This Week in the National League - August 2

Pete Khazen puts his spin on the various non-waiver trade deadline deals. While few were considered blockbusters, players on virtually every one of the 16 National League squads had to say goodbye to old friends and greet new ones this past week. As is usually the case, some clubs appear to have gotten stronger here and now, while others look to a brighter future.

As a flurry of deals took place in the eleventh hour of the non-waiver trade deadline, the National League bid farewell to a good chunk of hitting power.  The likes of Bobby Abreu, Carlos Lee, Sean Casey, and Craig Wilson all ditched their digs in the NL for greener pastures in the land of the designated hitter.  As if the NL didn't seem weak already, it appears to have gotten even weaker.  Yes, the rich get richer in the American League. But even as George Steinbrenner flaunts his big wad of cash and flirts with a quarter billion dollar payroll, those who root for the underdog will jump aboard the Florida Marlins bandwagon.  The big fish from South Florida have the smallest payroll in the league, hovering around the $15 million mark.  Toss out the dreadful fan base that doesn't deserve another World Championship. How great of a slap in the face of the richest of the rich would it be for the Marlins to sneak into the playoffs and win a World Series with a payroll less than 10% that of the Yankees?  Hey, a guy can root on this year's ultimate underdog, can't he?


As the fellas get their names stitched on their new jerseys and figure out just what it's like to play in a new town, here's the latest and greatest from the deals of the past week and the action around the league:


East Division


New York Mets (63-42)

The Mets are running away with the National League East title courtesy of the league's best record. Some argue that their starting pitching is a bit suspect with so many soft-tossers in the lot, but their bullpen was the big hole that needed to be filled as the trade deadline approached. Duaner Sanchez was one of the bright spots out of the bullpen this season with a 5-1 record, 2.60 ERA, and 44 strikeouts in 55.1 innings of work. But that great season came to an end with a taxicab accident in Miami Sunday that resulted in Sanchez separating his shoulder and requiring season-ending surgery. With that glaring hole in the bullpen, the Mets dealt Xavier Nady to the Pirates for relief man Roberto Hernandez and starting pitcher Oliver Perez. The deals didn't matter on Tuesday, though, as the Billy Wagner and the Mets blew a 5-4 lead in the ninth inning against the Florida Marlins when Josh Willingham took Wagner yard for the 6-5 win. And if you haven't noticed, Carlos Beltran is heating up like he did in that ridiculous 2004 post-season in Houston. Beltran has five home runs and 12 RBI in his last three games.


Philadelphia Phillies (50-55)

The Phillies are waving the white towel. They ditched their salary and are looking to next year. Well, maybe not everyone. Chase Utley continues to chase history and has definitely caught the attention of the nation. He extended his hitting streak to 33-games Tuesday night against the Cardinals, who coincidentally was the team that ended Jimmy Rollins' 38-game hitting streak in the third game of the season this year. But the Phils sent Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle to the Yankees for four minor leaguers. Steinbrenner got a power-hitting outfielder and a pitcher that's hitting his stride. Lidle's stock is definitely up after winning four straight starts and lasting 8.0 innings in each of his last two outings. Interestingly enough, on Lidle's way out the door from Philly, he decided to run his mouth and talk down about his former teammates. Too bad for the Yankees that there's no fine print in the contract for undisclosed clubhouse cancer tendencies.


Florida Marlins (50-56)

Much like that story this past week off the coast of Panama where a Marlin fought back against a father-son fishing combo and stabbed one of the big gamers with its beak, the Marlins in South Florida continue to fight and stay in the hunt. Josh Willingham hammered home one of those blows against the Billy Wagner and the Mets on Tuesday following a ten-strikeout, six-inning performance by Scott Olsen. The come-from-behind victory followed a 15-run outburst against the Phillies Monday, where Josh Johnson tossed 7.0 strong innings of one-run ball to avoid a four-game sweep.


Atlanta Braves (49-56)

Just as the Braves were getting back into the playoff hunt, the Florida Marlins took two of three against them and then the New York Mets slapped them to reality with a three-game sweeping this weekend. Chipper Jones' absence has definitely been felt. The club's third baseman has been struggling with a strained oblique muscle and has landed on the 15-day disabled list. It appears as though the strained oblique muscle might just be the new popular injury this year. Perhaps Major League Baseball will add even another column on the scoreboard next to the recently added LOB (left on base). The new column could read PSO (Players with Strained Obliques). But to get back on-track, the Braves did deal their most-popular piece of trade bait, Wilson Betemit, to Los Angeles for relief pitcher Danys Baez and infielder Willy Aybar. Aybar might not have Chipper's bat, but he should fill in nicely at third base and Baez offers Bobby Cox another decent option out of the bullpen.


