This Week in the National League

It's Just a Game.

I don't know about you, but I've had a real hard time keeping up with all the action in the NL the past week. Katrina and her devastating aftermath have consumed my attention. Living in St. Louis, I have no direct experience with Katrina, aside from rising gas prices. And all things considered, I clearly have no right to complain about that hardship. Even as Katrina moved her downpour of rain up north and across the country, she managed to just miss the St. Louis area to the east. So we didn't even see a drop of water from her wrath. But as people deal with the frustration, fear, and reality of all that is happening, many things become clear. One is that, no matter how important we may make it out to be and no matter how much it might dictate our mood, baseball is just a game.

At times like this, life is put into perspective. It becomes difficult to allow myself to get upset about my favorite baseball team losing. But it's also difficult times like this that our most popular pastimes become an outlet necessary to our morale and our livelihood. And just as the nation turned to baseball in coping with 9/11, the nation will do so again this year. So as the beat of the National League goes on, here's the notable from the past week...

Kerry Wood and the Cubs pretty much called it a season this week. Wood made his final appearance Monday night tossing a scoreless inning against the Dodgers. He had already made an announcement that he would undergo arthroscopic surgery on Wednesday, so fans gave him a resounding farewell hoping for a successful return in 2006. The Cubs also traded the one-time Rookie of the Year, Todd Hollandsworth, to the Atlanta Braves. On a day when the Cincinnati Reds caught the Cubs in the standings, the trade signified the front office's concession of the 2005 season. Will Dusty Baker be back in 2006? The way his team plays in September could dictate his fate. As for Wood's surgery, preliminary reports out of Ohio, where the procedure was performed, are good, and he should begin a four-month rehab program next week.

The Cubs' series with the Dodgers ended Wednesday afternoon. Derek Lowe, who has been a big disappointment after collecting a big payday this off-season, pitched like he did last October for Boston. The Dodgers' hurler tossed a one-hit shutout in a gem of a performance, improving his record to an unimpressive 9-13.

Like the Atlanta Braves, Andruw Jones continued his assault on the National League. His batting average continues to hover around .274, but he boosted his league-leading homer and RBI totals to 43 and 108 this week. Just this past Wednesday, he launched yet another long ball and drove in five runs. Unless Derrek Lee has a September to remember, the Triple Crown threat looks like it is going to be trumped by Jones' power surge.

Speaking of power surges, just look at Jones' teammate Kyle Farnsworth. He's clicking in that Braves' bullpen with a nasty slider to compliment his fastball. And he hasn't given up a run in his past seven appearances, striking out ten batters in eight innings.

But the story in the National League this year is going to be the race for the Wild Card. As we head into September, six teams are fighting it out for the final playoff spot. Even the Milwaukee Brewers have a chance sitting just 5.5 games back, but leap-frogging five other teams is a daunting task. Prince Fielder is trying to boost the Brew Crew, though. He launched a pinch-hit two-run homer at Miller Park to beat Jose Mesa and the Pirates in walk-off fashion Wednesday afternoon. The Brewers will need to catch Washington first, who got a dose of reality when they lost two 6-0 games to the Cardinals and didn't even have to face 15-game winner Mark Mulder or 19-game winner Chris Carpenter in the series.

While catching the Nationals is a possibility for Milwaukee, catching the Astros, Marlins, Phillies, and Mets is a bit far-fetched. The Astros continue to win behind Morgan Ensberg's (.282, 34, 94) breakout season, even though they refuse to score runs for Roger Clemens, who pitched six shutout innings again on Sunday without a single run of support. The Marlins continue to make things interesting behind the leg kick of Dontrelle Willis (now 18-8) and the big bats of Miguel Cabrera (.332, 28, 94) and Carlos Delgado (.293, 26, 95). And the Phillies, who looked poised to possibly bury the competition last week, dropped three straight and have opened the door back up for all takers. But the Phils did bounce back smashing four home runs against Pedro Martinez in an 8-2 romp Wednesday evening.

So August comes to a close, and the Wild Card race tightens. With all the chaos and heartache on the Gulf Coast, some excitement and jubilation will be felt around the league as September begins. Rosters expand, and young prospects with dreamy eyes will be packing their bags when the call-ups are made. Some will be looking to make their mark on the league for the first time. Some will be instrumental in their team's push for the playoffs. Next week I'll bring you an update on who has already made an impact on the NL and who could in the waning weeks of the season.

Be sure to enjoy the games this week as they provide a valuable source of entertainment. No matter what happens, though, remember that it's just a game.

May you and yours be safe.

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