This Week in the National League

Sources of Energy

To boost productivity late in the night or to jumpstart things in the morning folks turn to many legal sources of energy to wake themselves up. They seek both artificial and natural boosters to bring them to life. Whether it's a can of Red Bull, a cup of coffee, a double shot of espresso, a self-inflicted slap in the face, or just a matter of rolling down the window to catch a wake-up blast of cold air, the end result is often critical for survival.

Baseball is no different. Owners, GMs, managers, coaches, and players alike are constantly seeking that boost. And you'll see them all scrambling in the next month searching for added fuel. Clubs that are struggling or on the brink of falling deep into the confines of their divisional cellars require significant sources of energy to ensure their survival and show some signs of life.

This week we'll look at some of the key NL sources of energy that have sparked their clubs or could be keys to fueling a rebound from an early-season hibernation…

After a rather sub-par first nine weeks of the season, Andruw Jones was hitting .243 with 12 HRs and 31 RBIs. Now, just three weeks later, Jones is sitting with a respectable .283 batting average and has piled on the productivity numbers with new totals of 24 HRs and 55 RBIs. He's given a boost to an offense that has struggled this season, especially with Chipper Jones out of the lineup. Coincidentally the Braves are 11-6 since Jones decided to turn things around. The club even handed Dontrelle Willis (now 12-2) his first truly humbling loss of the season Tuesday evening as they rattled home five runs on eleven hits. In a still closely bunched up division separated by only seven games, the Braves are beginning to look like a team to be reckoned with, and Andruw Jones is leading the charge to knock the Nationals from the top of the pack.

To much delight of Cubs' fans, players, coaches, and front office personnel, as well as a frustration quencher for loyal fantasy owners, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood are back. Sure, the question looms: For how long? But they are back for now, and the Cubs have a double-shot of pitching fuel to boost their club. Prior made his presence felt Sunday afternoon pitching six strong innings of one-hit, shutout ball. Impressively Prior hasn't given up an earned run in any of his return-from-the-DL starts. Kerry Wood returned Tuesday afternoon to pitch six innings of his own. He looked sharp, striking out nine and giving up only one run on two hits. With more than half the season left to play and the Cubs still lingering in Divisional and Wild Card races, this team will be energized by a healthy Prior and Wood. Rounding out a rotation that includes Greg Maddux and Carlos Zambrano, teams aren't going to have many games to look forward to against the Cubs even in a four-game series. And if these four pitchers get on a roll where a little professional competition brews between them, look out.

Don't look now, but the Astros are mounting a comeback after a dismal start to the year. They've gone 16-9 in the month of June improving their record to 35-41, as they march back towards the .500 mark. Their pitching combo of Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt wasn't going to be kept at bay for too long. In ten starts during the month of June, Clemens and Oswalt have given up a total of 14 earned runs and are a combined 8-1. But the spark this club clearly needed to jumpstart their season was getting their All-Star outfielder Lance Berkman back from the DL. Berkman took a little time to get rolling, hitting .234 with one homer in May, but he's taken his average up to .272 courtesy of an eight-game hitting streak where he has also hit three home runs, driven in ten runs, and walked seven times.

Jason Schmidt is trying to kick the sputtering Giants into gear, but it might not be enough. After pulling a disappearing act for about four weeks, Schmidt is making his presence felt again. The staff ace is 3-0 in his last three starts. During those games he pitched 22 innings, struck out 21 batters, and dropped his ERA from an ugly 6.12 to a much less frightening 4.81. The Giants have only won three of their last ten games, though. They're going to be looking for another source of energy soon. And it better come in the form of someone other than Barry Bonds. If they don't get that spark soon, this club's front office might start dealing some of its high-priced veterans for some younger talent.

Finally, the Mets might just be in line to get that spark they've been looking for all season from their most likely source, Carlos Beltran. This season's most hyped star has not lived up to expectations. To the sadistic enjoyment of Yankee fans, the Mets' owners have been pulling their hair out for three months wondering if they made the most foolish move of the season in picking up Beltran. But this was the time of the year that Beltran elevated his game last season. It just happened to be around the same time he was traded to the Astros. So the Mets' owners just might be in line to reap the rewards of their investment. Beltran did have some fluid drained from his nagging knee on Monday and is reportedly pain-free. To add to the encouraging news, he went 2-5 Tuesday night with a double and a triple. If he's healthy and willing to run, he should also start swiping bases. With Pedro Martinez and Cliff Floyd already playing at the top of their game, a resurgent Beltran might be just what this club needs to get back to the top of the NL East pack. And the Mets aren't stopping there - a possible deal that could bring Gary Sheffield across town for Mike Cameron and Miguel Cairo is also in the works and could be the start to the fury of deals leading up to the trade deadline.

Got questions of comments? Email pete@petekhazen.com


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