Washington Nationals (48-59)

The Nationals were on-fire last week, having won six in a row trying to get back into the playoff hunt, but they were swept by the Dodgers over the weekend in a three-game set. As the trade deadline passed, it definitely was noticed that Alfonso Soriano is still a National. And he's still hitting the snot out of the ball. He's now among league leaders with 32 home runs and had another three-hit game against the Giants on Monday. It would have been a four-hit game if Barry Bonds hadn't robbed Soriano with a nifty little web gem, but the beat goes on nonetheless.



Central Division


St. Louis Cardinals (58-47)

The Cardinals two-faced season continues. The club traveled to Chicago this past weekend for a four-game set against their division rivals, the Cubs. And to the bewilderment of all, the hapless Cubs smoked the Cards, sweeping them for the second time this season at Wrigley Field. The Cards are just 3-10 with the Cubs this season, and when tossing in the three-game sweep the defending World Champion White Sox issued them, the Cards are 0-10 when visiting the Windy City. The team just looked flat, and Albert Pujols was not excluded from that company. The Cardinals superstar is batting just .186 against the Cubs this season and has struck out nine times, far more than against any other club. Pujols didn't start Sunday's game after hyper-extending his elbow, but he did get two at-bats and was in the lineup Tuesday against the Phillies. The Cards did make some deals at the trade deadline, but they were no means Walk Jocketty blockbusters. They sent infielder Hector Luna packing to Cleveland for 2004 All-Star second baseman Ronnie Belliard. The argument for the trade was that Belliard can play every day at second and has a better bat, but Luna was never really given that chance, having to split time with Aaron Miles. The Cards also traded a minor leaguer for former Atlanta starting pitcher Jorge Sosa, who brings a 3-10 record and 5.46 ERA to St. Louis.


Cincinnati Reds (55-51)

Most analysts, if you want to call them that, are saying the Reds came out roses following the flurry of deals at the trade deadline. They added Eddie Guardado a couple weeks ago, and the animated closer has found new life in Cincy. Guardado has given up just one run in 8.2 innings of work and has tallied six saves. But the Reds bolstered their bullpen even more at the deadline. They traded recent Triple-A call-up Justin Germano to Philadelphia for Rheal Cormier, who brings to the Reds a stifling 1.59 ERA. They also traded minor league pitcher Zach Ward to the Twins for Kyle Lohse, who has served as both a starter and relief pitcher this season. The Reds might just not have their eyes set on making it to the post-season via the Wild Card. With the Cardinals sliding, they're out to take the division instead.


Milwaukee Brewers (51-56)

Carlos Lee wouldn't accept the monster contract extension the Brewers offered him, so the club capitalized on his value and dealt the money-hungry outfielder to Texas. Packaged with Lee was minor league outfielder Nelson Cruz in exchange for relief pitcher Francisco Cordero, outfielders Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix, and minor league pitcher Julian Cordero. The Brewers saw an immediate positive impact from the deal. Francisco Cordero has made four scoreless appearances, earning his first save as a Brewer on Sunday and his second save on Tuesday. He's taken over for Derrick Turnbow, whose season has mysteriously gone in the tank. In that same game, Mench went 3-for-4 with a home run and three RBI. The Brewers also picked up third baseman David Bell from the Phillies in exchange for pitcher Wilfredo Laureano. In this situation, the Brewers decided to roll the dice on Bell, who was a bust in Philly, and hope his bat comes alive in cheese country.


Houston Astros (50-56)

Rumors, rumors, rumors. The Astros were rumored to be on the fringe of a deal with Boston that would have sent Roger Clemens to his old stomping ground, where he just couldn't earn that World Series ring. They were also rumored to be looking at a deal that involved trading Roy Oswalt to Baltimore for Miguel Tejada. And finally, thanks to a published report that the owner Drayton McLane ordered struggling closer Brad Lidge to be traded, general manager Tim Purpura reported received "15 or 16" inquiries into the matter. Alas, no deals were made, but it's clear that the Astros clubhouse is on shaky ground as they try to stay alive in the playoff hunt. Lidge did suffer another loss on Sunday, coming into a tie game and giving up a game-winning homer to Arizona's Conor Jackson. It was the seventh home run off Lidge this season, whose 0-3 record and 5.77 ERA is arguably a result of that traumatic Albert Pujols monster, game-winning bomb in Game Five of the 2005 League Championship Series.


