This Week in the National League

Comebacks, Curses, and Pujols

It has been such an eventful week in the National League, it's hard to believe that just seven days have passed. So let's just get right to it:


East Division


New York Mets (13-7)

Kaz Matsui made his return and homered in his first at-bat for the third straight year, this time an inside-the-park roundtripper. For those of you wondering just how Billy Wagner has been doing, the Mets' closer is 1-0 with four saves, and he's given up just one run in 9.0 innings of work. Think the fans are missing Braden Looper?


Atlanta Braves (9-11)

Welcome back, fellas. Chipper Jones and Marcus Giles returned to the Braves' lineup this week. Jones, fresh off the disabled list, hit a two-run homer Tuesday night. He and Giles figure to welcome back Edgar Renteria, who is reportedly expecting to return this weekend for the Braves' showdown with the Mets. They need it; their offense hasn't scored more than four runs since 4/18. And though John Smoltz, Kyle Davies, and Tim Hudson all have a complete game under their belt this season, those CGs are their only wins thus far. When you throw in ERAs all in the 4.xx range, you start to wonder where the pitching has gone in Atlanta.


Philadelphia Phillies (8-11)

With just five long balls, Ryan Howard might not be putting up home runs like he was in spring training, but his .328 average even after an 0-5 day at the plate Tuesday is impressive. But with a team ERA of 5.42, the Phils need Howard, Bobby Abreu, and Pat Burrell to start hitting like they're in a softball league if they want to contend in the NL East.


Washington Nationals (7-13)

First baseman Nick Johnson continues to lead the league in batting with a .388 average. But staff ace Livan Hernandez has yet to find his A-game. Hernandez is off to a 1-3 start with a balmy 6.68 ERA.


Florida Marlins (5-13)

If you haven't spotted Marlins new manager Joe Girardi, he's a bit grayer than you might remember from his playing days. With this young club, he's going to get grayer even faster. They play inspired baseball in the field making one great play after another. Hanley Ramirez at the shortstop position is really something special to watch. But when Jason Vargas pitches 6.1 innings of shutout ball and the bullpen blows the game, you know this club is going to have some serious growing pains.



Central Division


Houston Astros (14-6)

They stand atop the National League, but we all got a reminder of just how quickly things can change on Monday night. Andy Pettitte had a no-hitter through 6.1 innings, but J.D. Drew's solo homer broke up the no-no and tied the game at one. After the Astros took a 2-1 lead, they turned the game over to virtually automatic Brad Lidge. But in a scene all too familiar to the Albert Pujols vs. Brad Lidge drama in Game Five of the 2005 League Championship Series, Lidge loaded the bases in the ninth inning. He then served up a pitch to a recently healed Nomar Garciaparra, who hit a monster grand salami high off the façade in left field. The blast knocked the Astros' closer into that "Oh, I made another BIG mistake" crouch. And just one night later, Lidge blew his second consecutive save opportunity, but the Astros went on to beat the Dodgers this time, 4-3 in extras.


Cincinnati Reds (14-7)

The Reds' second baseman Brandon Phillips is having the time of his life. Tuesday night he extended his hitting streak to nine games, during which he is 16 for 38 with 4 home runs and 18 RBI. And that includes a 6-RBI performance last week Wednesday in Milwaukee. Bronson Arroyo continues to enjoy his time in the NL as well. He's now 3-0 with a 3.04 ERA.


St. Louis Cardinals (13-7)

Albert Pujols has 12 home runs, 28 RBI, and a .344 batting average. You'd think pitchers would figure out what Greg Maddux has: Don't even try to throw him a fastball on the inner half of the plate, and stay outside with the breaking pitches. With that combination, you might have a chance. One thing is for sure, if he keeps up this pace he'll be walked more times than anyone else in the league, and the Cardinals' fate will fall on the ability of Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds to deliver. Rolen, incidentally, is currently out of the lineup with a case of bronchitis, and Edmonds, who has been dealing with shoulder trouble, is batting just .175.


