This Week in the National League

Who's Got the Juice?

Are the players juiced? Is the ball juiced? Have the pitchers stopped juicing? Did some minor leaguers steal all the juice? Just what is going on this season? We are in the middle of an offensive explosion. The National League is putting up runs like it's got a designated hitter in the lineup. Who knows what's going on or if it will last. It sure is fun, though... for everyone but the pitchers that is.


Here's the latest and greatest from around the league:


Central Division


Houston Astros (10-4)

Roy Oswalt joined the 3-0 club this week with a victory Tuesday evening against the Brewers. He was helped tremendously by Morgan Ensberg, who continues to mash the ball. Ensberg had two home runs and three RBI Tuesday bringing his season totals to six and 13, respectively, and upping his batting average to .429. Put that next to Lance Berkman's .370 batting average, six home runs, and 18 RBI, and you see why the Astros are leading the NL Central Division. The club did suffer a setback this week, though, when Brandon Backe landed on the disabled list with a torn ligament in his elbow. The starting pitcher, known for being miked up in the playoffs last season, could be facing reconstructive surgery and six-plus weeks out of commission.


Chicago Cubs (8-5)

Carlos Zambrano can't seem to buy a win. After four starts, he's got an 0-1 record. Not so much the case for Greg Maddux. After turning 40 years young this week, Maddux took the mound in Los Angeles on Tuesday night and lasted 8.0 innings, striking out six, and winning his third game of the young season. He hadn't started a season 3-0 since 1994. For those of you counting, that was career win number 321. In the field, both Jacque Jones and Aramis Ramirez missed some time nursing some minor injuries, but both avoided the DL and are back in the lineup. Angel Pagan couldn't avoid the DL, though. Playing in place of the injured Jones, he strained his hamstring trying to beat out a play at first base.


St. Louis Cardinals (8-6)

There's no denying it. Albert Pujols is the best player in the game today. Whether you're the Cardinals' owner, a fan buying a ticket for a game, a fantasy owner, or an advertiser paying him for endorsements, Pujols is showing everyone why he's worth every penny spent on him. He's the first player to double-digit home runs, hitting his tenth of the season Tuesday and fifth in three games. He's the guy you want at the plate when the game is on the line, and he delivered Saturday in a big way, launching a walk-off, two-run monster off Reds closer David Weathers. For those of you wondering about the Cardinals' pitching, Sidney Ponson looked solid in his second start, earning his first win of the year having given up just two runs over 6.1 innings against Reds. Jason Marquis managed to be the first NL starting pitcher to join the 3-0 club, tossing 8.0 innings of one-run ball against Pittsburgh Monday night. With a shaky bullpen, they're going to need that starting pitching.


Cincinnati Reds (8-6)

Every year as of late we hope and cross our fingers. And every year Ken Griffey Jr. lands on the DL. The injury to his knee isn't reported to be severe, but he's out nonetheless. That means more playing time for Ryan Freel. With Austin Kearns (.333, 5, 12) and Adam Dunn (.298, 8, 13) just crushing the ball, the Reds are doing just fine without Griffey. As for their pitching, Eric Milton only gave up two home runs in two starts to kick off the season. He was 2-0 heading into Tuesday's action. That quickly changed. Milton was brought crashing down to reality as he gave up nine runs to the Marlins, suffering his first loss of the season and being forced to watch three pitches land in the outfield seats - a sight we're all too familiar with. But if you missed it, Aaron Harang, who has been questioned as a number one starter by many, including this writer, outdueled Chris Carpenter Friday night, shutting out the Cardinals through 7.0 innings and earning his second win of the season. And he did it while on the road at the new Busch Stadium. Way to shut up the critics, Mr. Harang.


Milwaukee Brewers (7-7)

Carlos Lee, Carlos Lee, Carlos Lee. You think this guy likes playing in the National League? He did put up some monster numbers in the American League, but he had a bit of a reputation for being a second-half hitter. Not any more. With two more long balls on Tuesday, Lee has eight to start the season along with 14 RBI. The strikeout battle does continue in Milwaukee, though. Geoff Jenkins has a slim lead heading into Wednesday with 17 Ks. Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder are right behind him with 16 apiece.


Pittsburgh Pirates (5-11)

Sean Casey collided with the Cubs John Mabry Friday night and reportedly broke two bones in his back. That will sideline the Buccos' first baseman for at least six weeks, and it opened a door for Craig Wilson to get some regular playing time. He has made darn good use of that time. The blonde, mullet-wielding power hitter is one of the most popular players to pick up this week. He's having fun knocking the ball around and has quickly amassed six home runs to his name to go along with his .341 batting average and 12 RBI.



