This Week in the National League

Time to Get Down to Business.

With less than two weeks to go before Opening Day and the World Baseball Classic in the history books, the time is here. Yes, it's time to get down to business. Time for managers to start naming Opening Day pitchers. Time for those fifth-man battles to surge. Time for pitchers to begin tossing more than three or four innings. And time for those precious starting spots that are still up for grabs to dwindle.


Here's the latest and greatest news from around the National League as teams prepare to embark on the 162-game journey of excitement, anxiety, and bliss known to the baseball faithful as the regular season:


Arizona Diamondbacks - Shortstop Craig Counsell marked his return to the D'Backs after a hiatus with a shoulder injury. He went 1 for 4 in his first day of action and even scored a run. In his second day of action, the veteran put forth a two-hit, three-RBI performance. And on a bright note for the Diamondbacks, first baseman Conor Jackson connected for two long balls in Wednesday's game, his first two of the spring.


Atlanta Braves - Outfielder Jeff Francoeur has only played four games this spring, but he has already launched three home runs and driven in eight RBI. Teammate Kyle Davies has looked equally as impressive on the mound. In four starts, Davies has posted a 0.64 ERA having only given up one earned run in 14.0 innings pitched.


Chicago Cubs – Despite the setback with his knee, Kerry Wood is progressing nicely, and is reportedly targeting to be back in the Cubs rotation sometime in late April. Derrek Lee, who hasn't played since bruising his shoulder in the World Baseball Classic on March 12 was back in the Cubs lineup on Thurday. Lee got plunked in his sore shoulder, doubled, and scored two runs.


Cincinnati Reds - Those of you who have enjoyed watching Wily Mo Pena the past few years in the NL couldn't have been happy to see the prized young outfielder was traded to the Boston Red Sox for Bronson Arroyo. In return for Pena, the Reds got a potential number one pitcher, though Arroyo is probably more of a number three man in a deeper rotation. The Reds also added a third catcher to their roster, trading pitcher Bobby Basham to San Diego for David Ross. Besides the transactional news, it's hard not to notice Edwin Encarnacion's hitting display this spring - the third baseman is batting .468 through 15 games with 6 home runs and 18 RBI.


Colorado Rockies - Remember that Clint Barmes guy? Yeah, you know the one who was tearing up the league in his rookie season last year prior to succumbing to a fluke injury. Well, he's back this year, but spring training has not been kind to him. Barmes continues to struggle batting .235 through 14 games, and he's yet to drive in a run. Though most of the starting pitching staff has been struggling this spring as much as Barmes, Jason Jennings remains a bright spot in the rotation holding a 3.86 ERA and posting a 3-0 record through four starts.


Florida Marlins - All year long you might feel like the construction workers in the hit movie Major League when looking at the Marlins lineup, but you'll rest easy seeing Miguel Cabrera's name pop up. Now that the WBC is over, Cabrera is back with his team, and he hit his first long ball of the spring on Tuesday. It's a shame Cabrera isn't going to have more talent around him this year, but if you have to build a team around someone, this phenom is not a bad choice.


Houston Astros - First baseman Jeff Bagwell left Tuesday's game early with soreness in his shoulder, so stay tuned as that insurance saga continues. As for Brandon Backe, the miked-up starting pitcher might have shined on the big stage once again last October, but he continues his non-limelight struggles this spring with an ugly 7.79 ERA through four starts, which also includes 9 walks and 3 plunkings.


Los Angeles Dodgers - Derek Lowe continues his spring dominance. The starting pitcher tossed six strong innings Sunday allowing just four hits and his first run this spring. Recovering closer Eric Gagne continues to look sharp - he's only given up two hits in four scoreless innings of work. And how about Bill Mueller? The St. Louis native and new Dodgers third baseman is enjoying his return to the land of no designated hitters. Mueller is hitting .387 this spring and even has three dingers to his name.


Milwaukee Brewers - With Ben Sheets still ailing, Doug Davis is going to get the call as the club's Opening Day starter. Closer Derrick Turnbow has had a rocky start this spring. In six appearances, he's given up runs in three of them, including an ugly five-run outing last week Thursday where Turnbow could only muster a single out.


New York Mets - Closer Billy Wagner has a sore finger on his pitching hand and has been temporarily "shut down" by the club. Starting pitcher Victor Zambrano looked solid in his first spring start Tuesday tossing five innings and giving up just one run.


Philadelphia Phillies - With David Bell continuing to work in the minors bidding his return from back injuries, Abraham Nunez and Alex Gonzalez continue to duke it out for time at third base. There isn't a clear favorite to get the majority of the time at the hot corner, but that's nothing new for Nunez who did it all last season in St. Louis. In Bobby Abreu's first week of spring training action, the slugger is 7 for 17, including a solo home run.


Pittsburgh Pirates - Still no word on the Buccos' plans for Craig Wilson, who still doesn't figure to be in the starting line-up. He's a heck of a hitter no matter how many times he might strike out, and there is a chance he could be traded, so keep an eye on him as well. Pitcher Ian Snell started two games this past week. In his first game he tossed four innings of two-hit, shutout ball, but in his second start, he followed that strong outing with a 4.1-inning, four-run flop that included two long balls.


Saint Louis Cardinals – You'll have to wait a while before you'll see the much-hyped Anthony Reyes in the Cardinals starting rotation. Reyes will kickoff the 2006 season in the minors and Sidney Ponson will be the Cards' fifth starter. And for those still curious about Scott Rolen's return in 2006, he's batting .308 this spring; however, only one of his eight hits are of the multi-base variety.


San Diego Padres - Scott Linebrink, who has shined out of the Padres pen getting games to Trevor Hoffman, continues to struggle this spring. In his last outing, he walked a batter and surrendered three runs on three hits, recording just two outs. Josh Barfield continues to put pressure on Mark Bellhorn in the battle for the second base position. In 32 at-bats Barfield is hitting .469 with 8 two-baggers, one triple, and one home run. Bellhorn has had 30 at-bats of his own, yet has managed just a .200 batting average, with five doubles and one home run. Imagine that, Bellhorn hits it deep or doesn't hit it at all.


San Francisco Giants - Most news out of the Giants camp is really pretty blah. Matt Morris has given up 10 runs in three starts and 15.0 innings of work. Steve Finley has looked like his old veteran self, batting a solid .444 this spring. Maybe that's why the biggest non-Barry Bonds story this week emerging from the Giants spring training home involved Phoenix Suns star Steve Nash taking batting practice and shagging balls with the club after joining them as Randy Winn's guest.


Washington Nationals - After a week of much discussion, Alfonso Soriano finally agreed to play left field for the Nationals. You have to wonder what Soriano was thinking putting up a fight. After all, he's playing on a squad where the clubhouse leader, Jose Vidro, is a three-time All-Star second baseman.


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