Chicago Cubs (12-7)

Curses? A comedy of errors? A tragedy? How about a tragic comedy? Maybe just bad luck? Whatever you think might be happening on the north side of Chicago, the fact remains that Cubs offensive juggernaut and league Most Valuable Player candidate Derrek Lee broke two bones in his wrist when Rafael Furcal collided with him Wednesday night last week. The slugger is out for at least 6-8 weeks, and that's going to hurt both the Chicago offense and defense equally as much. Todd Walker, Lee's most common replacement at first base is just a tad bit of a smaller target, and he comes with a shorter stretch too. But Lee's injury isn't getting the pitching staff down. The Professor Greg Maddux is off to the first 4-0 start of his career following four starts, just 20 years after it all began, and he's got a 0.99 ERA to boot. Toss in a 2-0 rookie in Sean Marshall who outdueled Dontrelle Willis Tuesday night and another rookie, Angel Guzman, making his MLB debut Wednesday afternoon, and you might start to realize just how deep the Cubs starting pitching really is.


Milwaukee Brewers (11-10)

With a .373 batting average, three home runs, and 11 RBI rookie first baseman Prince Fielder appears to be the real deal. As does starting pitcher Chris Capuano, who continues to quietly demonstrate his dependability. With a 3-2 record in five starts, he's got a solid 3.00 ERA and is among the league leaders with 34 srikeouts. For those of you tracking the strikeout contest, Geoff Jenkins has jumped ahead comfortably with 25, but Fielder isn't far behind with 21 and Rickie Weeks continues to be in the running with 20 of his own.


Pittsburgh Pirates (5-17)

Jeromy Burnitz got plunked in the head by Jeff Suppan Tuesday night but continued to play in the game. He might have wanted to stay down for the count, though. The Pirates are dwelling in the NL cellar with three starting pitchers (Ian Snell, Paul Maholm, and Oliver Perez) each with ERAs over 7.00.



West Division


Colorado Rockies (11-9)

Todd Helton was admitted to the hospital last week with a stomach ailment and placed on the 15-day disabled list on 4/20. Though the Associated Press is reporting on his hard-to-pronounce diagnosis, there is still no timetable for his return. The Rockies are winning, but they could definitely use his stick to add to those winning ways. In April, the Rockies have played in 13 games decided by two runs or less, including 9 where the difference was just one run. Leadoff man Cory Sullivan did finally get his first RBI of the year Tuesday night. Now he's just 21 behind team leader Matt Holliday.


San Francisco Giants (11-9)

Barry Bonds hit his second home run of the season Tuesday night, career number 710, but it wasn't enough as the Giants lost to the Mets 4-1. Though some might argue that Bonds' age is finally catching up with him, that can't be said for Omar Vizquel and Moises Alou. Vizquel is leading the team in hitting with a .387 average, and Alou isn't too far behind with his .327 average. Alou is also leading the team in homers (5) and RBI (17).


Arizona Diamondbacks (10-11)

Shawn Green is batting an ugly .226, and he has just one home run and two RBI. He does have 14 strikeouts, though, in 62 at-bats. That's just as many hits credited to his name. But when you've got Brandon Webb pitching, you only need a couple runs an outing to come out on top. After an eight-inning shutout performance on Monday, Webb is 3-0 with a crisp 2.21 ERA.


Los Angeles Dodgers (10-11)

In 18 games, Jeff Kent is batting just .200 with one home run and nine RBI. Despite being 2-7 in one-run games, Danys Baez has been tough as the club's closer, saving six games and still holding on to a 0.00 ERA.


San Diego Padres (8-12)

The Padres have just 12 home runs, that's just as many as Albert Pujols. And their leader, shortstop Khalil Greene who has four long balls, is batting just .194. Add in Jake Peavy, who is off to a 1-2 start with a 4.32 ERA, and you've got trouble brewing in San Diego.


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