

At 6-foot-8, Rutledge towers over everyone currently on the Nationals' roster. He's got prototypical pitcher size with a fastball that reaches triple digits.

Like any pitcher recently drafted, no matter the round, there is a good chance Nationals fans will not hear Rutledge's name again for quite some time, if they hear it again at all.

In the previous eight years, the team used their first pick in the draft on a pitcher six times. Only two of them - Lucas Giolito and Erick Fedde - have pitched in a Nationals uniform, and only Fedde is currently on their roster.

Rutledge, 20, will begin his journey with the Gulf Coast League Nationals. He heads there on Friday, hoping it will not be long before he is back in Washington.

"This is my first time in D.C.," Rutledge said. "Amazing stadium."

Rutledge signed his first contract with the Nationals on Monday and passed a physical in the morning. In the afternoon, he walked around the clubhouse and on the field during batting practice, introducing himself to manager Davey Martinez and players who could be his future teammates.

Rutledge has said in various interviews since being drafted earlier this month that he looks forward to playing with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, the Nationals' three ace starters. 

This was his first glimpse at them in-person.

"Meeting all the big league guys was really cool," he said. "I just want to be one of those guys that has that success."

If there was any impression Rutledge left on Monday, beyond his height, it was his eagerness to learn. He cited several of his mentors over the years, former big leaguers like Andy Benes who coached him in summer ball and Woody Williams, an assistant coach at San Jacinto Community College. He mentioned Tom Arrington, head coach at San Jacinto, and his attention to detail.

Rutledge even had praise for Ross Detwiler, a former Nationals pitcher whom they took in the first round of the 2007 MLB Draft. He explained how Detwiler taught him a changeup grip during an offseason workout that he has continued to use.

Those are the people, he says, who helped him arrive at this unexpected place in his life as a first-round draft pick.

"If you asked me a year and a half ago where I would be, I probably wouldn't say the first round. It worked out really well because of how hard I worked," Rutledge said.

His college numbers were certainly impressive. Rutledge held a 0.87 ERA with 134 strikeouts in 13 starts. As a freshman at Arkansas before transferring, he posted a 3.45 ERA in 12 starts.

Rutledge is now looking forward to taking the next steps in his development. He said working on his curveball and changeup will be the focus while he's in the GCL. He wants to add weight and muscle to prepare for next year, his first full pro season. 

Assuming he does someday return to Washington as a big league pitcher, Rutledge said to expect a guy who likes to work fast but without a lot of emotion.

"When things are going well, I really feel in control of the game. I feel like I'm setting the game at my own pace and hitters feel uncomfortable because of that," he said. 

"I'm not a guy that's going to get up and start yelling and give energy like that, I'm more of a consistent kind of flat body language sort of guy."

Nationals fans will hope to get to know him better someday. For now, it's down to the minors to learn the ropes as a prospect.

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