This Week in the National League

The Rockies Beat the White Sox and Barry Bonds as Paula Abdul?

Spring Training is underway, and the games have already begun. We got our first taste of exhibition action that didn't involve local college teams when the Colorado Rockies represented the National League by taking it to the World Champion Chicago White Sox. If that wasn't odd enough, Barry Bonds dressed up as Paula Abdul in a skit the other day. Spring Training can definitely present an atmosphere that's just a tad bit different from the regular season, but it is where the long haul to October begins.


That being said, This Week in the National League will be back with normal weekly installments until some team is crowned the 2006 World Champions. So, as the journey begins, here's the latest and greatest from each team fighting to be that NL representative in the 2006 World Series:


Arizona Diamondbacks - Though the injury-plagued Craig Counsell played more games in 2005 than any season in his career (150), he's starting off the 2006 Spring with a shoulder muscle tear, which will sideline the second baseman for at least a week. Take note as those shoulder injuries tend to rear their ugly heads again if not allowed to heal properly.


Atlanta Braves - If all goes well in Spring Training, Tim Hudson will be the starting pitcher on Opening Day as the Braves will begin their first season in ages without pitching coach icon Leo Mazzone.


Chicago Cubs – Injury-riddled pitchers Kerry Wood and Mark Prior are reportedly making solid progress towards their returns in 2006, but it's pretty clear the Cubs aren't going to push either one of them. As for Aramis Ramirez, who has struggled with groin injuries the past two seasons, he opted to not play in the World Baseball Classic, which is good news for the Cubdom and their hopes of dethroning the St. Louis Cardinals from their two-year reign atop the NL Central.


Cincinnati Reds - After missing most of 2005 with a groin injury and then reporting to camp 17 pounds over his requested weight, the Reds decided to release pitcher Josh Hancock.


Colorado Rockies - In the exhibition opener, the Rockies beat the defending World Champion Chicago White Sox 6-1. That's correct. The Rockies. Jason Jennings looked solid getting the start and tossing two scoreless innings for the win, while Todd Helton looked like his old self hitting two doubles in three at-bats and driving in a run. It might only be the first game, but can you blame a guy for being excited about the new season?


Florida Marlins - With a whole host of no-names and a handful of veterans looking to redeem themselves, the Marlins will carry an interesting roster all season long. You can be guaranteed, though, that a clubhouse leader and straight-shooter like Joe Girardi at the manager's position will get the best out of his team.


Houston Astros - Jeff Bagwell arrived at camp amidst continued awkwardness surrounding the Astros' claim that they should be able to recoup the majority of Bags' $17 million salary for 2006 should it be decided the veteran is too injured to play. But who will decide that? And what criteria will be used? With hopes that Bud Selig won't be involved in the final say, Bagwell will be giving it a go to see if he's still got some gas left in the tank. On the intriguing front, Roger Clemens pitched to some minor leaguers at camp this past week. His son, Koby Clemens, took him deep on his very first pitch. When Koby stood in against his pops the next time, the Rocket tossed his boy a patented high and tight fast ball. Now that's what I call love.


Los Angeles Dodgers - The Dodgers opened camp with the distinct likelihood that they will have five new faces starting in the field in 2006 - Jose Cruz and Kenny Lofton in the outfield, Nomar Garciaparra at first base, Bill Mueller at third base, and marquee off-season acquisition Rafael Furcal at shortstop. Add into the mix that Dioner Navarro figures to be the starting catcher in 2006 after having played in only 50 games for the Dodgers in 2005, and it will be really interesting to see how this made-over Dodgers team competes this season.


Milwaukee Brewers - After going 81-81 last year, the Brewers rewarded Manager Ned Yost with a two-year contract extension through 2008. The Brew Crew was definitely more competitive in 2005, and the stars are aligning to keep the momentum going in 2006.


New York Mets - The Mets opened camp with a loaded offensive roster for 2006. Will it be good enough to make up for a very average pitching staff? And will Carlos Beltran finally live up to the hype and prove that 2004 wasn't a fluke? Lots and lots of questions loom over the Mets clubhouse, but that's what makes it all the more entertaining.


Philadelphia Phillies - Jimmy Rollins reported to camp, and everyone was instantly reminded of his 36-game hitting streak that will continue into the 2006 season when the Phils open with St. Louis on April 3. That means Rollins will most likely have to continue his streak against National League Cy Young Winner Chris Carpenter. Ah, we can already begin looking forward to match-ups like that!


Pittsburgh Pirates - Starting pitcher Kip Wells is reportedly dealing with a blood clot in his arm and will have surgery next week. That means the Pirates will be without Wells for at least a month or two of the season, possibly more. On the upside, though, the Pirates signed shortstop Jack Wilson to a three-year, $20.2 million contract extension. With the new contract in hand and a suspect pitching staff that will need run support in a big way, Wilson will try to rebound from an average 2005 after posting career numbers in 2004 that included a .308 batting average and 201 hits, including 12 triples and 11 home runs.


Saint Louis Cardinals - Rarely shying away from possible pitching projects, the Cardinals snagged Josh Hancock after he was released from the Reds for reporting to camp overweight. The young pitcher missed most of last season, but he made 11 appearances in September and October, when he posted a 1-0 record and impressive 1.93 ERA. This one sounds like the Cards might have gotten away with a steal to help out their bullpen.


San Diego Padres - Fulfilling their 40-man roster, the Padres agreed to a one-year contract with shortstop Khalil Greene. Besides a sweet glove and impeccable range, Greene has proven he can produce runs having driven in 70 RBI last season. If he can improve on that ghastly .259 career batting average, Greene could be a candidate for a breakout year in his third full season in the Bigs.


San Francisco Giants - After moving from Seattle to San Francisco mid-season last year, Randy Winn tore it up in a Giants uniform hitting .359 with 14 home runs and 26 RBI in 56 games. He was rewarded with a three-year contract extension through 2009 reportedly worth $23.25 million. All things considered, in seven previous seasons, he never hit more than 14 home runs and has a .288 career batting average. If you're thinking Winn will be an impact player in 2006 and hit the ball like Barry Bonds, judge him through the critical eyes of Simon Cowell, not the star-gazed eyes of Paula Abdul.


Washington Nationals - Starting pitcher Brian Lawrence, who was acquired from the San Diego Padres in a trade this off-season, had surgery to repair a tear in his shoulder and will be out until at least the All-Star break. Desperate to add some pitching to the roster, the Nationals signed veteran pitcher Pedro Astacio, who will be entering his sixteenth season as a big league pitcher. The Nationals will be the seventh team Astacio has pitched for since 2001.


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