This Week in the National League - August 23

This is the time of the year where front office personnel, managers, coaches, players, fans, and the media search for answers to all conceivable questions...

This is the time of the year where front office personnel, managers, coaches, players, fans, and the media search for answers to all conceivable questions. It's the time of the year when the clubs that find the answers to their questions dance, hop, and celebrate their way to October, while the others are left shaking their heads wondering what it would have taken to get there. Some teams continue to get bombarded with questions. Some teams appear to just be guessing out there, hoping to get one right. Still others are finding answers in all the right places, and it's those clubs that we'll be watching and talking about in October.

 

So, let's get to the latest and greatest news from the big Q&A game in the National League:

 

East Division

 

New York Mets (76-48)

Earlier in the week the Mets were hit with a morale blow when Tom Glavine developed symptoms that might indicate a blood clot, a possible season-ending condition. Searching for answers, Glavine's doctor came back with good news that the condition wasn't serious and that the veteran pitcher should be back in seven to ten days. After receiving that good news, the team announced a deal that brought outfielder Shawn Green and his big bat to the Mets outfield. Perhaps intimidated by the softball team lineup across town, the Mets are beefing up their lineup with their eyes set on the playoffs. As if the likes of Jose Reyes, Paul Lo Duca, Carlos Beltran, David Wright, and Carlos Delgado, who launched his 400th homer with a grand salami Tuesday night, aren't enough.

 

Philadelphia Phillies (63-62)

Aaron Rowand is searching for answers himself, as in "what the heck happened this season?". He was just finally getting into the swing of things after smashing his face into the wall earlier in the season. Then on Monday night he rolled his ankle in a collision with Chase Utley. The play resulted in a broken ankle, and Rowand is likely done for the regular season. But the beat goes on as the Phils continue to fight for the playoffs. They added fossil-like lefty Jamie Moyer to their rotation this weekend. The 43-year-old soft-tosser hasn't pitched in the NL since a brief stint with the Cardinals in 1991, and the Phils are banking on the chance that he'll give fits to opponents who haven't seen him much. So far, so good – one game, one win.

 

Atlanta Braves (59-66)

John Smoltz was derailed from his six-decision winning streak, giving up six runs in a loss to the Nationals last Wednesday, but he rebounded big time on Monday pitching a three-hit, eight-inning shutout gem against the Pirates. But Andruw Jones continues to struggle with his knee. After sitting out a few games, he's back in the lineup, but he hasn't gone yard since August 11.

 

Florida Marlins (59-66)

The big fish are hanging on in the Wild Card race. The big question as the final six weeks of the season play out will be how well their young talent will hold up during this long MLB season. Josh Johnson is definitely one of those young, talented stars, who will be tested as fall approaches. But Johnson has the answer so far and has won his last two decisions. In his most recent start Tuesday night, he helped his club win again tossing a seven-inning, three-run performance. His 2.90 ERA leads the majors, which is no small feat. There's no doubt about Miguel Cabrera's ability to turn it up down the stretch. With a couple three-hit games this week, Cabrera continues to put the pressure on Freddy Sanchez for the NL Batting Title. Cabrera currently sits at .338, just ten points behind Sanchez.

 

Washington Nationals (54-72)

The Cubs have managed to catch the Nationals, though the Nats are now a half game up. Regardless, it means that the Nationals have joined Chicago and the Pirates as clubs pretty much out of the playoff hunt. The Nats have dropped four straight, but they did reactivate second baseman and clubhouse leader Jose Vidro from the Disabled List, which should give the team a morale boost. The Nats' hard luck this season isn't affecting Alfonso Soriano in a negative way. The superstar continues to swing a big stick in D.C. With five home runs in his last 11 games, Soriano is sitting with 41, a career high. He also has a .291 batting average and is flirting with surpassing his career best in 2002 when he finished with a .300 mark.

