This Week in the National League

The World Baseball Classic Effect.

The World Baseball Classic will be studied by baseball analysts, managers, and players for years. It's becoming quite apparent that those fellas that played in the Classic are starting the season on the right foot. Maybe not all of them, but definitely a good chunk. As such, it will be something to ponder and keep an eye on. The competitive nature of those games appears to prepare the athletes for the regular season far better than spring training games. And with that competitive nature, some players are already looking like they are in mid-season form. Let's hope they just don't run out of gas in August.


Here's the news from across the National League after we've put one full week in the bag:


Arizona DiamondbacksMiguel Batista was nails in his first start, lasting 7.0 innings, giving up just two runs, earning the win, and racking up 11 punchouts. And rookie Conor Jackson has been a bright spot with his bat, holding steady with a .357 average. Of note in the random team stat category, the club has yet to steal one base this year.


Atlanta BravesSan Francisco catcher Mike Matheny hit a slow roller in Sunday's game against the Braves; imagine that. But a charging Chipper Jones rolled up his knee and ankle, spraining ligaments in both joints. The injury lands him on the 15-day disabled list, but because tests showed there weren't any complete tears, the slugger will be back before you know it. Chipper wasn't the only Brave to land on the DL, starting pitcher Horacio Ramirez strained his hamstring and will also be getting some rest. With Tim Hudson and John Smoltz still shaky on the mound, it's a good thing Andruw Jones and Edgar Renteria keep mashing the ball. Jones has three dingers and 13 RBI already, along with a .303 batting average. As for Edgar, his return to the NL has been kind, posting a .371 batting average and racking up 10 RBI.


Chicago Cubs – A sweep of the Cardinals? The Cubs pulled it off in dramatic fashion with a solid first game and two come-from-behind victories Saturday and Sunday. Derrek Lee, who just got a contract extension through 2010 reportedly worth $65 million, has been crushing the ball, picking up where he left off last year. Lee hit two home runs in the series, including the game-winner in Saturday's victory. But the surprise has been Michael Barrett. The Cubs catcher has three home runs already, including his pinch-hit, two-run, game-tying homer Saturday and a boisterous grand salami that won the game Sunday night. Interestingly enough, both Lee and Barrett were playing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, which could very well be a big part of the reason these guys look like they're in mid-season form.


Cincinnati RedsBronson Arroyo has played two games against the Cubs this year. He has two wins, and he has two home runs, one of which made its way onto Waveland Avenue outside Wrigley Field Tuesday. Go figure. Adam Dunn has four home runs already on the year, having hit two of his own on Tuesday. The two pleasant stat-men to note though are Austin Kearns and Ryan Freel. Kearns is starting the season on the right foot with two home runs and a .310 average. Freel, well, he continues to be that mad base stealer that torments catchers having already swiped five.


Colorado Rockies – A 5-2 record to start the season? Could things be looking up in Colorado? Well, they are for Cory Sullivan who is off to a fast start. He's batting .400 and made the news wires by hitting two triples in one inning during Sunday's game. On the downside for the Rockies, their veteran-built bullpen took a hit when Mike DeJean was placed on the 15-day DL with discomfort in his right shoulder, which just doesn't sound good.


Florida Marlins – Much-hyped rookie Jeremy Hermida has just one extra base hit in this young season, and it's only a double. He hasn't recorded an RBI yet either, though he has managed to accumulate six walks. Dontrelle Willis, who has started two games already, hasn't recorded a W yet. He's only given up two runs in 13.0 innings, but lack of run support has the high-kicking pitcher feeling like Roger Clemens from last season. Welcome to the 2006 Marlins, Dontrelle.


Houston AstrosMorgan Ensberg is out to prove me wrong that he's going to be a one-year wonder. The Astros third baseman is batting .409 and has tallied up nine walks. That's more than Barry Bonds. After a dismal first outing where he gave up seven runs and got the loss, Andy Pettitte redeemed himself with a 6.1-inning performance against Washington. In the game Pettitte only gave up three runs, but he still carries a lofty American League-like 8.18 ERA.


Los Angeles Dodgers – What a disappointment! That guy that used to walk onto the field with the words "Game Over" boldly blasted on the scoreboard has been kicked to the DL once again. Eric Gagne's elbow requires surgery, which will sideline the closer another 6-8 weeks. Ouch! So who's the Dodgers' new closer? Danys Baez, who has tallied two saves already and has yet to surrender a run. Standing out with the stick, Bill Mueller is reigning in LA and his return to the NL with a solid .375 batting average.


