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The NL East race is surprisingly crowded

Thursday's Say Hey, Baseball includes the tight NL East standings, the lack of minority managers in MLB, and Yu Darvish's next rehab start.

Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals - Game Two Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

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Sure, it's only mid-May, and a whole lot could change between now and the end of September. Even with that in mind, the NL East is a curious sight at this moment. The Braves are even worse than expected and just fired their manager, but otherwise, the division features four teams packed within three games of each other, and the furthest one out from a playoff spot at this early juncture is only 1.5 games back of it. The Phillies and Marlins are making a lot of noise for teams who were supposed to just cede the division to one of the Mets or Nationals.

Now, let's recognize that the Phillies are 24-17 despite being outscored by 28 runs. They don't look like a guarantee to annoy New York and Washington in the long haul. However, the Phillies have seen portions of their lineup underperform -- most notably, Maikel Franco -- and the expectation was that they would be better later in the season, when more of their youth (like top prospect J.P. Crawford) was up, when the youth they began the season with had more experience behind them. As is, they've got 24 wins in the bank regardless of what their run differential says they should be -- the Twins finished second in the AL Central and just a few games out of a playoff spot with a similar surprise setup a year ago. And those Twins didn't have Vincent Velasquez and Aaron Nola.

The Marlins have a solid lineup despite Adeiny Hechavarria's bat and a good-not-great start by Giancarlo Stanton. The rotation is also still trying to find itself, but if the kids in the lineup have made the gains their early seasons suggest, if Stanton gets back to being Stanton, and Jose Fernandez stays healthy, it's less of a stretch to think the Marlins will be in the NL East race -- or at least the Wild Card one -- for much of the season. As I said, it's early, but the NL East might be a far more intriguing division than anyone expected it to be back in March.