This Week in the National League

Our weekly feature on player and team happenings across Major League Baseball's Senior Circuit. This week's story has to give a nod to a major power hitter's career milestone, whether we want to or not.

Seven hundred fifteen home runs. It's only happened twice in history; well, at the Major League Baseball level. Barry Bonds finally surpassed Babe Ruth. His eyes are now set, not on Hank Aaron's number of 755, rather on helping his San Francisco Giants contend in a very tough National League West Division. While hitting 40 additional home runs might be a stretch for Bonds this season, it might not be for Albert Pujols and Jason Bay who are just tearing up the league right now. So, with May about to come to a close, let's get right to it:

 

East Division

 

New York Mets (31-20)

On May 1, Xavier Nady was batting .323; as of May 29, he's batting .267. And now he's on the 15-day Disabled List after an appendectomy, but he's expected to be out four to six weeks. The Mets are 11 games over .500 and they've used 10 different starting pitchers this season. Just imagine where'd they be if they had a stronger staff.

 

Philadelphia Phillies (27-24)

As the temperatures get into the 90s, Ryan Howard is heating up. The young Phillies phenom had a nine-game streak ended Tuesday where he had driven in at least one RBI. He knocked in 17 runs in that period, including six long balls that bring his season total to 18. Brett Myers earned his fourth win of the season tossing 8.0 strong innings of two-run ball Tuesday as he dropped his ERA to 2.80.

 

Atlanta Braves (27-25)

Oscar Villarreal is making that baseball term "bullpen vulture" mainstream these days. He's one of those pitchers out of the pen that gets into games when score is tied or within a run. He gets his job done, and then watches as his teammates take the lead. What's that mean? Well, he now has a 7-0 record out of the pen, better than most starting pitchers in the league. And it's not like he's doing anything special. That 4.07 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 24.1 innings isn't anything to call home about, but he's been the right guy at the right time seven times this year. Villarreal's latest victory came in a 13-12 11-inning, victory Sunday after his teammates hit eight long balls. They were swinging for the fences all right - they also struck out 17 times in the first nine innings.

 

Washington Nationals (21-32)

In his first full season as the Nationals third baseman, Ryan Zimmerman is making his presence known. The youngster has nine homers already and 32 RBI. If they want to get back on track, though, the Nats need Jose Guillen to drastically improve on that dismal .212 batting average that has produced just 19 RBI. Since the not-so-slugger is nursing a bad hamstring on the disabled list, maybe he'll also find his swing during his time off.

 

Florida Marlins (17-33)

You know Joe Girardi enjoyed sweeping the Cubs, but he must have really enjoyed watching his club take it to Pedro Martinez and the Mets en route to a 5-1 victory. Miguel Cabrera has raised his batting average to .343. Though he only has eight home runs this season, you know it's just a matter of time. Just think what he might do if he finds himself on a team in a pennant race come August and September.

 

 

Central Division

 

St. Louis Cardinals (33-19)

Last season's National League Cy Young Award Winner Chris Carpenter was placed on the disabled list with a diagnosis of bursitis in his shoulder. The inflammation is only supposed to keep Carpenter out for the minimum number of days, but don't be surprised if the Cards give their ace more time. With Albert Pujols doing his thing, they surely can afford to. Pujols has been a one-man wrecking crew. He has 25 homers and 64 RBI. After Pujols you have Juan Encarnacion's six home runs and Jim Edmonds' 29 RBI.

 

Cincinnati Reds (28-24)

The Reds are 3-7 in their last 10 games. If they're for real, they're going to have to prove it during this 16-game stretch against NL Central divisional opponents. So far, they're 0-2. Catcher Jason LaRue has really struggled, falling into an 0-for-14 slump that has his batting average sinking below .200. Relief pitcher Todd Coffey remains the lone pitcher out of the bullpen with an ERA below 3.00 - Coffey's ERA is an impressive 1.24 in 28.2 innings pitched.

