This Week in the National League - August 16

Pete Khazen takes us on our weekly jaunt through the Senior Circuit.

With power numbers back up and pitching statistics in the tank, there's been a lot of talk this season about the ball being juiced again. There has even been speculation that pitchers enjoyed the benefits of performance enhancing drugs more so in comparison to position players. And that now with stricter testing policies, pitchers may not be using anymore, and that's why their collective performance has dwindled. Whatever it is you might believe, you cannot deny some of the downright impressive pitching performances this week, which give us hope that the National League arms might still win us over and captivate the masses once again on the big stage in October.


With that said, let's get right to the latest and greatest from around the league:


East Division


New York Mets (71-47)

The Mets are clearly the best team in the National League, but their starting pitching is suspect, to put it mildly, when it comes to thinking of playoff scenarios. The Mets suffered a huge blow that made that weakness a harsh reality Monday when Pedro Martinez strained his calf muscle and had a bloody, awful outing giving up six runs in just one inning of work. His status going forward is still unclear and the team seems optimistic, but such an injury is definitely troublesome when you think of the cool nights that will be forthcoming in September and October.


Philadelphia Phillies (58-60)

The Phils have definitely not given up on the season, and their thumping of the Mets the first two games of a four-game series has shown they've got plenty of fight left. But it's those close games, not the blowouts that could become worrisome. Why? Well, closer Tom Gordon is reportedly experiencing soreness in his shoulder. He was examined on Tuesday, but no word yet on his prognosis. Gordon, who boasts an impressive 27 saves, blew his last save opportunity on Friday and got the loss in a non-save outing Saturday. He hasn't pitched since. So who's got the hot sticks? Well, the whole club is knocking the ball around like it's batting practice, but leadoff man Jimmy Rollins has shown some pop as of late. He's got four homers in his last five games, which is two more than super-slugger Ryan Howard.


Atlanta Braves (55-63)

Ten at-bats. Ten hits. That's what Braves outfielder Matt Diaz did this week. He tied a National League record with that output. Unfortunately, his not-so-small feat was dwarfed by Chipper Jones, who happened to rock three long balls in the same game Diaz tied the record. That streak ended in Diaz's last at-bat Monday night, but he's definitely turned some heads.  So has Andruw Jones, who was scratched from Tuesday night's lineup with patellar tendonitis.


Florida Marlins (55-64)

Heading into Tuesday night's game in Los Angeles, second baseman Dan Uggla was the team leader in home runs with 19 and proud possessor of an 11-game hitting streak. Miguel Cabrera had his own streak going last week. The superstar ran off seven consecutive multi-hit games before seeing that snapped with an 0-for-4 performance Monday. Still Cabrera is third in the league of qualified hitters with a .337 batting average. If the Marlins can get Dontrelle Willis back on track, they could be a force down the stretch with their developing pitching staff led by Josh Johnson and his NL-leading 2.69 ERA, but Willis hasn't really been on track all season and is 1-3 in his last four starts.


Washington Nationals (52-67)

Starting pitcher Pedro Astacio had his best outing of the season Tuesday night, tossing a complete game shutout against the Atlanta Braves. Austin Kearns had a double and two RBI, but the former Red has been having a rough time adjusting to life in the District of Columbia. Heading into Tuesday game, he was batting just .245 in 27 games with just one home run and 10 RBI.


Central Division


St. Louis Cardinals (63-55)

A three-game weekend sweep at the hands of the NL-lowly Pirates, and the Cardinals are reeling, though they remain in first place in the NL Central Division. Though many question marks loom, Chris Carpenter is the one sure bet. You know what you're getting with the Cards staff ace. He was lights out Tuesday night against the Reds reminding them who the two-time defending division champions are. Carpenter is humble and quiet, so last season's NL Cy Young winner used a complete game shutout to speak the language of "not so fast" to the pesky Reds. With an off-day Monday, Tony La Russa decided to try and change things up a bit in his starting rotation. Jeff Weaver, who gave up 10 hits and three runs in a loss his last outing, will now pitch the series finale Thursday against the Reds. Jeff Suppan will get the ball to start a three-game series against the Cubs in Chicago, where the Cards have yet to win a game this season.


Cincinnati Reds (61-58)

I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. That sure seems to be the Reds motto as they chase the division-leading Cardinals, but they just can't seem to leapfrog the two-year defending champs. As the Reds continue to fight the good fight to get to the festivities in October, Edwin Encarnacion is clearly one of the team's believers. The third baseman earned NL Player of the Week honors finishing the week Sunday with a 10-game hitting streak that lifted his average to .302. He also smacked four home runs during the period and drove in eight runs. Recently acquired closer Eddie Guardado is also a believer, but he's struggled the past week, blowing two saves and giving up at least one run in each of his last three outings.


