This Week in the National League

Less Than a Week to Go

The excitement leading up to Opening Day is mounting. Before you know it, you'll be flooded with more highlights, stats, and analysis than you can handle. More importantly, all the pre-season hype and all the spring training stats won't mean a gosh darn thing. Once Opening Day arrives, everyone has a clean slate. The Cardinals, the Cubs, even the Marlins - no matter which team is yours - everyone starts the year with a 0-0 record. All hitters begin with a .000 batting average, and all pitchers begin with a 0.00 ERA. Come Opening Day, everyone begins a unique, but similar 162-game journey. So as the teams start wrapping up their springtime camps and packing their bags for their hometown cities, here's the latest and greatest from around the league.


Arizona Diamondbacks - Starting pitcher Brad Halsey was traded to the Oakland Athletics for Juan Cruz, who figures to add some depth to the D'Backs' bullpen. Cruz has shown top-notch stuff at times, but has been far too inconsistent over the years. This spring, he's pitched 10.1 scoreless innings, though. And keeping with pitching, Claudio Vargas was named the club's fifth man in the starting rotation to kick off the season. In 20 innings pitched this spring, Vargas carries a 4.50 ERA, but he's also struck out 20 batters compared to only five walks.


Atlanta Braves - The Braves pitching staff got nagged with some minor injuries this past week. Amidst trade rumors, John Thomson was scratched from his start Tuesday with a sore right elbow. Chris Reitsma, the club's anticipated closer to start the season, had to leave Monday's game with a strained hamstring muscle. The strain is reportedly "minor", but considering Reitsma has dealt with similar injuries throughout his career, this is one to keep an eye on. The Braves will likely proceed with caution, so keep a look out for Oscar Villarreal or Joey Devine to fill that closer void.


Chicago Cubs - It's official. Mark Prior and Kerry Wood will start the season on the 15-day disabled list. So the Cubs rotation is up for grabs, and there are some young arms duking it out this spring. Two of those arms belong to Sean Marshall and Angel Guzman, who with David Aardsma, held Oakland hitless through nine innings on Saturday. After the no-no was broken up by Dan Johnson with two outs against Cub reliever John Koronka in the 10th inning, the Cubs went on to win 1-0. Guzman has been dealing with some injuries and will start the season in AAA-Iowa, but Marshall has a shot at a starting rotation spot. The pressure is now on Jerome Williams, whose 8.00 ERA this spring has raised a red flag.


Cincinnati Reds - Jason LaRue had torn cartilage in his knee, which required surgery on Monday. He is going to try to get back in time for Opening Day, but that might be an aggressive timeline. Whatever happens, Javier Valentine will likely be an everyday catcher while LaRue is out. In another frustrating management debacle, the Reds appear to be heading to Opening Day without a clear-cut second baseman, which means Tony Womack, Ryan Freel, and Rich Aurilia will all see time at the position.


Colorado Rockies - You have to love it when Todd Helton gets on one of those tears, and he's in the midst of one right now. In his last three games, he's batted 8 for 10 with 3 two-baggers, 2 long balls, and 6 RBI, boosting his spring training average to .408. Matt Holliday is starting to see the ball better too, racking up 5 hits in his last two games with two home runs.


Florida Marlins - In a trade for two minor leaguers, the Marlins acquired Todd Wellemeyer from the Cubs. He might not be a Dontrelle Willis, but Wellemeyer has shown some wicked pitches in his time with the Cubs and has the potential to be a solid closer some day. But potential is just that - he needs to work on his control if he's going to make it anywhere, and those 11 runs he's given up in 12 innings this spring show that he's got a ways to go yet.. Jeremy Hermida, a popular pre-season candidate for Rookie of the Year honors, has had a less-than-stellar spring, batting just .250 in 60 at-bats. In that time, he hasn't hit a single home run and has driven in just 6 runs.


Houston Astros - Jeff Bagwell will start the season on the disabled list, but the Astros were denied their insurance claim, which attempted to recoup $15.6 million of Bagwell's contract. Hey, remember that surprise monster year Morgan Ensberg had last season? And remember that ugly showing in the playoffs? Well, in 45 at-bats this spring, the Astros third baseman has mustered an impressive .156 batting average. Can you say one-year wonder?


