This Week in the National League

Another new feature provinding a weekly snapshot of news across the National League.

Talk about drama. If you follow the National League day in and day out, you're bound to go crazy. This roller coaster ride of ups and downs throughout the league can make a fan's stomach turn, let alone make a fantasy owner jump out a window. For those who argue that baseball is boring, they clearly aren't paying attention. It can be so dramatic that the storylines could be adapted to that of a soap opera. But it's even better than that – like MLB reminded us last September and October, it's "unscripted". Much like the so-called reality shows that dominate the airwaves, Major League Baseball, particularly the National League, have produced so much drama this past week that people are either glued to their TVs and computers or running for cover. Let's take a look at what's been going on…

The Chicago Cubs could very well have their own show - even their own network. Whether you feel sorry for their fans, or eat up their pain, there was no other team in the NL that had a more dramatic week. If you have some Cubbies on your team, you're either really happy or really upset. Forget the fact that Joe Borowski and Todd Walker both have been out for a while with injuries. That's all old news.

In the past week, Nomar Garciaparra collapsed into a heap on national TV. The Cubs' shortstop was mouthing curse words in utter pain as he tore his groin muscle stepping out of the batter's box. The tear was so bad, he had to be carried off the field. After electing to have surgery, he'll be out at least two months, but probably more. On the flip side, Neifi Perez, Garciaparra's replacement, is having a stellar year and is putting up Nomar-like numbers.

After the low of LaTroy Hawkins blowing another save opportunity Saturday and temporarily losing the closer role, the Cubs got excited to see Chad Fox step up and earn his first save of the year. In his very first outing after earning that save, Fox left the game early. It was an ominous scene where he clutched his dangling, lifeless arm after what could be his final pitch as a Major Leaguer.

Fox's injury was the down side of a very big up side, though. Mark Prior had started that fateful game, striking out ten and earning his third win of the season. Prior is very much back in command.

To add to the excitement, Derrek Lee, the Cubs' first baseman, is having a career month hitting .430 with 7 HRs and 27 RBIs. Could he be this year's Scott Rolen?

To further demonstrate the ups and downs of the Cubs, you can look no further than Kerry Wood. Wood pitched five innings Sunday in forty-degree weather and had to leave because of shoulder tightness that was similar to what sidelined him during Spring Training. He earned the win, but fears of another DL stint emerged. The next day, reports sounded out that he felt fine and should make his next start.

To cap off the drama in Chicago, Carlos Zambrano got tossed for a second time this season. After Adam Dunn lifted a fly ball that drifted into the right field basket for a homer at Wrigley, Zambrano decided to plunk Austin Kearns in the backside on the very next pitch. With no hesitation, the umpire ejected Zambrano and his bad reputation. Probably one of the most talented pitchers in the game, he clearly hasn't figured out the mental part of being a top-notch pitcher. If he did, he would have noticed that his team doesn't need any added drama right now.

But that's just the Cubs and their happenings from the past week.

In Atlanta, John Smoltz had his worst outing of the year on Tuesday, but he managed to earn his first win. And he did it in New York against Pedro Martinez. With a stage like that, drama is inevitable. But the story didn't end with Smoltz. After getting two outs in the ninth and working on another save, Atlanta closer Dan Kolb gave up a single to Carlos Beltran, which moved Mike Piazza, representing the tying run, to third base. At that point, Kolb was yanked in favor of John Foster. Kolb hadn't even blown the save yet, but clearly confidence is a little thin in the clubhouse. Foster got Cliff Floyd to pop out for the final out earning him his first save. Hopefully, for their sake, it was a one-time incident that resulted from the Braves not quite adjusting to reality after having been spoiled with Smoltz as their closer the past few years.

St. Louis hasn't been short on drama either the past week. Of all their intimidating bats, Mark Grudzielanek hit for the cycle on Wednesday afternoon. And just when everyone thought something was wrong with Mark Mulder, the Cardinal lefty threw a ten-inning shutout on Saturday afternoon reminding everyone he's still got it. It also sets the stage for Friday's match-up against the Atlanta Braves and former dueling staff ace, Tim Hudson. But the team that boasts the best record in baseball didn't escape the week without its own downer. Jason Isringhausen, the team's closer, strained his abdomen Tuesday night and landed on the DL. Randy Flores recorded the save that night, and Julian Tavarez was tasked with closing out the Cards' win over the Brewers Wednesday. It looks like it could be Tavarez's job until Izzy gets back.

Speaking of closers going down, we move west to San Francisco, where this season's drama began with the steroid controversy in the off-season. Armando Benitez tore his hamstring Tuesday night on the last play of the game. Reports are that the Giants' closer will miss four months with the tear. The Giants may rely on a closer by committee policy as they sort things out. With Barry Bonds already out, Moises Alou dealing with health issues on a seemingly daily basis, and concern over Edgardo Alfonzo's hamstring, this isn't what San Fran fans wanted to hear.

The drama seems to be more negative than positive, so it's prudent to bring to light some of the other positives that were displayed on the diamond-shaped stage this week. Shawn Green returned to Los Angeles and helped the Diamondbacks beat the Dodgers for the second time in a row with a homer and web gem Tuesday night.

Keeping it positive, Florida Marlins' ace Josh Beckett endured his toughest test of the year Tuesday – a trip to Coors Field, where pitchers are eaten alive. To set the stage, it just happened to be the tenth anniversary of the first game at the intimidating ballpark. But Beckett didn't succumb to the intimidation of the thin air and the gigantic outfield. He passed the test with flying colors, surrendering only three runs and earning his fourth victory of the season. The attitude and skill we all saw in the 2003 Playoffs is back, and fans will be packing the seats to see this star take the stage every fifth day.

Pete Khazen can be reached via email at pete@petekhazen.com.


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