Milwaukee Brewers – The Brew Crew might have been the biggest surprise of the first week. A 5-0 start. Ah, but they are now 5-2. Still, Derrick Turnbow continues to be the man out of the bullpen, recording four saves in four chances this season. Chris Capuano is finally starting to get noticed on radar screens. In two starts, he's 1-0, but he's tallied 14 punchouts and carries a respectable 3.65 ERA. With the stick, you don't have to look further than Carlos Lee. In the first week of action he's batting .348 with two home runs and five RBI. On a lighter note, keep an eye on the strikeout race between favorite Geoff Jenkins, Rickie Weeks, and newcomer Prince Fielder. The current tote board shows 10, 8, and 9, respectively.


New York Mets – Are they for real this year? They sure look like it after one week of play. Xavier Nady and David Wright, particularly the latter, are just smacking that baseball around. Both have a .474 batting average, and Wright has two long balls and nine RBI to his name. As for Pedro Martinez, the ace pitcher made his debut, gave up four earned runs in 6.0 innings, and brought home his first victory of the season. Something tells me he'll have a few more this year.


Philadelphia Phillies – Ouch! That's about all that can be said for the first week of the season for the Phils. Fans surely want to forget this week and move on. A 1-6 start bye the Phillies has to be a bigger surprise than the 5-0 start by the Brewers. Jimmy Rollins' hit streak ended at 38 games after being kept at bay by the St. Louis Cardinals in the third game of the season. Bobby Abreu managed to keep the Phils from going winless in the first week by belting a walk-off two-run homer in the first game of a twin bill with the Dodgers. The biggest problem the Phils have is that neither Jon Lieber nor Brett Myers should be the number one pitcher on a contending team. Unfortunately, there's not much they can do about that now.


Pittsburgh Pirates – Did I say "Ouch!" in reference to the Phillies first week? Well, that goes ditto for their Pennsylvania partners, who started the season 1-7, but pulled out a win on Tuesday to improve to 2-7. But Pittsburgh's a football town, right? The only pitcher on the entire roster with an ERA under 4.50 is Roberto Hernandez, who has appeared in four games and has tossed four scoreless innings. But to show you how bad it has been, promising center fielder Chris Duffy has struggled big time at the plate. He's batting just .156 and has 12 Ks to his name.


Saint Louis Cardinals – The Redbirds opened their shiny new stadium Monday with a 6-4 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. It was a solid rebound game following their sweeping at the hands of their division rivals, the Cubs. Mark Mulder looked solid in his second start of the season, tossing 8.0 innings and earning his first win. Through his first two starts, Mulder has pitched 15.0 innings and has a 3.00 ERA. The Cardinals bullpen has come under fire, though, particularly Jason Isringhausen. The pen blew two games over the weekend to the Cubs, which are sins not easily forgiven by the Cardinal faithful. Izzy came into Sunday's game in the eighth, having inherited a runner who was walked by Ricardo Rincon on four pitches. The Cardinal closer would walk the next two batters on eight pitches and then give up the go-ahead, and eventual game-winning, grand slam to Michael Barrett. But don't look to Braden Looper just yet; Isringhausen's the Cardinals closer… for now.


San Diego Padres – Lefty starting pitcher Shawn Estes was placed on the 15-day DL with a strained shoulder. The club is off to a slow start. The Padres team batting average was just .229 heading into Tuesday's game, but a 10-hit performance should help that out a bit. Khalil Greene continues to put up the streaky power numbers. He's batting just .250, but the shortstop hit two long balls Tuesday, bringing his season total to four and boosting his RBI count to 10.


San Francisco Giants – In two starts Jason Schmidt is 0-1 with a 5.79 ERA, yet the Giants are off to a 4-2 start. Matt Morris, the club's new number two man in the rotation tossed 6.1 innings in his Giants debut, giving up just one run and earning his first win of the year. Barry Bonds appeared to have hurt his knee in Sunday's game, but is reportedly doing fine. As of Tuesday night, he has yet to go yard and doesn't have an RBI. Veteran shortstop Omar Vizquel is proving he's still got it, though, posting a .429 average in the opening week and swiping three bases. There's that WBC influence again.


Washington Nationals – Vice President Dick Cheney tossed out the ceremonial first pitch at the Nationals home opener Tuesday. Unfortunately, he one-hopped it to the catcher. Similarly, the Nats are struggling to open the season, staring at a quite-different 2-6 mark to kick off the year. Jose Vidro is doing his dependable part with a .361 batting average and nine RBI, but Ramon Ortiz's 0-2 record and 8.18 ERA isn't exactly helping the cause. And to add to the bad news, relief pitcher Feliz Rodriguez was suspended for three games following the first major beaning incident of the National League season, when he got tossed for plunking Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca in an apparent retaliation for Pedro Martinez's double-plunking of Jose Guillen.


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