Los Angeles Dodgers - In spring training action J.D. Drew is batting .353 with 3 homers, 2 triples, and 9 RBI. Now if he can only stay healthy. And what's this? Brett Tomko is 3-0 with a 2.16 ERA in six starts. It really must be spring training. On a side note, the Dodgers waived Hee-Seop Choi and watched as the Boston Red Sox snatched the big first baseman adding him to their already deep bench.


Milwaukee Brewers - Though Ben Sheets is expected to start the season on the disabled list with a strained back muscle, he did toss about 60 pitches in a simulated game Tuesday and reportedly felt great. Take it for what it's worth. After a two-week hiatus with a strained oblique muscle, Rickie Weeks returned to action Monday. He went 0-3 Monday but did score a run and is expected to start at second base come Opening Day.


New York Mets - Closer Billy Wagner still hasn't seen any live game action since March 18. But Pedro Martinez did get his first taste of live action tossing three scoreless innings of one-hit ball, while striking out two and walking one. As for Jose Reyes, who racked up 60 stolen bases last running all over opponents, well, he's hit safely in every game this spring. That amounts to a .538 batting average and an .808 slugging percentage. Just how many bases has he swiped? He's got two notches under his belt and one on the caught stealing side as well.


Philadelphia Phillies - With 6.1 scoreless innings against the New York Yankees, Ryan Madson appears to have locked up a spot in the starting rotation. But with Madson in such a role, that leaves a good-sized void in the bullpen, which will make getting games into the hands of Tom Gordon a bit trickier. Decisions, decisions.


Pittsburgh Pirates - OK, it's the spring, but do you know who is leading all National League teams in home runs? You guessed it. The Pirates. The club has some serious talent in their young players, but Craig Wilson is the dependable name leading the team with five long balls. For those of you curious about the Zach Duke show, he got roughed up again on Sunday against Toronto. Duke pitched 4.0 innings, giving up 6 runs on 11 hits and taking his spring ERA up to a we-hope-it's-only-spring 7.29.


Saint Louis Cardinals - Larry Bigbie has a stress fracture in his foot and will miss two to three weeks of action. The injury opens the door for someone on the Cardinals bench. John Rodriguez is likely to get the nod to fill in for Bigbie, but don't be surprised if Tony La Russa plays with some different lineups and then sticks with the hot stick in left. On the pitching front, Adam Wainwright has been relegated to bullpen duties despite an impressive spring. Wainwright carries a 0.61 ERA through 14.2 innings this spring and will present the Cardinals with a solid young arm in the bullpen who can be called upon should they lose a starter to the injury bug.


San Diego Padres - After a monster spring, Manager Bruce Bochy announced that Josh Barfield will be his starting second baseman. Mark Bellhorn will be his backup and also provide a switch-hitting bat off the bench. In his first game this spring with the Padres, ace pitcher Jake Peavy tossed 4.0 innings, giving up four hits and one run while striking out two batters.


San Francisco Giants - Jason Schmidt is 3-0 in 4 starts this spring, posting a 2.00 ERA. He has the potential to start the season on fire, so don't be surprised. But he's not the Jason Schmidt of old, so don't be surprised if he fizzles out quicker than you can figure out what BALCO stands for. Speaking of hot, don't expect Mike Matheny's .387 spring batting average to be indicative of a surprise 2006. Matheny always starts the year off hot and then fades into the sub-.250 average we've all come to know and love. Hey, the Giants don't employ him for his bat.


Washington Nationals - It's not good when you start a season with five guys on the disabled list, two of which, Luis Ayala and Brian Lawrence, are out for the season. The Nats have some hurdles to overcome this year, no doubt. But Brandon Watson, who has had an impressive spring batting .306 and swiping 7 bases, doesn't seem to care. He will get the early season nod in center field as Ryan Church got cut and sent to AAA-New Orleans. Watson has some speed and could be a force for pitchers and catchers to deal with on the base paths.


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