The NL East figured to be a two-team race between Washington and New York with Philadelphia, Miami and Atlanta all fighting to remain out of last place.
As expected, the Nationals and Mets have set the pace early on, but the Phillies and Marlins are surprisingly right on their heels.
Philadelphia's winning ways came to an end this week in the first stop on a 10-game trip, and its next series begins Friday night in Miami for its first meeting with the red-hot Marlins this season.
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New York won the East by seven games in 2015 over Washington, with Miami a distant third followed by the Braves and Philadelphia. While the Marlins posted their sixth straight losing season, the Phillies' 99 losses were their most since 1969.
Philadelphia looked like it was on its way to another lost season after opening with four straight defeats, though it followed with a 15-6 stretch before playing in St. Louis this week.
The Phillies dropped three of four to fall to 16-13, but that's a six-game improvement from their 2015 start. They scored eight runs against the Cardinals and hit .186, with the lone win coming by a 1-0 score Tuesday.
“We're not frustrated at all,” shortstop Freddy Galvis said. “That's baseball right there. Sometimes you're going to score runs, sometimes you're not. We'll be fine. We just have to keep working.”
Philadelphia probably won't need to push many runs across the plate Friday as it sends Vince Velasquez (4-1, 1.44 ERA) to the mound. The right-hander has had three scoreless outings in his five starts, including Sunday when he allowed two hits and four walks over six innings to beat Cleveland 2-1.
Velasquez's .164 opponent batting average ranks second in the NL behind Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta.
“I'm just going with the flow,” Velasquez, who has never faced the Marlins, told MLB's official website. “I'm not trying to get my hopes up. I'm really not trying to get to a certain amount of wins or have a certain ERA. I told you guys from the beginning that my job is to help the team win.”
He'll be facing a Miami club that's won 10 of 11 following Thursday's 4-0 victory over visiting Arizona. At 15-12, the Marlins are three games over .500 for the first time since being 34-31 in 2014.
Giancarlo Stanton had his second straight two-hit game and is batting .400 with six homers and 12 RBIs in his last 10.
“When you're winning, everything seems fun,” closer A.J. Ramos said. ” … It's a good time to be a Marlin right now.”
Miami hands the ball to Wei-Yin Chen, who has lowered his ERA in each start following a poor outing in his team debut. The left-hander allowed five runs against Detroit on April 5 but has a 3.38 ERA in his last four.
Chen (2-1, 4.26) won his second straight start Saturday, giving up three runs over 6 2/3 innings of a 7-5 victory at Milwaukee. The seven runs of support matched his total from his first four appearances.
“We had so many runs, they gave me some breathing room,” Chen said through a translator. “I tried to make adjustments and settle down, and more or less it helped.”
Chen dominated Philadelphia in his first matchup, allowing four hits while striking out nine in eight innings of a 4-0 win June 15. He now opposes a Phillies team that's batting an MLB-worst .166 against left-handers.
“It's concerning, but I think one of the reasons why is we haven't seen enough lefties,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “I think we've seen six starting left-handers in 29 games. That's the reason a lot of lefties are effective, because they're not seen as much as righties.”