This Week in the National League

Red April

The first month of the Major League Baseball season is complete, and who is leading the pack in the National League? The Cincinnati Reds. No one saw this one coming, and few believe it will hold up. But the Reds have hot bats and tough pitching that are mystifying the league. Even Adam Dunn is making diving catches in the outfield, which definitely has to make you wonder. Regardless of my skepticism, the month of April belonged to Cincinnati.


Now here's the latest and greatest from the rest of the league from the past week:


East Division


New York Mets (17-9)

One month into the 2006 season, the Mets appear to be for real and are looking to dethrone the Braves. That explosive offense powered by Carlos Delgado, David Wright, and Xavier Nady hasn't been the telling story; the pitching has. Pedro Martinez's 2.94 ERA is ninth best on the club's staff, though his 5-0 record is typical Pedro. The biggest difference in 2006 has been Duaner Sanchez and Billy Wagner. Sanchez hasn't given up a single run in 17.0 innings of work and Wagner is 2-0 with seven saves in eight opportunities. With stats like that even New Yorkers can find it in their hearts to forgive that home run to Barry Bonds this past week.


Atlanta Braves (12-14)

Look out, Jimmy Rollins. Edgar Renteria is back in the NL and has a 17-game hitting streak going. With the way Andruw Jones has been playing lately, the Braves need Renteria's stick. Jones hasn't gone yard or driven in a run since April 19. Starting pitcher Tim Hudson is trying to get something going to remedy the lack of offense. The hurler tossed a one-hit complete game gem against Colorado this week, his second complete game in three starts. Too bad that performance improves his record to a modest 2-2 and his ERA to a still sub par 4.54.


Philadelphia Phillies (12-14)

Opponents are batting nearly .300 against the Phillies pitching staff, while the offense of brotherly love is putting up an ugly .260 clip. You don't have to be a math major to realize that those two numbers don't add up to winning baseball.


Washington Nationals (9-18)

What a difference a year makes. Chad Cordero has just two saves, because the opportunities just haven't been presented. Even when Livan Hernandez tosses a gem, he runs into Chris Carpenter and the Cardinals and gets a no-decision. As if that wasn't enough, he has to deal with his team losing the game. Tough luck in Washington this season.


Florida Marlins (6-18)

It might be a good thing that the Marlins don't have a whole lot of fans, because this is going to be a long season in South Florida. They're young and gritty, but even Dontrelle Willis is feeling the effects of a less-than-stellar supporting cast. Willis is just 1-2 in six starts, and he carries a lofty 4.32 ERA.



Central Division


Cincinnati Reds (19-8)

Bronson Arroyo is 5-0 with a 2.06 ERA. David Weathers has eight saves despite a 3.75 ERA. And even without Ken Griffey Jr., the Reds lead the league in runs scored. Just when will the bubble burst?


Houston Astros (17-9)

April is in the books, and guess who is the top pitcher thus far for the Astros? It's not Roy Oswalt, and it's not Andy Pettitte. It's Wandy Rodriguez. In six starts the lefty is 4-0 with a 2.61 ERA and 25 strikeouts. If he keeps this up and Roger Clemens decides to sign with the ‘Stros, look out. But it's no surprise who is leading the offensive charge in Houston. A healthy Lance Berkman is batting .340 with 10 home runs and 31 RBI. That's the Killer B no pitcher in the league wants to face right now.


St. Louis Cardinals (17-10)

Jason Isringhausen blew the save opportunity Wednesday last week against Pittsburgh but earned a win when Albert Pujols bailed him out with a game-winning double in the ninth. He followed it up Saturday by giving Cardinal fans a heart attack. With a 2-1 lead, he retired the first two National hitters of the ninth inning and then proceeded to walk the bases loaded for one of the league's top batters, Nick Johnson. Izzy got Johnson to ground out for his seventh save, but will he be able to keep this roller coaster from crashing before the All-Star Break?


