This Week in the National League

The Effects of a Long Season.

As the season nears closure there are some players and teams in the National League who might just be feeling the effects of its many grueling months. They're showing signs of decline. And they might just be hoping for a long season to come to a close sooner than later. Even teams locked in for the playoffs might be getting antsy in anticipation for October. If the trends continue, these players, their teams, and their fans might just be looking forward to the end of the regular season. For some that will mean much needed rehab and rest. For others a time to reflect. And for a lucky, talented few...a chance to shine on the big stage. Yes, October can't get here quick enough for some, but just who might they be?

Zach Duke, the rookie phenom in Pittsburgh, started the season with a 6-0 record and 1.87 ERA. Tuesday night he rolled his ankle running the bases against the Cardinals in the bottom of the second inning. He left the game and didn't factor in the decision of a 10-0 Pirates win, but the injury worried owners across the globe. But the prognosis is good: he will only miss one start, at most. Keep a close eye on him, though. There's no need for the Pirates to risk his future 25 games back in the standings.

OK, so Duke isn't exactly on the decline, but as far as the Pirates' lineup is concerned, Jose Castillo's loss this week was a big hit. The Pirates' second baseman was taken out on what appeared to be a clean break-up-the-double-play slide by Cardinal Hector Luna in Tuesday's game. With a torn MCL resulting, Castillo will be out for the remainder of the season. The play was especially notable as it sparked yet another series of confrontations between the Pirates and Cardinals. Luna received some chin music later in the game, and Cards' outfielder So Taguchi got hit in the hand when the score was already 10-0 in the ninth inning. Taguchi's HBP at-bat infuriated Cards' skipper Tony La Russa so much that he threw a tantrum in the dugout comparative to those caught on tape involving Julian Tavarez and Kenny Rogers.

But the tension didn't stop there. It escalated to pre-game batting practice Wednesday evening when Pirates' skipper Lloyd McClendon and Cards' pitching coach Dave Duncan got into a shouting match. Benches cleared and video showed Duncan apparently being struck by what looked like an assistant coach's fist. The scuffle was broken up quickly, but the umpiring crew took it upon them to meet with the two managers to address the issue and ensure the games left in the series were played cleanly. With both teams playing games, which are pretty much meaningless at this point in the season, it's just stupid to risk injury and careers due to bad tempers.

Speaking of the Cardinals, Scott Rolen, one of last season's pleasant surprises, decided to take one for the team this week. He elected to call it a season and have surgery on his injured shoulder. He won't get to make another run at a World Series ring, but he'll free up a roster spot for someone who will be 100 percent when his club needs him. Talk about a class act.

But getting back to players on the decline, how about Roger Clemens? I mean come on. The guy went 0-2 this past week and the Astros have lost his last three starts. In his past two games he gave up five and two earned runs. The last outing was a pitching duel against Padres' staff ace Jake Peavy. But Peavy got the best of Clemens, tossing a complete game shutout in the 2-0 victory. Clemens has seen his ERA soar to 1.56 from 1.32 earlier in the month. I guess Father Time is catching up with this 43-year-old.

Sarcasm aside, two teams definitely on the decline are the Chicago Cubs and the Arizona Diamondbacks. Both teams are lingering in the playoff hunt, the Cubs in the fight for the wild card and the Diamondbacks in the battle for the so-called NL West Championship. But the Cubs managed to drop four of five, sparked by consecutive losses to the worst team in the National League, the Colorado Rockies. The Diamondbacks, who are still only five games behind the 62-63 NL West-leading Padres, have managed to drop eight of their last 10 games. In just their past five games, of which they only won once, their declining pitching staff has given up 50 runs. It's going to be tough for any team to win games when they give up an average of 10 runs to their opponents.

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