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 calls attention to something many would like to ignore - proof of Human Growth Hormone use in MLB. Oh yeah, and there are some pennant races going on, too...

The news about Jason Grimsley is sparking some interesting debate across all of baseball. Just how much did he witness, and just how truthful has he been or, more so, will he be? And will there be any evidence to corroborate his story. These steroid and performance enhancing ghosts aren't just going to disappear. It's clear that many people out there want as many of the skeletons brought to light as possible. And some of these people might just have the power to do it.  In many ways, following Major League Baseball this season is like walking the streets of the country or playing the stock market for the first year or so after 9/11 – waiting for the next strike, tentative to do just about anything that used to be routine. There is that uneasy feeling that something is there, looming in the shadows, just waiting to be uncovered – something big ready to knock you into reality just when you let your guard down and really start enjoying baseball again. Was Jason Grimsley the tip of that iceberg? Time will only tell, but the Diamondbacks can definitely attest to the stress of the Grimsley Factor as can the Giants, who have been dealing with this controversy surrounding Barry Bonds for years. And let's not forget our friends in New York and Baltimore who had to deal with the stir caused by Jason Giambi and Rafael Palmiero. As this never-ending investigation into the past and present continues, I can almost guarantee that the league hasn't even begun to feel the pain caused by poor decisions it's players, coaches, owners and administrators made in the past.

 

But enough is enough, let's get to the latest and greatest from the clubhouses from around the National League:

 

East Division

 

New York Mets (40-23)

The Mets are hot! Leading the charge is last week's National League Player of the Week Carlos Beltran. The former killer bee is finally paying big dividends in New York. Beltran entered into the Mets final game in Los Angeles last Wednesday with a .266 average. After a 13-for-26 week, Beltran has elevated his average to .296. His four homers in the week bring his season total to 18, and his 15 RBI brings that total to 52. And who said Tom Glavine was at the end of his rope? Glavine has just been on fire. He earned a W in his eighth straight decision and is the first pitcher to double-digit wins this season.

 

Philadelphia Phillies (33-31)

Mike Lieberthal landed on the 15-day disabled list once again; this time with a strained right hip. He might be missed, but with that monster lineup, it will only be for a little bit. Hitting isn't the Phils problem. With 22 home runs and 54 RBI, Ryan Howard is the centerpiece of a frightening lineup. But finding good starting pitching has been the chore this season. Brett Myers is 4-2 with a 3.44 ERA, but after him the next regular starting pitcher is Cory Lidle with a 4.68 ERA. Ouch!

 

Atlanta Braves (30-35)

The longtime defending NL East Champs are struggling. Their 2-10 start to the month of June has dropped them five games under .500. Their run production has been poor during this stretch, scoring more than four runs in only two games. Jorge Sosa definitely hasn't helped the cause. After a stellar 13-3 season with a 2.55 ERA, he's been jacked in the jaw with a stiff reality punch that has him reeling with a 1-8 record and 5.58 ERA. When you factor in Rafael Furcal's departure and look at Marcus Giles' measly .235 batting average replacing him in the leadoff spot, you see why this team is doing so poorly.

 

Washington Nationals (30-36)

Jose Guillen was activated after a stint on the DL and is 4-for-7 with four RBI and a home run since his return. Starting pitcher Shawn Hill looked impressive on Sunday pitching 7.0 innings of two-hit, shutout ball against the Phillies in earning his first win in almost two years. That dates back to the days of miniscule crowds in that stark, grayish dome in Montreal. After being a promising young arm, Hill had ligament replacement surgery and is mounting a comeback. So far, so good.

 

Florida Marlins (24-37)

If you haven't figured it out yet, Josh Johnson is for real. He won his fifth game Tuesday holding the Braves to just one run on seven hits, while striking out seven. With that performance he dropped his ERA to an impressive 2.05. Stud shortstop Hanley Ramirez did have to get helped off the field after taking a spill going after a ball in the stands on Sunday, but he's doing fine and was in the lineup Tuesday against the Braves, though he posted an unsatisfactory grade with an 0-for-4 performance.

 

Central Division

 

St. Louis Cardinals (38-25)

Life without Albert Pujols is a bit easier to deal with when you have Chris Carpenter pitching every fifth day. Carpenter returned to form on Tuesday in Pittsburgh, pitching 7.0 strong innings of three-hit, shutout ball. He also posted 13 punchouts, a career number for last season's NL Cy Young Award Winner. Larry Bigbie also landed back on the DL with a hernia. The outfielder was expected to be an everyday player this season and never found his way into the regular lineup after dealing with injury after injury. He's expected out 3-4 weeks. Don't be surprised if the Cards finally give up on Bigbie and start shopping some of their young pitching for a mainstay outfielder.