 

Houston Astros (27-26)

Roger Clemens appears to have a one-year deal, but the Astros learned once again on Monday that they need their bullpen to support stellar starting pitching. Roy Oswalt was solid once again pitching 6.0 strong innings against the Cardinals and striking out Albert Pujols with two on in the fifth inning protecting a 1-0 lead. His bullpen couldn't do the same. Pujols made Chad Qualls the latest victim of his dominance by launching a three-run, game-winning homer into the hot, humid air of Busch Stadium in the seventh inning of the series opener.

 

Milwaukee Brewers (26-26)

Bill Hall is showing he can put up power numbers with the big boys this season. Hall has 12 home runs, 27 RBI, and a .607 slugging percentage, which is far better output than what was expected of him this year so far. As for Derrick Turnbow, he blew his second save of the year against Philly on Friday, but pulled out the win. He then got right back on the horse and closed out his 15th game on Saturday against those same Phils.

 

Chicago Cubs (20-31)

From no-hitters gone bad to relay throw blunders to dropped pop flies, some might ask: what else could go wrong. After back-to-back sweeps at the hands of the Marlins and Braves, the Cubs have managed to bounce back and win two games as they kick off a string of divisional series. Kerry Wood looked solid in earning is first win of the season against the Reds on Memorial Day. Jacque Jones is also starting to bring his stick around. The Cubs right fielder has raised his batting average to .278 and has eight home runs and 26 RBI, which isn't a bad first two months of the season. Michael Barrett, who started that brawl by blasting A.J. Pierzynski in the jaw, received a 10-game suspension that he has appealed and hopes to reduce by a couple games.

 

Pittsburgh Pirates (18-34)

The Buccos are starting to hit the ball and are winners of four of their last five games. During that period they've scored 50 runs. Who's leading the charge? None other than the NL Player of the Week Jason Bay. The Pirates monster youngster who has won the NL's top player honors for the second consecutive week has raised his batting average over .300. With nine home runs and 20 RBI since May 20, he's about as hot as they come right now. The Pirates also activated Sean Casey this week, which means that Craig Wilson will go back to bench duty for a while.

 

 

West Division

 

Arizona Diamondbacks (30-21)

Brandon Webb has been nothing short of remarkable this season. After two months he stands with an 8-0 record following back-to-back complete game shutouts. Center fielder Eric Byrnes has been equally as remarkable as of late. He's one of the hottest hitters in baseball right now with a 13-game hit streak, which has brought his batting average to a steady .322.

 

Los Angeles Dodgers (30-22)

Nomar Garciaparra is batting .362 with five homers and 34 RBI in 33 games. Do people still think he's washed up?  I guess we'll make it fair and check back with him at the All-Star break. In 34 games, Kenny Lofton is batting .315, has 11 stolen bases, and has scored 27 times. This isn't uncommon for Lofton, so why has this guy worn eight different jerseys in the last six seasons? Now Eric Gagne is ready to return to his club, after he finishes serving a two-game suspension. At the rate of veteran success with the Dodgers, does anyone want to bet against Gagne?

 

Colorado Rockies (27-25)

Was it any surprise that Byung-Hyun Kim surrendered number 715 to Barry Bonds? Kim has been haunted ever since games four and five of the 2001 World Series, and it appears no end is near. How about the season Brad Hawpe is having in right field for the Rockies? Hawpe continues to impress with his .322 batting average, but his power has also been quite noticeable. Hawpe has 11 home runs and 33 RBI. Forget the thin air effect, too. Eight homers and 22 RBI have come while on the road.

 

San Diego Padres (27-25)

Catcher Josh Bard is batting .395 in 18 games with the Padres this season and he's got five homers and 14 RBI to go along with that solid batting average. Talk about putting the pressure on Mike Piazza to put up or move over. Chris Young took a no-no into the eighth inning before that Brad Hawpe guy broke it up Tuesday evening. Young finished the game with 8.0 innings pitched in leading his club to a 2-0 victory over the Rockies.

 

San Francisco Giants (26-26)

At last! Barry Bonds slugged number 715 and passed Ruth in the history books. It was obviously just the second time we have seen someone hit a home run counted in a career as number 715. What's even more classic about it is that the Giants radio announcer's microphone went silent in the middle of the call. What are the odds in that happening? Maybe now the Giants can move on with their season. Maybe not.

 

Got questions or comments? Sound off to pete@petekhazen.com.


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