This Week in the National League

Playoff Baseball in March

The World Baseball Classic is underway. It might be a huge bust. It might be a grand success. Some players might regret participation if they get hurt, while others might simply regret not joining in. But no one can deny the excitement the first few games brought to the fans that attended the games in person. The stadiums were absolutely electric, representing everything that is good about baseball, while helping us forget the ugly steroid head rearing itself in San Francisco. The first few games haven't necessarily been filled with postseason-like play, but they have already demonstrated playoff-like atmosphere filled with native pride and sense of meaning. It might just be that we've been starved for baseball since October, but it sure feels good to have a seat at the table once again.

 

Despite the players on loan to their respective WBC teams, the Spring Training season is underway. Here's the notable news from around the league as teams begin to shake out their rosters and see who's prepared for the new year:

 

Arizona Diamondbacks - Utility infielder Alex Cintron, who has been playing for his native Puerto Rico in the WBC, has been traded to the Chicago White Sox for relief pitcher Jeff Bajenaro. The new D'Back pitcher brings some depth to the bullpen along with a nasty fastball, but very little MLB experience.

 

Atlanta Braves - Marcus Giles returned to camp after a 10-day hiatus due to the premature birth of his daughter Sawyur Rae. His little girl is reportedly doing well, and Giles is eager to get back to work at camp.

 

Chicago Cubs - Kerry Wood had successful arthroscopic surgery to clean up some meniscus tissue that had been causing him discomfort and is expected to be throwing again soon. Over the weekend, Jerry Hairston took a fastball off the noggin and left the game. He was checked out and is back at work with his club. And though Aramis Ramirez is dealing with an infected fingernail, he started off the spring with a hot bat going 5 for 8 with a homer and 4 RBI.

 

Cincinnati Reds – Third baseman Edwin Encarnacion has lit up the spring training stage in his first six games. He has 8 hits in 18 at-bats, including 3 home runs, 2 doubles, and 7 RBI.

 

Colorado Rockies - Veteran Todd Helton is swinging the bat like his old self. It's just scary to think this guy also played backup to Peyton Manning on the University of Tennessee Volunteer football team.

 

Florida Marlins - Dontrelle Willis got lit up in the WBC as Team USA was upset to those hockey-loving Canadians. Teammate Miguel Cabrera represented Venezuela with pride hitting one home run, and nearly tying the game against the Dominican Republic with an RBI double. Cabrera was 2-3 on the day with 3 RBI. The kid is a star and is going to continue to do amazing things. And to think he won't turn 23 years old until mid-April.

 

Houston Astros - Though it's just Spring Training, some frightening trends are continuing for this club. In their first seven games, they are 2-5. The record means nothing, but they continue with their feast or famine offense, FOFO for short. The FOFO produced 11 runs in the Astros two victories, but managed just 13 runs in the other 5 games. If the FOFO continues, Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte will have a hard time carrying this club all season long.

 

Los Angeles Dodgers - Five pitches, three outs. Not a bad first outing for Eric Gagne. In five games, though, Nomar Garciaparra hasn't quite found his rhythm playing first base, wrapping just two hits in 13 at-bats. The odds on Gagne returning to his old form have to be more favorable than those for Garciaparra.

 

Milwaukee Brewers - In two WBC games, third baseman Corey Koskie is leading Team Canada to a 2-0 start with a .545 on-base percentage. That's a nice improvement from his .182 OBP he's posted thus far in spring training. Moving the buzz of Team Canada to Prince Fielder, the Brewer's first baseman is just 1 for 6 at the plate. That one was a home run, and though he struck out twice in his six official at-bats, he also walked three times. Take it for what it's worth.

 

New York Mets - Pedro Martinez threw 62 pitches in a bullpen session Wednesday and could be facing hitters soon. And in his first five spring training at-bats, Carlos Delgado is perfect, granted he's easing into his Mets jersey with all singles so far. On a side note related to a previous article, the Mets gamble on Bret Boone came up empty as the veteran second baseman announced his retirement after a solid career that included 252 home runs and 1021 RBI.

 

Philadelphia Phillies - Ryan Madson looked solid in his last outing as he adjusts to a return to the starting role this season. The tall, lanky pitcher allowed just one hit in three shutout innings. First baseman Ryan Howard is also showing signs of another big year. The phenom has gone yard three times in his first 18 at-bats this spring.

 

Pittsburgh Pirates - It's hard to read much into the first week of Spring Training, but last year's rookie phenom Zach Duke hasn't quite shaken the cobwebs yet. In his two starts, he's given up 9 hits and 3 runs in just 5.0 innings of work. Catcher Ryan Doumit, who is entering his second season, has showed some nice pop in his bat connecting for two home runs and five RBI in his first nine at-bats.

 

Saint Louis Cardinals - All eyes might be on Scott Rolen in Jupiter this spring, but we've barely gotten a taste of the Cardinals third baseman, who will be looking for a big rebound year. John Gall, a potential player to keep an eye out for in 2006, has been making the most of his time batting .353 through 6 games, including 2 home runs and 7 RBI. On the pitching front, Cy Young Award Winner Chris Carpenter has been near-perfect through his first 7.0 innings. Jeff Suppan, on the other hand, has been torched for 14 hits in 4.1 innings of work. Even in spring training, it's not good when your ERA is hovering near your age.

 

San Diego Padres - Pitching sensation Jake Peavy helped lead Team USA to a shutout victory in their first WBC game against Mexico. But back at home, backup catcher Doug Mirabelli and young second baseman Josh Barfield have been swinging hot sticks. Mirabelli started spring training 7 for 12 with 2 home runs and 7 RBI, while Barfield has a commanding 1.214 slugging percentage and is leading the club with 11 RBI.

 

San Francisco Giants - Other than all the Barry Bonds news this week, little-known Derin McMains has entertained Giants fans with three home runs in just five at-bats, including a three-run shot off Trevor Hoffman. Matt Cain has also done his part to entertain fans, tossing 5.0 innings, and surrendering just one run in two starts.

 

Washington Nationals - Jose Guillen's wrist injury isn't as bad as originally thought, and the outfielder should miss far less than the three months that had been discussed.

 

Got questions or comments? Sound off to pete@petekhazen.com


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