Chicago Cubs (14-11)

What an interesting month of April for the Chicago pitching staff? Greg Maddux is 5-0 in his first five starts. Carlos Zambrano is 0-2 in his first six starts. Rookie pitching sensation Sean Marshall is 2-0, and his club has won all four games he has started. Go figure. And after a rough start to the season, lefty Glendon Rusch has been moved to the bullpen paving the way for rookie Rich Hill to get his chance at a rotation spot. With Angel Guzman also called up recently, that gives the Cubs three rooks in their starting rotation… at least until Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, and Wade Miller return (whenever the Magic Eight Ball decides that will be). With the Cubs offense stagnant without Derrek Lee, they need that pitching to remain solid if they expect to hang in the Central.


Milwaukee Brewers (15-12)

Ben Sheets just isn't quite himself yet. He was battered for seven runs on nine hits in just 2.1 innings of work Tuesday against the Astros. His record fell to 1-3 and his ERA to 6.64. Chris Capuano, on the other hand, is on top of his game. The arguable new ace of the staff tossed his first complete game of his career shutting out the Cubs Sunday and improving to 4-2 on the season, while dropping his ERA to an impressive 2.36. For those tracking the strikeout challenge, Geoff Jenkins continues to lead Rickie Weeks and NL Rookie of the Month Prince Fielder by a score of 31 to 27 to 26. All three rank in the top eight in the league with Cincinnati's Adam Dunn at the top of the list with 33.


Pittsburgh Pirates (8-20)

With a staff ERA of 5.16 (second worst in the league behind San Francisco's 5.32) and a league-worst WHIP of 1.62, the Pirates are trying to give the Marlins a run for the NL cellar. Problem is the Marlins dumped most of their talent, whereas the Pirates went out and spent a load of cash in the off-season and have no excuses. They did have one shining moment on Tuesday, though, when young starting pitcher Zach Duke pitched a complete game shutout against the Cubs.


West Division


Colorado Rockies (15-12)

A reported 15-pounds lighter after suffering through a strange stomach illness, Todd Helton started on the comeback trail in Triple-A Colorado Springs Tuesday. Let's all wish him a safe return back. Even without one of the best sticks in the game, the Rockies are atop the NL West due to solid hitting from Brad Hawpe who is shining with a .354 average. Jose Mesa isn't shining so bright, though. The big reliever was suspended four games for throwing at Omar Vizquel two weekends ago following an incident where Giants starter Matt Morris, who was also suspended, appeared to throw at Matt Holliday intentionally.


Arizona Diamondbacks (14-13)

Starting pitcher Russ Ortiz landed on the 15-day disabled list with a reported calf injury. In his last four starts, Brandon Webb has pitched into the eighth inning of each game and has earned four wins. Shawn Green finally has his average back up and is looking like his old self. With a 4-4 night Tuesday, Green is batting .319 and his two RBI in the evening might have only brought his season total to six, but that's four RBI in as many games.


San Francisco Giants (13-13)

Young pitcher Matt Cain is struggling with a 1-3 record. Veteran starter Matt Morris is getting suspended throwing at batters. And Jason Schmidt has the best ERA of the starting staff with a mark of 4.76. The Giants better hope Barry Bonds reaches both Babe Ruth's and Hank Aaron's career home run records this season.


Los Angeles Dodgers (12-15)

Outfielder Ricky Ledee landed on the 15-day DL with a pulled groin muscle Monday night. The story of the Dodgers so far has been the struggles of big money men Jeff Kent and Rafael Furcal. Kent is batting just .189 and Furcal a mere .204. Combined they have 15 RBI. That's not exactly the production you want out of your number two and five hitters, especially at that cost.


San Diego Padres (11-15)

The Padres sent backup catcher Doug Mirabelli back to Boston to catch Tim Wakefield's knuckleballs. Too bad they couldn't hold out for Manny Ramirez or David Ortiz in return. The Padres have just 14 home runs, which matches Albert Pujols' output this season. Despite their offensive woes, Jake Peavy did show signs of life this week tossing 8.0 solid innings of two-run ball against the Giants and earning his second win of the season.


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