Houston Astros (57-62)

Apparently disappointed in his lack of production, the Astros waived Preston Wilson this week, cutting the outfielder loose and paving the way for newcomer Luke Scott, who's batting .438 in 27 games since getting recalled from Triple-A ball this season. Wilson's nine home runs and 55 RBI were a far cry from the days of 2003 when he rocked 36 home runs and 141 RBI while with Colorado. Roy Oswalt won four straight before losing to Carlos Zambrano and the Cubs Monday night, but don't be fooled by his 1-3 record against those lovable losers. In those three losses, Oswalt has pitched 21.0 innings and given up just seven runs. The Astros continue to be a dangerous team, but their closer problems are quite troublesome. Brad Lidge blew another one-run lead in the ninth inning Tuesday night against the Cubs, and the game ended up lasting an additional nine innings. In a marathon that featured a couple beanballs, a Roger Clemens temper tantrum, tough decisions by both managers, and a dugout full or rally caps, Big Red Matt Murton not only extended the game with his solo blast off Lidge in the ninth, he finished it with a two-run single in the 18th.


Milwaukee Brewers (56-63)

Chris Capuano is 0-4 in his last six starts, but he looked strong in his last outing Friday against the Braves when he pitched 7.0 innings, giving up just four hits and one run in a no-decision. He'll look to finally add a tally in the win column against the Pirates on Wednesday. Teammate Ben Sheets earned a W on Saturday. It was his first start following the previous Saturday where he left the game against the Cardinals with a strained chest muscle following just one inning of work. Sheets lasted 7.0 innings and struck out eight en route to the win.


Chicago Cubs (51-68)

The lone team remaining in Major League Baseball without a complete game this season is the Chicago Cubs. With Kerry Wood out most of the season and now Mark Prior making his way to the DL for the third time this season, this time with shoulder tendonitis, it may be no surprise that the Cubs haven't gotten a complete game from one of their starters. After dropping two games in a row, Carlos Zambrano returned to form and came close Monday night to that complete game. He tossed 8.0 shutout innings in a win against Houston, but seven walks got his pitch count a bit too high for the fireballer to go the distance.


Pittsburgh Pirates (46-74)

Signs of things to come? The Pirates won four straight before losing to Milwaukee 6-3 on Tuesday. During that streak, they swept the division-leading Cardinals, and they did so with authority. The Buccos gave up just three runs against the Cards, while scoring 17. Zach Duke set the tone with a complete game win Friday night. Ian Snell won his tenth game of the season with a five-hit, two-run performance Saturday. And Paul Maholm tossed 6.2 shutout innings to earn the W and help the Pirates complete the sweep. Still Freddy Sanchez's quest for the NL batting title is the story brewing in Pittsburgh. He's got his average up to .345 now, and his 64 RBI aren't too shabby either.



West Division


Los Angeles Dodgers (64-56)

Colorado snapped the Dodgers 11-game win streak Wednesday night, but Grady Little's club went right back to work and has another six-game streak going. You think Kenny Lofton's not loving this? The 39-year-old outfielder has bounced all over the majors, but he continues to produce for playoff contenders. A career-.300 hitter, Lofton is batting .313 this season. Interestingly enough, the Dodgers are dead last in the NL when it comes to hitting the long ball. Nomar Garciaparra's 13 knocks is tops on the team. The club's .279-team batting average, which leads all NL clubs, explains their success in the absence of power. Brad Penny's resurgence and 3-0 record during this stretch has been as big a factor as any.


San Diego Padres (60-59)

Slip sliding away. After watching the Dodgers surge past them, the Padres are duking it out in the West with games at home against San Francisco and Arizona this week. Todd Walker is trying to survive at his new home, playing third base for the first time in ages, and he's struggling. Walker has committed five errors in 13 attempts, and his throwing gaffe Monday allowed the lone run to score in the club's loss to San Francisco. On the bright side, Jake Peavy has given up just six runs in his last four starts and has lowered his ERA from 5.15 to 4.58.


Arizona Diamondbacks (59-59)

The tension is definitely heating up in the West. In Monday night's contest between the D'Backs and Rockies, Luis Gonzalez got plunked by Jose Mesa following an Eric Byrnes home run.  The benches cleared, but no punches were thrown and no players ejected. Still the clubs are feeling the pressure of a pennant race. But that pressure isn't going to hold Brandon Webb back. After missing his last start due to soreness in his forearm, Webb gutted out his thirteenth win Saturday night despite not having his best stuff.


Colorado Rockies (58-60)

In events leading up to the not-so melee between the D'Backs and Rockies Monday, Arizona starting pitcher Claudio Vargas hit Matt Holliday in the wrist. The Rockies slugger is listed as day-to-day with a bruise, but he was not in the lineup on Tuesday night. In other action, third baseman Garrett Atkins showed he like Cubs pitching when he batted 4-for-9 in a three game series last week, which included 6 walks, two home runs, and seven RBI.


San Francisco Giants (56-63)

With a weekend sweep at the hands of the Dodgers, the Giants are fading out of the divisional race - but not without putting up a fight. Jason Schmidt slugged it out with Greg Maddux on Sunday Night Baseball, as both starters hurled 8.0 scoreless innings, but the Dodgers got the best of the Giants in the tenth inning, leaving Schmidt and the rest of the crew with a bitter taste in their mouths looking up at a 1-0 final score. Perhaps inspired by the duel between Schmidt and Maddux, Brad Hennessey tossed 5.2 innings of two-hit, scoreless baseball and five other Giants pitchers joined in against the Padres collectively producing their own 1-0 victory.


Got questions or comments? Sound off to

The Cardinal Nation Top Stories