This Week in the National League

California Shake-ups

Plates have been shifting deep below the earth's surface, and the ground has been rumbling throughout California this past week. The National League ballparks and clubhouses out West haven't been spared from the shake-ups either.

The biggest disturbance in the NL has been coming out of Los Angeles, though some might argue Cincinnati and their managerial change has caused a bigger stir. Coming off an NL West division title and starting things off red hot, the Dodgers were expected to be one of the teams to beat in the NL. But as of Wednesday afternoon, they've dropped eight straight on a winless road trip. And they still have a weekend series on the pseudo-road against the Angels to contend with.

The road trip started off badly with a three-game stop in Kansas City where the Dodgers were forced to relive Lima Time as their former pitcher Jose Lima took it to them for his first win of the season. News then broke that Milton Bradley, who was hoping to return to the lineup this past weekend, is going to be sidelined for at least another week or two.

The club is struggling to say the least. They are four games under .500 and sliding in the standings. The lineup doesn't carry a single everyday player who has been out there all season long and is batting over .300. Cesar Izturis is close at .299 and Antonio Perez has been a bright spot hitting .337 in 104 at-bats. But Jeff Kent's power numbers have faded driving in only four runs in the last ten games and tallying only three extra base hits. Plus, J.D. Drew isn't far behind him. Drew has only driven in three runs in that same span and has seen his slugging percentage drop to .487 (down from .570 last season).

And to help rattle the Dodgers and their fans some more – the much-anticipated aftershock hit with news of Eric Gagne being done for the season. He will be undergoing Tommy John surgery to repair ligament damage. At least the Dodgers were smart enough not to give Adrian Beltre that huge contract this off-season.

Continuing with the shake-ups, Barry Bonds has indicated he might be back soon. Just when trade talks began surfacing about the likes of Moises Alou and others in the Giants' clubhouse, Bonds has given this team some hope. But the Giants have a number of factors working against them. They are sitting double-digits off the division pace being set by the Diamondbacks. Marquis Grissom, Edgardo Alfonzo, Armando Benitez and LaTroy Hawkins are on the DL, so the team isn't getting any healthier, even if Bonds is. And Brett Tomko is the club's top winning pitcher with five Ws. Where's Jason Schmidt, you ask? Well, he did earn his fourth win tossing eight scoreless innings against Detroit this past week and lowering his ERA to… 5.40.

Adding insult to injury, Jerome Williams made his debut for the Cubs Tuesday night earning a win as he hurled seven innings of three-hit, two-run ball against the Brewers. His stay with the Cubs might be short-lived though. Mark Prior pitched a simulated game Tuesday and could be back in the rotation against the White Sox this weekend. And it doesn't appear Kerry Wood is far off the comeback trail either as he expects to make his last rehab start for AAA Iowa this Friday.

The Cubs really need those two star pitchers back soon. The Cardinals are running away with the division. After getting to beat up on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays this weekend and watching the Cubs get swept out of Yankee stadium, the Cards found themselves sitting 9.5 games ahead of their I-55 rivals. With Scott Rolen back in the lineup Chris Carpenter pitching gem after gem, the Cards seem to have everything going their way. Just ask the Reds. After watching Jim Edmonds take their home runs away time and time again, they had to be relieved to see the gold glover nursing a broken rib and not in center field in the first game of their series this week. They got So Taguchi instead. And Taguchi took away a Rich Aurilia homer in the series opener. The Reds have gotten revenge, though, by winning the last two games of the series.

Aside from the Cardinals and Nationals, who are both 10-5 in Interleague Play, the American League continues to beat up on the National League teams. The AL now carries a 118-92 lead in the matchups, proving that the NL is weaker this year.

Some notable bright spots from the week:

Derrek Lee continues to be a Triple Crown threat carrying a .382 average and now bringing his HR and RBI totals up to 20 and 60, respectively.

Andruw Jones might still be struggling to hit for average (.266), but his power numbers continue to climb as he blasted his twentieth homer of the season Tuesday night.

That same game Tuesday night was also an opportunity for John Smoltz to get some revenge on the Marlins for an early-season shellacking. And revenge he got. Smoltz tossed a complete game shutout for his seventh victory of the season.

Livan Hernandez continues to benefit from the Nationals' winning ways and earned a win for his ninth straight decision. He's now 10-2 on the season and has lowered his ERA from 4.50 at the end of April to a current 3.38.

Chad Cordero continues to live under pressure and in the limelight. To assist Hernandez in earning his tenth win, Cordero landed his league-leading 22nd save.

With all the Derrek Lee noise, Albert Pujols seems to be somehow flying under the radar. It might be that greatness is just expected out of him. But with so many others not living up to expectations, Pujols deserves all the credit in the world. He continues to amaze all and lead the Cardinals with a .330 batting average, 18 HRs, and 58 RBIs.

Got questions or comments? Email them to pete@petekhazen.com


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