So as I got to take in some good ol' NL baseball this week, here are the notable observations from around the league…
The Chicago Cubs dropped their eighth straight Wednesday afternoon falling to six games under .500. They continue to head for the NL Central cellar and attempt to distance themselves not only from the division-leading Cardinals, but also from the pack fighting for the Wild Card. Their last three losses involved a serious butt-whooping at the hands of what looked like the old Big Red Machine.
The Reds' lineup, which has always appeared downright intimidating on paper, has looked impressive in recent days. During the three-game series, Ken Griffey Jr. had two HRs and six RBIs. But Griffey wasn't the only one swigging a big stick – the Reds racked up 25 runs in the series courtesy of long balls from Adam Dunn, Ryan Freel, Austin Kearns, Jason Larue, and Edwin Encarnacion.
Even Eric Milton, who came into the last game of the series with a 6.75 ERA and having surrendered the league worst, 33 HRs, managed to join his teammates in kicking the Cubs while they were down. He pitched seven strong innings and only gave up one run, granted it was a solo home run to Michael Barrett.
As the Cubs continue to slide and opposing teams learn more and more how to play against them, Derrek Lee's MVP numbers are fading. He still leads the NL in hitting with a .348 average, but with his average down thirty points in the past month, Miguel Cabrera is only a single point behind him at .347. In his last ten games, the Cubs' slugger has just one HR and two RBIs.
With the Cubs diving out of playoff contention and Lee in a bit of a slump, the upcoming four-game series against the division-rival St. Louis Cardinals just doesn't carry the same excitement it should - even with Nomar Garciaparra back in the lineup and Kerry Wood looking solid in the bullpen. The Cubs are cold again, and the Cards are hot. The Redbirds just spent the last three days getting a tune-up for the series with the Cubs by giving a sweeping reminder to a near-.500 Brewers team that they still have a ways to go before they can contend in the division.
Despite numerous key Cardinal players on the Disabled List, Tony La Russa's club continues to gain ground in the division. He's finding new, unlikely players to step up into big-time roles. When David Eckstein can be spotted hitting a walk-off grand slam in the ninth inning against the Braves and Mark Grudzielanek can be seen penciled in the cleanup spot carrying a .484 August batting average, you know the Cards are on a roll.
On the eastern front, the Braves continue to look poised to run away with yet another division title, while the rest of the clubs in the division hover just over the .500 mark. The Braves took two of three from the Cards this past weekend, but they were reminded of bullpen vulnerabilities in the final game. Kyle Farnsworth, who the Braves picked up at the trade deadline, was greeted back to the NL by yet another Albert Pujols home run. And Chris Reitsma proved no more effective than Dan Kolb by blowing the 3-1 lead in the ninth inning courtesy of the aforementioned Eckstein grand salami.
And finally on the western front, San Diego remains the lone team above .500 thanks to a five-game win streak. The latest Padre victory came Tuesday evening as they rallied for five runs in five innings against a not-so formidable Pedro Martinez. The only other notable news to hit the wires out west, came in the form of Diamondback television analyst Mark Grace, who reportedly forgot he wasn't in a Wrigleyville bar and let the expletives fly while doing a live broadcast. I guess headlines like that become a big deal when only one team in the division can manage a .500 record. Regardless, it's still great to be back in St. Louis covering the National League.
Got questions or comments? Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org