This Week in the National League - July 12

Reflecting back on the All-Star Game, the members of the National League are licking their collective wounds from the latest whipping they took at the hands of the Junior Circuit in Pittsburgh Tuesday night.

The American League's thrashing of the National League in 2006 continues. This time the AL didn't hammer the NL like they did during interleague play. Instead they stole one away with a two-out, two-strike rally in the ninth inning against Trevor Hoffman. Up 2-1 heading into the ninth inning, the NL dropped the game 3-2. It was one of those typical blown save games, where NL fans and players surely had that feeling that something bad was going to happen despite the pitching staff mowing through the AL's powerful lineup. The National League was poised to take their first All-Star game in nine tries and their first home field advantage trophy since the new "This One Counts" format started; instead they are heading back to their respective clubhouses with an 0-9-1 record in their last ten Midsummer Classics. The ninth inning was reminiscent of the first All-Star game with World Series incentive, when the invincible Eric Gagne blew his first save in ages. Now all the teams fighting for post-season play in the NL can rest assured that if they're good and lucky enough to claim the NL pennant, it's guaranteed that they'll start the 2006 World Series on the road in an American League Stadium.

 

And so, let's get you caught up on the latest and greatest from the NL clubhouses from this All-Star shortened week…

 

East Division

 

New York Mets (53-36)

Everyone got to see just how special a star David Wright is. He rocked the Home Run Derby at the All-Star game finishing runner-up, but belting 16 long balls in the first round for the evening's single-round high. He then ripped a solo homer in his first All-Star at-bat. Too bad Wright's fellow teammate, and neighbor in the infield, Jose Reyes wasn't able to start next to him Tuesday night. Despite being the top vote getter among NL shortstops, Reyes had to sit his first All-Star game out after getting a deep cut in his right pinkie finger the final weekend before the break. Reyes leads Major League Baseball with 39 stolen bases at the break and has a nice .300 batting average to go with it. You better believe that those sluggers in the Mets lineup like having Reyes setting the table for them.

 

Philadelphia Phillies (40-47)

Jim Thome might be gone and walloping homers for the Chicago White Sox, but Ryan Howard sure is a nice consolation prize. Although he had a fairly quite few games leading up to the All-Star break, Howard is sitting with 28 home runs and 71 RBI. And showing you the classy player he is, he hung in to hit two more home runs for charity after qualifying for the finals in the Home Run Derby Monday night. He didn't wear himself out, though. Howard went on to take the crown, and on his winning blast, he nailed a Master Card "Hit It Here" sign, which won some lucky fan 500 free flights. Despite being in the middle of the playoff hunt, the Phils definitely have a lot of rumors. Will their skipper Charlie Manuel be ousted in favor of Lou Piniella, and will Bobby Abreu be dealt? Both are pretty unlikely, but it will be interesting to see how it all plays out and what impact the rumors have on the team's play.

 

Atlanta Braves (40-49)

The Braves just aren't giving up yet. Some rumors are floating around that the Tigers might want to bring John Smoltz home to Michigan, but you can bet that Bobby Cox has his eyes set on a huge second half and getting back into the NL East race. Edgar Renteria didn't exactly light up the Pittsburgh night sky at the All-Star game, but heading into the break, the stud shortstop has a 14-game hit streak going. And during that streak he has scored 15 times. No wonder why the Braves are starting to win some ballgames again.

 

Florida Marlins (38-48)

The Marlins continue to battle, splitting a four-game set with the Mets last weekend in New York. Dontrelle Willis led the charge by continuing his dominance of the Mets. The D-Train struck out nine over 7.1 innings of three-run baseball to earn his sixth win of the season. Relief pitcher Joe Borowski hasn't exactly been lights out this season, but after blowing his first save in 10 chances on the Fourth of July, he bounced back on Saturday to earn his 16th of the season.

 

Washington Nationals (38-52)

John Patterson had to leave Sunday's game with a strained forearm after just one inning of work. It's the same injury that had him out on the DL for some time earlier in the year. In that game, the Nats carried a 9-6 lead into the ninth inning against San Diego only to see Chad Cordero blow it by serving up a Khalil Greene three-run homer and a Mike Piazza pinch-hit game-winner. The game completed a sweep of the Nationals for the Padres, and might just be the nudge the front office needs to have that fire sale, which could move Alfonso Soriano, Jose Vidro, Livan Hernandez, and Tony Armas Jr. to contenders.

 

 

Central Division

 

St. Louis Cardinals (48-39)

The Redbirds dropped the opener of a four-game set in Houston, but battled back to take the next three. It wasn't pretty, but in a league full of parity, Ws are Ws. In one of the intriguing moments of the weekend, Albert Pujols led off the tenth inning of Saturday's game after Aaron Miles capped a two-run rally to tie the game. Pujols stood in against Roy Oswalt, who was making a rare relief appearance. After Oswalt brushed the Cardinal slugger back with some chin music on pitch number one, Pujols cracked pitch number two into the right field seats as he continues to torment the Astros. You want a stat? Pujols is batting a staggering .443 with runners in scoring position this season and has a ridiculous 1.464 OPS in that situation. And in mentioning Miles' game-tying hit Saturday, he also knocked the game-winner Sunday. Both hits came off Brad Lidge, against whom Miles was 0-for-5 prior. On a side note, the Cards designated Sidney Ponson for assignment following their trade for Jeff Weaver.