Chicago Cubs (44-62)

Twenty-three percent. That's the percentage of wins the Cubs have tallied this season at the hands of the Cardinals. They've got their division rivals' number this season. After their four-game sweep this weekend at the Friendly Confines, they have a 10-3 record against the Cards. That means that even if the Redbirds sweep the final six games against the Cubs, the lowly baby bears virtually out of post-season contention will still have taken the season series. The club definitely hasn't given up hope. They took two of three from the Mets before the Cardinals series, but they did let go of two fan favorites at the trade deadline as the club builds for the future. Greg Maddux was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for Gold Glove winning shortstop Cesar Izturis, who will take over at shortstop as the Cubs will move budding star Ronny Cedeno to second base. The move works well as the Cubs dealt class-act second baseman Todd Walker to the NL West leading San Diego Padres for very promising minor league pitcher, 19-year-old Jose Ceda. Both Maddux and Walker left Chicago in style. Maddux went out with a win against the Cardinals and left the game to a standing ovation from the Wrigley faithful. Walker packed his bags for San Diego, knowing he'll be willingly working his tail off to play third base, and unlike Cory Lidle, had nothing but great things to say about his former team and its fans.


Pittsburgh Pirates (40-67)

Once again the Pirates were sellers. They traded slugger Craig Wilson to the Yankees in exchange for starting pitcher Shawn Chacon. Apparently the Yankees are trying to staff their club with as many power-hitting outfielders as they can get their hands on. Hey, if worst comes to worst, they'll just have to send one or two down to Triple-A until the rosters are expanded in September, right? The Bucs also dealt Sean Casey to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for right-handed pitcher Brian Rogers. What a deal for Casey – he went from a club sitting 26 games under .500 to a club leading all of baseball 36 games above .500. The Pirates did add Nady in the aforementioned Hernandez and Perez deal, but they didn't stop there. Pittsburgh also sent veteran starting pitcher Kip Wells to Texas for right-handed pitcher Jesse Chavez.



West Division


San Diego Padres (55-51)

Looking for some more power in their lineup, the Padres added Todd Walker from the Cubs and will ask the often-scruffy infielder to move over and play third base as they cling to their tiny lead in the West. The club did place starting pitcher Chan Ho Park on the disabled list due to abdominal pain, and they replaced him with Triple-A call-up Mike Thompson, who has started 11 games this season and has a 3-3 record and decent 4.34 ERA.


Arizona Diamondbacks (54-52)

The D'Backs sat silent during the trade bonanza. After all, they've been making their own noise as they climb the division with their eyes set on passing San Diego. After winning the three-game series against the Astros in dramatic fashion courtesy of Jackson's blast off Lidge, the Diamondbacks played home run derby with the Cubs on Monday and won big time. The D'Backs launched six balls into the Wrigley night sky and over the wall. The six homers were a team record, and Orlando Hudson led the way with two blasts and six RBI. Brandon Webb got the start Monday and earned win number 12 as Mark Prior looked on from the dugout staring down his now 0-5 record.


Colorado Rockies (51-55)

Not that it was the biggest trade news around the league, but the Rockies did make a four-player deal with the Royals, which added starting pitcher Denny Bautista and relief pitcher Jeremy Affeldt to their roster. Matt Holliday continues to just mash the ball. He knocked three home runs last week to bring his season total to 20, but his seven-game hitting streak was stopped on Tuesday in a strange game in Colorado. Strange? Well, anytime you have a 1-0 final score in Colorado, that's got to be considered strange. The game lasted just 2:34 as Milwaukee's starting pitcher Dave Bush out-dueled Josh Fogg for the win.


Los Angeles Dodgers (51-55)

The Dodgers added veteran pitcher and destined Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux from the Cubs dealing their best bargaining chip in Cesar Izturis. One could say that Maddux was re-united with former Cub Nomar Garciaparra in the deal, but the Dodgers first baseman is out of commission, back on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained knee. He and his .327 batting average are expected to be out the minimum time. Until then, the Dodgers will just have to rely on Rafael Furcal, who finally had a breakout day Tuesday with a 3-for-6 night at the plate and four RBI. Recent addition Wilson Betemit didn't waste any time getting cozy in his new jersey. The former Brave knocked his first homer as a Dodger, a two-run blast on Tuesday night in Cincinnati.


San Francisco Giants (51-56)

The Giants made a nominal trade with Washington for relief pitcher Mike Stanton, and are falling off the NL West pace having closed out July on an eight-game losing streak and extending it to nine in August. Since his phenomenal 16-strikeout, complete-game win on June 6, Jason Schmidt has a 1-5 record. His team is just 2-7 in his nine starts since that game, and Schmidt hasn't struck out more than six batters in those games. That's the mysterious, humbling game of baseball for you. Just ask current closer Armando Benitez. After a streak of seven consecutive save conversions, he's gone cold blowing three straight, all of which ended in losses for the Giants.



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