This Week in the National League

Controlling One's Destiny

The final week of the season is here. There are just a few games remaining. For many players the past few weeks have been played to the sound of the Green Day hit song, "Wake Me Up When September Ends," but for a select few, the past month has been filled with the realization that, in baseball, each player and team controls their own destiny.

In just the past week, we have seen the San Francisco Giants make a mad dash for the National League West Championship. Barry Bonds has been an emotional spark with five home runs in 13 games. With him in the lineup San Francisco is 9-4. Just Monday night, they devastated the San Diego Padres with a come-from-behind ninth inning rally to beat save man Trevor Hoffman. The Padres could have sat spinning their heads overnight thinking that the baseball gods are toying with them, that they have no control over the outcome of this season. But they went right back out there Tuesday night, and despite a mammoth three-run homer by Bonds in the first inning, they rallied and won 9-6, pushing the lead in the division back to four games. Hoffman, who blew the game the night before, jumped right back on that horse and saved his 42nd game of the season.

It's simple. If the Padres win, they are in the playoffs. In fact, by the time you read this, it might very well be a done deal. They control their own destiny. And that's the position any contending team wants to be in right now. The Giants need to win too, but they need help from the Los Angeles Dodgers if they are going to catch San Diego. And as much as the Giants might feel that they weren't in control of their own destiny, they are wrong. The games they played up to this point, the mistakes they made earlier in the season, the choices they made on and off the field... all those events led to where they are today.

And the same is true for all teams, all players. But living in regret is not a viable option. Everyone must look forward, and one team that is clearly doing that is the Houston Astros. They emerged as the wild card leaders after a dismal start to the season. They fell from the ranks a few times, but have battled back and are on top once again. For the Astros, it's simple. Win, and they are in the playoffs. With their two of their last nine games against the league-leading St. Louis Cardinals and seven games against the tough pitching staff of the Cubs, they could have just laid down, but they haven't. The Astros even dropped two of three at Wrigley Field, but battled back to beat the Cardinals behind Roy Oswalt's strong arm and the clutch hitting of Jason Lane and Craig Biggio. The win was Oswalt's second straight, pushing his record to 19-12. Lane's two-run shot was his 25th homer bringing his respectable RBI total to 75 on the year. And for Biggio, his solo homer was his 25th of the year as well, a career high for a guy possibly considering retirement. To further strengthen their cause, they headed right back out there and beat the Cardinals for a second time in as many nights. This time it was a 7-6 victory, which prevented Chris Carpenter from reaching his 22nd win and might just open the door for Dontrelle Willis to garner a few extra votes in the Cy Young Award voting.

As it stands, the Astros (87-71) are 2.5 games up on the Philadelphia Phillies (85-74). The key component is that half game in the standings – the Phils are three losses behind the Astros. With four games remaining for Houston and three for Philadelphia, it's going to be tough for the Phillies to make up that ground. And if anyone thinks Brad Lidge isn't dialing it up a notch down the stretch and taking control of his own destiny, just take a look at his stats. In September alone, Lidge is 1-0 with nine saves. He's made 12 appearances, not all save opportunities, tossed 15.1 innings, and has only given up two runs while striking out 19. He's a gamer, folks.

In the NL East, the Braves clinched Tuesday night with a resounding 12-3 victory over the Colorado Rockies. It was their 14th straight division title. Amazing. The team keeps changing faces, but new stars like Jeff Francoeur (.306, 14, 45 in 68 games) and Jorge Sosa (13-3 with a 2.56 ERA) continue to emerge. Yes, Bobby Cox and Leo Mazzone clearly coach and lead this organization with the winning mentality that they are in control of their destiny.

So as the final games are played out for the Phillies, Astros, Padres, and Giants, who is going to make excuses and who is going to take control of their destiny? We'll know come October, if not sooner, and then the real fun begins.

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