 

Cincinnati Reds (45-44)

Hoping to solve some bullpen problems, the Reds picked up Eddie Guardado from the Seattle Mariners last week. He'll take over as the club's closer despite pitching middle relief this season for the Mariners. Guardado might not be all the help the Reds need. The club has dropped eight of their last nine games, and ace pitcher Bronson Arroyo is winless in his last four starts.

 

Houston Astros (44-46)

Roy Oswalt did have that rare relief appearance where he gave up that homer to Pujols. Oswalt suffered the loss in that game. And after Brad Lidge suffered yet another blown save to the Cardinals Saturday, Manager Phil Garner decided to let his tired closer pitch Sunday in a non-save situation that ended up in a losing situation. The Astros were positioned to cut into the Cardinals dwindling four-game lead in the division this past weekend, but they came up looking flat and broke and now sit six games behind St. Louis. A word to the wise: Preston Wilson is not enough protection for Lance Berkman, especially with Wilson's lack of speed that generated three double plays in key situations against the Cardinals on Saturday and Sunday.

 

Milwaukee Brewers (43-46)

The Brew Crew ran into a hot-swinging, um, Chicago Cubs team this past weekend. They dropped three straight at home after winning the first game behind a fabulous Chris Capuano outing. The All-Star pitcher, who was a late add, has had the Cubs number this season. Capuano found out he didn't make the All-Star roster, tossed a six-hit complete game shutout, and perhaps prompted Phil Garner to take notice that he did belong on that roster.  In three starts against the Cubs this season Capuano has tossed 26 scoreless innings. You do the math.

 

Chicago Cubs (34-54)

Perhaps the Cubs should consider playing some home games in Milwaukee. They sure seem to have more supportive, boisterous fans there. At least they weren't booing their club at all, like the frustrated Wrigley faithful have been for weeks. And maybe, just maybe, that's why the Cubs came to life a bit this past weekend while visiting the Brew Crew. Juan Pierre continues to be on a tear. He posted a three-RBI game on Sunday and has lifted that batting average to an enticing .275 and his on-base percentage to .321. But the news isn't all good in Chicago, not at all. Derrek Lee continues to struggle with his timing, going 0-for-6 Sunday and putting up a hat trick in strikeouts. To add to the Cubdom misery, Kerry Wood reportedly has a tear in his rotator cuff and could be out for the season (again!), while Mark Prior had to be scratched from his Sunday start with a strained muscle in his side.

 

Pittsburgh Pirates (30-60)

The city of Pittsburgh showcased their fairly new ballpark, beautiful outfield vista, and class act the last couple days. Too bad they don't have a team to showcase with it. Nonetheless, they do have two spectacular players in Jason Bay and Freddy Sanchez, who belonged in their All-Star uniforms, no doubt. And though their pitching is youthful, it definitely has promise. After four fairly rough outings for Ian Snell, the youngster bounced back with a 7.0-inning gem on Friday, earning his eighth win with a three-hit, one-run performance.

 

West Division

 

San Diego Padres (48-40)

Trevor Hoffman had converted 11 consecutive save opportunities and made 12 straight appearances without giving up a run. That is, until Tuesday night's All-Star game. The top closer in the National League this season just couldn't get that last out after making the first two hitters he faced look absolutely sick. Oh well, there's no excuse why the NL didn't score more runs anyway. And judging by how the NL performed in interleague play, they don't deserve home field in the World Series. But the Padres are definitely making their pitch to get there despite their lack of power at the plate. Adrian Gonzalez is their top home run hitter with 13 long balls, so don't be surprised if the Padres look to add a big bat before the trade deadline.

 

Los Angeles Dodgers (46-42)

Andre Ethier is for real folks. An Arizona State University product, you better believe this former Sun Devil likes to hit the ball when the summer heats up. His .352 batting average demonstrates his budding prowess. He continues to keep the pressure on Nomar Garciaparra for the team's top average. Garciaparra has the edge with a .358 clip, courtesy of a 21-game hitting streak he has heading into the All-Star break.

 

Colorado Rockies (44-43)

The Rockies were absolutely cruising and looking to head into the mid-season break on-fire. Rather, they laid an egg by getting swept by the D'Backs at home this past weekend. In what started off as a seven-plus-inning, one-run duel between Jason Jennings and Arizona's Brandon Webb, erupted in an offensive explosion Saturday. Brian Fuentes got tagged for six runs in the ninth inning of a non-save situation, and despite a rally by his teammates, the Rockies lost the game 8-7. Though they had a 5-2 lead heading into the seventh inning Sunday, the bullpen just couldn't get the job done again. The Rockies dropped the game 8-5.

 

San Francisco Giants (45-44)

The biggest news brewing of the week is that Barry Bonds could be facing an indictment in the coming weeks for perjury before a grand jury. Who knows what will come of this, or who is to blame. No matter what, Bonds is definitely not the source of all things evil in baseball. He's not even the poster child. It's a shame this is all going down as it is, and it's just another distraction for the Giants, who continue to battle in a playoff race. Bonds might not be playing every day due to nagging injuries, but Moises Alou is sure making the best of his recent health. Alou had a home run and four RBI in the weekend series against the Dodgers, and continues to keep his batting average above the .300-mark.

 

Arizona Diamondbacks (43-45)

It's amazing what a sweep of a division rival might do to spark some excitement in a team. Shawn Green might not be hitting the long ball as much this season, but he has his batting average up a good 20 points at .305. One thing to note, though, is that Jose Valverde was optioned down to Triple-A Tucson after giving up seven runs in his last two outings. He showed some electric stuff earlier in the year, but Jorge Julio is the closer in the desert now. Julio's three saves in the Colorado series put that exclamation point down on the position.

 

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


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