East Division


New York Mets (10-3)

The Mets are off to a ridiculous 10-3 start. With that lineup, it's really not all too surprising. Xavier Nady continues his tear that began in spring training as he leads the team with a .396 batting average. Similar to Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez is looking young and invincible himself. On the same night Maddux got number 321, Martinez earned win number 200. Compare that to just 84 losses and a career ERA of 2.73 and your jaw just hits the floor in awe.


Atlanta Braves (7-8)

Chipper Jones did land on the 15-day disabled after rolling up on his ankle and knee. He did take batting practice on Monday though from the left side of the plate. As if that wasn't bad enough, Edgar Renteria strained muscles in his rib cage Saturday night, wincing in pain while swinging the bat. No word yet if Renteria will land on the DL next to Jones. But so long as Atlanta keeps stocking their team with quality pitching, injuries in the field are much simpler to deal with. Oscar Villarreal is the surprise this season so far for Atlanta out of the bullpen. He's carrying an impressive 1.13 ERA and with just 8.0 innings pitched, he's leading the NL with 4 Ws. But we all know pitching can't win alone. That's where Andruw Jones comes in. He's already got seven home runs and 22 RBI this year.


Philadelphia Phillies (5-8)

In three starts, Jon Lieber is 0-3 with a 9.18 ERA. Look at it this way: when you start at the bottom, your numbers can only go up. Right? For those of you on the David Bell watch, it might just be a matter of time before Abraham Nunez starts getting more than just split time at third base. Bell homered in his first game this season, but he has just one extra base hit since then, a double over a week ago. His batting average now stands at .216 and is quickly approaching his roster weight of 190. It's a good thing the Phils snagged Nunez this off-season.


Washington Nationals (5-9)

After starting the season 2-9, the Nationals have run off three consecutive wins. The team is carrying a batting average of .239 and an ERA of 5.60. That's not a good recipe for competing in the NL East.


Florida Marlins (4-9)

The hyped-up rookie Jeremy Hermida was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a right hip flexor injury. Despite giving up two runs and lifting his ERA to 1.93 on Friday, Dontrelle Willis finally got that elusive first win of the season. Still the Marlins are in the cellar of the National League.


West Division


San Francisco Giants (8-5)

Still no homers for Barry Bonds. He hit the top of the center field wall Tuesday night. Maybe by the time you read this, he'll have number one for the year. Though the club might not be hitting, they're winning. A huge factor in those wins has been closer Tim Worrell, who is a perfect six for six in save opportunities this year.


Colorado Rockies (8-6)

Todd Helton is batting .370 to start the year. No surprise there. But Garrett Atkins is batting .400, and that's after going 0 for 5 on Tuesday night. Keep an eye on him to continue making some noise this year. Out of the bullpen, David Cortez has yet to give up a run and brought home his first victory of the season with an extra-inning Rockie win Tuesday night.


Los Angeles Dodgers (7-8)

Brad Penny is looking sharp to start the season. In three starts, he has a 2-0 record with a 1.50 ERA. He's also tallied up 18 punchouts in 18.0 innings of work compared to just one walk. Jeff Kent, who was plunked in the noggin Sunday by Giants pitcher Brad Hennessey, suffered a concussion and had to sit out of Monday's game against the Cubs. He was back in the lineup Tuesday, though, mustache and all.


Arizona Diamondbacks (6-8)

Just who is this Jeff DaVanon character? Well, he's a transport from the American League, and he is just loving the National League. DaVanon is batting .414 with 10 RBI. He's a long way from Luis Gonzalez status, though. Gonzo reached the illustrious 300/500 club this week. That's 300 long balls and 500 two-baggers to his name. Only 20 Major Leaguers did it before him. On the pitching front, Brandon Webb is the only starting pitcher with an ERA under 4.50. Webb's ERA heading into his start Wednesday night is 2.14.


San Diego Padres (5-8)

The defending NL West Champions are off to a slow start. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez is leading the team in hitting, and his batting average is just .300. Ace pitcher Jake Peavy did rebound from that ugly, eight-run shellacking he received at the hands of Colorado on April 9th to hold the Braves to just two runs in his start last week. But he ran into a magical John Smoltz and had to watch as his club got shut out and his record fell to 1-2.


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