 

Cincinnati Reds (36-29)

The Reds took over first place in the division for about a half-day. Then the Cubs took three straight from the short-term division leaders, knocking them back into second. Falling into a slump, they dropped their first two against Milwaukee. Could this be the beginning of a reality tour for the Reds? Catcher Jason LaRue has been struggling big time, hitting just .184, and has been relegated to bench duty. David Ross has been getting LaRue's playing time and making the most of it with a .347 batting average.

 

Houston Astros (33-32)

The Astros are starting to play better ball, and Roy Oswalt is expected to be back in the starting rotation Wednesday night in Chicago. With Wandy Rodriguez continuing to impress with an 8-3 record and Roger Clemens mowing his way through the minor leagues, this rotation might be primed to dominate in the second half of the season. Chris Burke is also back and healthy, providing a spark for the Astros. He had a 4-for-4 night Tuesday against the Cubs and scored a whopping five times.

 

Milwaukee Brewers (32-34)

The Brewers were beating the Cardinals 6-0 Friday night, giving Mark Mulder and the Redbirds something to think about. In a flash, the Brewers were down 10-6 and went on to lose the game. Baseball is funny that way. A game is never in hand, no matter what you might think. After blowing three saves in four chances a couple weeks ago, Derrick Turnbow has settled back down. He's given up just two hits in his last five outings and has boosted his saves total to 19. Carlos Lee is also starting to mash the ball again. He's got seven RBI in his last five games.

 

Chicago Cubs (26-37)

The roller coaster ride just won't stop in Chicago. After struggling to recover from shoulder soreness between starts, Kerry Wood landed back on the 15-day DL. That paved the way, though, for rookie Carlos Marmol to get his first big league start. After a couple solid performances out of the pen, the youngster who skipped Triple-A ball pitched 6.0 solid innings in earning his first win on Sunday against the Reds. He gave up just two hits and one run, while striking out seven. He should get at least one more start. If he's got the magic a second time, expect the Cubs to ride that wave until it fades away.

 

Pittsburgh Pirates (25-40)

Big money third baseman Joe Randa was activated after a six-week stint on the DL. Starting pitcher Ian Snell is starting to mop up his opponents. Snell is 5-0 in his last five starts and has dropped his ERA from 6.00 to 4.75. His last stellar performance came in San Francisco when he hurled 7.0 innings of three-hit, shutout ball.

 

West Division

 

Arizona Diamondbacks (35-29)

A $22 million write-off? Well, it's not really a write-off, but that's how much money the D'Backs decided to take as a loss when they dumped Russ Ortiz this week. It's been a rough week for Arizona to say the least. They've fallen apart in wake of the Jason Grimsley news, having been swept by Philadelphia in a three-game set last week, and then by the New York Mets in a four-game set this weekend. The final game was a 15-2 good old-fashioned beat down. Ortiz was on the front lines of that shellacking giving up seven runs in just 3.1 innings of work.

 

Los Angeles Dodgers (35-29)

Eric Gagne landed back on the disabled list again with stiffness in his elbow, but the Dodgers were able to reactivate Jeff Kent. Rafael Furcal still continues to struggle, though. He's batting just .252 and his .334 on-base percentage is the bottom of the team's everyday players. If this leadoff man can figure out his woes, the Dodgers will be even a bigger storm building in the West.

 

San Diego Padres (33-31)

Khalil Greene hasn't hit a long ball since May 20th, but he still manages to lead the team with nine home runs. Dave Roberts has the top batting average amongst the everyday players, and he's posting a .294 mark, which isn't exactly competing for top honors in the league. Factor in that Jake Peavy is 4-7 with a 4.96 ERA and you wonder how in the world this team is still playing above the .500-mark. Seven wins against the Cubs at their worst time helped a lot.

 

San Francisco Giants (32-32)

First baseman Lance Niekro was placed on the disabled list for the second time this season, this time with a strained groin muscle. With a .255 average, four home runs, and 26 RBI, Niekro wasn't exactly lighting it up this season, but the loss comes at a time when the Giants are in the middle of a four-game skid. But, hey, how about the return or Armando Benitez? Sure, he's blown two of six save opportunities, but he's got a vulture-like 4-0 record and a 1.88 ERA. Now if the Giants can just get games into his hands, they'll be all right.

 

Colorado Rockies (32-32)

Infielder Luis Gonzalez was activated from the disabled list and then immediately optioned to the club's Triple-A affiliate. He's been struggling with inflammation in his wrists, so there's hope that he might mount a comeback, but with Jamey Carroll swinging a hot stick and batting .329 it's highly unlikely. Now if only the team can find some way for Clint Barmes to improve on his ghastly .209 batting average and pitiful .234 on-base percentage, the Rockies might just have a solid middle infield combination at the plate.

 

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


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