NL East: Five Pitchers With Something To Prove

Even with the dog days of summer reaching their end, and the NL East and Wild Card races all but sewn up, some players still have plenty to play for.

The baseball season is long.  Six months, 162 games, never more than a 3-day break, it’s a lot.  So it’s not surprising that some players lose a bit of focus as the season transitions from pennant race to postseason/offseason preparations.  In the division that houses the two winningest teams in the National League, this point of the season has come a little early.  It would take an epic collapse to keep the Phillies or the Braves from playing October baseball (this is still unlikely even though the 2007 Mets proved that it’s possible) .  Meanwhile, the Mets, Nationals and Marlins probably don’t look at third place as a goal worthy of bragging rights.  With five weeks remaining in the season, players might start wondering what’s in it for them.

Let’s take a look at five pitchers who may still benefit from showing what they can do, even though the standings might not be affected…

Brad Lidge, Philadelphia Phillies – The ups and downs of Lidge’s career would give most people motion sickness.  Lidge has been invincible in some seasons and quite vincible (it’s a real word!) in others.  His perfect 2008 for Philadelphia (48-48 in save opportunities, including the postseason), as well as being the man on the mound when the Phillies won the Word Series has earned him a special place in that city’s heart.  Of course, since that magical year, Lidge has been at best, injured, and at worst, awful.  Now, in his walk year, Lidge has only appeared in 12 games (just 9 innings) as September approaches, and has lost his closer role.  Lidge has performed well in his limited time and will have the postseason to show what’s he’s got left in the tank.  Many teams will be looking for new closers next season, and Lidge’s performance these next few weeks can go a long way in determining whether or not he’s a consideration.

Derek Lowe, Atlanta Braves – When the Braves signed Derek Lowe to a 4-year $60 million deal prior to the 2009 season they declared that the had found their ace.  Through the first 2 and a half seasons of that deal, Lowe’s results may not be ace-like, but he has been successful.  Lowe is 39-34 with a 4+ ERA during his tenure in Atlanta.  He is also going to be 39-years old before next year’s All-Star break.  The Braves will likely offer arbitration to two of their young starters, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson (who may/may not be arbitration eligible), so the $15 million that Lowe will make next year might become an issue.  Atlanta’s decision to hold onto Lowe for the remainder of this season was likely based on his postseason experience and a desire not to shake up the successful flow of their rotation.  However a glut of exciting rookie pitchers (Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, Mike Minor, etc.) will make Lowe, and his high salary, expendable coming into next season.  Lowe now has September and the postseason to either convince the Braves to keep him or convince other teams to spend high for his services.

John Lannan, Washington Nationals – Chances are you’ve heard about the Nationals pitching of the future (some of whom are in the present): Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen, Jordan Zimmermann, Brad Peacock, just to name a few.  But one pitcher, John Lannan, is vying to be a senior member of this exclusive club, and he’s only 26 years-old (27 in a month).  The lefty starter has been consistent since joining the Nationals major league club in 2007.  However, he’s only been consistently mediocre.  This season, however, Lannan is on pace to achieve personal bests in wins and ERA.  As a back of the rotation starter with a $2.75 million contract, Lannan is something of a bargain.  He is arbitration eligible for one more season before becoming a free agent.  If Lannan continues to show improvement, the Nationals may want to consider him as a long-term answer to any #4/#5 starter questions.  However, with so many potential major league arms in the farm system, they may want to consider selling high on Lannan to bring in some offense.  Of course, a poor showing by Lannan will leave the Nationals with few options, and will likely leave Lannan out of the mix for the future excitement in D.C.

Bobby Parnell, New York Mets – While most Mets pitchers could make this list, Parnell may have an integral role in the Mets success next season.  Then again, if his inconsistency remains an issue, he also may not.  It’s not that he doesn’t have the “stuff”.  Parnell sports a mid-to-high 90′s fastball with some sink, as well as a nasty slider.  However, that’s about all that’s nasty about the righty reliever.  As the Mets try to figure out who their closer will be next season, they are looking in house at the young, talented and inexpensive Parnell.  However, for Parnell to take advantage of this opportunity he will to improve his control, his command and his consistency.  He will also have to develop the killer instinct that seems common to successful relievers.  Otherwise he’ll just end up as another name on the list of great throwers who never figured out how to pitch.

Chris Volstad, Florida Marlins – The 6’8″ sinkerballer debuted in July of 2008 and immediately impressed, going 6-4 with a 2.88 ERA that season.  Volstad showed enough in those 15 games (14 starts) to give the Marlins the idea that they had drafted another gem.  Unfortunately, his work since that season has been disappointing.  In 2009, the righty took a big step back, going 9-13 with a 5.21 ERA.  His 2010 season was only slightly better (12-9, 4.58) and this year, his worst so far at 5-11, 5.61.  While Volstad is not necessarily considered a key component to the future of Marlins starting pitching (relative to Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez and Ricky Nolasco), the team will need him to improve if they expect to match up with the other starting staffs in the division.

This is a tricky time of year for baseball.  While some of the divisions still have interesting races going on, the NL East has pretty much been decided.  It’s easy for attention to wane.  However, a closer look at some of the interesting story lines within each team reveals plenty to watch for in the seasons final weeks.

Shai Kushner is a Senior Writer for  Email Shai at:  Follow Shai on Twitter at: @BD_ShaiKushner.