This Week in the National League

A Prelude to Interleague Play

Interleague play begins this weekend. Whether you enjoy reminiscing the 2000 World Series during the "Subway Series" in New York or you prefer taking in the North Side versus South Side heated rivalry in Chicago, you're in for a treat this weekend. Critics can knock Interleague Play all they want, but it's definitely something fans look forward to. The Bay Area will be bustling this weekend as the Giants take on the Athletics, and the city of Los Angeles will be split by two teams now carrying the same home city name. And Cardinal fans will be packing up their cars to make the trek across I-70 to Kansas City for a little Interleague weekend road trip. And it doesn't end with cross-town or cross-state rivalries; the excitement brought to fans by Interleague Play also extends to the reality of the Yankees playing a series in St. Louis or the Red Sox playing at Wrigley Field.

So as we prepare to enjoy Interleague Play this weekend, let's take a look at what's been going on in the NL…

Well, if you hadn't noticed, Dontrelle Willis' bid for the perfect season finally met its match in the Los Angeles Dodgers Tuesday. The high leg-kicking phenom from the Marlins had a rocky first inning where he gave up four runs, three of which were earned. He settled down and didn't give up anything else, but suffered the loss. With a 7-1 record and 1.45 ERA, Willis is still leaving Marlin fans with a big grin just like that one he showcases when the cameras are on him.

The latest question around the league that has been repeated over and over is: "Clint Barmes?" Unless you've been in a coma, you know who Barmes is now. The impressive thing about the young star is that he's putting up his .387 average, 7 HRs, and 26 RBIs as a Colorado Rockies infielder. And critics will contend that everyone's numbers are inflated in Colorado, but this kid is showcasing his talent on a struggling team that most folks would rather just forget about right now.

For those of you keeping an eye on Kerry Wood, the rumor is in the air of Wood moving to the closer role for the Cubs. He's got the mentality and heater for the job, even if his occasional wildness would leave Cub fans popping anti-anxiety pills. Just imagine how NL hitters would feel having to face Wood in the ninth inning fresh out of the pen. But he's not going there yet. Ryan Dempster has stepped up and saved the last two games for the Cubbies. Looks like he'll be their closer until Joe Borowski tries to earn back the spot in this coming week.

Sticking with the Cubs… Derrek Lee is now batting .372 with 12 HRs and 37 RBIs. Oh, and he's got 8 SBs. Lloyd McClendon and Jose Mesa tried pitching to Lee with a one-run lead and first base open in the ninth inning Tuesday night. Lee burned them both with a two-run, game-winning blast. The homer was Lee's second of the night and it capped off a 4-4, 4 RBI performance.

That blown save by Jose Mesa Tuesday was his first of the season. He got a shot to redeem himself against the Cubs a mere eighteen hours later when he came in to save a 2-1 Kip Wells' gem. But Mesa blew the opportunity when he was burned by two walks and a couple hits.

On a note related to last week's mentioning of Jeff Bagwell landing on the Disabled List for the first time in seven years… the veteran Astros first baseman elected to have surgery on his shoulder and will be out for the season. This could bring about his retirement and an end to a great career.

For those not watching the Astros closely, Morgan Ensberg has jumped to the top of most offensive categories on the team. Fueled by a 4-4, 3-HR game against the Giants on Sunday, he's now batting .328 with 7 HRs and 18 RBIs.

Keeping it in the NL Central, the Milwaukee Brewers continue to impress. They're playing .500 ball with a 19-19 record heading into Wednesday's action. Derrick Turnbow, they're young closer, just happens to be tops on the team with six saves, but he's also tops on the team in wins with four.

Looking at a pleasant surprise this year, Brett Myers might only be sitting with a 3-2 record, but his 62 Ks is second only to Pedro Martinez (67) and his 1.63 is third in the NL behind Roger Clemens (1.11) and the aforementioned Willis. Myers is hoping the Phillies' bats turn things around and start giving him some support. The man leading the charge is none other than Bobby Abreu. The multi-faceted player had a rather slow start, but, man, has he come on strong. Abreu was hitting .255 on May 2. Since then he has raised his average to .331. A recent eight-game stretch included nine HRs and 15 RBIs. That's the Abreu everyone was expecting this season.

Wrapping things up in the NL, it would be a mistake not to mention something about the league-leading St. Louis Cardinals. Though Scott Rolen did land on the 15-day DL, the Cards haven't slowed down a bit. Jason Isringhausen made his return and earned back-to-back saves against the Mets. That now gives him nine on the year. More impressively, he's carrying a 0.87 ERA. How's that compared to Danny Kolb's 6.48?

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