 

 

Central Division

 

St. Louis Cardinals (66-58)

The Cardinals have searched most of the season for answers to their problems in left field, and it appears as though they have their answer in Chris Duncan. His defensive play has been Manny-like, and well, his offensive play has been too. In the month of August, Duncan is hitting .417 with eight home runs and 12 RBI, and he's showing power to all fields like a seasoned veteran. His three home runs this weekend helped the Cardinals take two of three against those pesky Cubs. But the Cards couldn't find the answer to Carlos Beltran on Tuesday. Albert Pujols smacked two homers, but Jason Isringhausen and the Cards were reminded of the terror inflicted by Beltran in the 2004 playoffs while with the Astros. This time, while with the Mets, Beltran rocked a first-pitch cut fastball from Isringhausen for a walk-off two-run homer. The club also picked up recently released Preston Wilson to boost their bench and are looking for a boost from Mark Mulder who returns Wednesday after a long stint on the DL.

 

Cincinnati Reds (66-60)

Thanks to Beltran and the Mets, the Reds are just 1.0 game behind the Cardinals. Yes, the heat is on. The Reds are riding a four-game win streak, including two huge wins over the Houston Astros. Monday night the Reds rallied to score four in the bottom of the eighth to win 4-3. On Tuesday, the offense helped recently acquired pitcher Kyle Lohse earn his first victory as a Red with a 14-0 shellacking of Jason Hirsh and the Astros. Third baseman Edwin Encarnacion has been a big impact lately. In his last 10 games, he's got three home runs and 10 RBI.

 

Milwaukee Brewers (60-65)

Chris Capuano had looked much better only giving up one run in each of his two starts leading up to Tuesday's game against Colorado. And he looked even better on Tuesday. Capuano tossed 6.0 shutout innings of three-hit ball and earned his eleventh win of the season. Laynce Nix, who was acquired as part of the Carlos Lee trade, got the call-up and went 2-for-4 Tuesday, driving in three runs.

 

Houston Astros (59-67)

The Astros are slip, slip, slipping away. During a time of the year when they are traditionally known for making their move in the standings, the Astros are moving… but in the wrong direction. The club is 2-9 in their last 11 games, and they've scored just 15 times in their last seven games. To add to their woes, starting pitcher Brandon Backe landed back on the DL with a sprained ligament in his elbow. This is the second time this season with the same ailment, and if surgery is deemed necessary after an MRI this week, he'll likely be done for the year.

 

Chicago Cubs (53-72)

Cubs fans around this time of year like to look forward to next season. Juan Pierre's 14-game hitting streak definitely is encouraging that the center fielder is finally getting settled into his role in Chicago. Pierre has his average up to .287, and he is hitting .315 since the All-Star Break. The Cubs did have to place shortstop Cesar Izturis on the 15-day DL with a strained right hamstring. They also added relief pitcher Scott Eyre and rookie starting pitcher Carlos Marmol to the overcrowded DL. But it doesn't stop there. A close play at the plate on Friday knocked Cardinals All-Star shortstop David Eckstein out with an oblique injury, but the play also had after-effects with catcher Michael Barrett. He received a contusion on his biceps muscle during the play and hasn't started since, but he is listed day-to-day.

 

Pittsburgh Pirates (48-78)

Freddy Sanchez and Jason Bay are the present and future answers for the Pirates, at least when it comes to their offense. Those answers came through Tuesday as they hit back-to-back RBI singles to tie the game and give the Pirates the lead en route to a 5-3 victory over the Braves. Mike Gonzalez has also shown he's got the stuff to be a closer in the bigs. Gonzalez has posted 22 saves in his first season as a full-time closer, and his 2.25 ERA is impressive.

 

 

West Division

 

Los Angeles Dodgers (66-60)

Nomar Garciaparra is playing like he did back in Boston, at least when he's healthy, and his .330 batting average is a big reason why the Dodgers are where they are today. Greg Maddux is another reason. In just four starts since joining the Dodgers, Maddux is 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA. More importantly, the team is 4-0 when he has started a game.

 

San Diego Padres (64-62)

The Padres aren't going to go quietly and are seeking their own answers to the questions of what it will take to get to the postseason. They're finding answers, but more and more questions keep popping up. Starting pitcher Chris Young had to leave the game Sunday with a strained back after just one inning pitched. His 9-5 record and 3.77 ERA has been a big factor in the Padres success this season, but he hasn't earned a decision in his past four starts and now he's at risk for missing his next scheduled start. Adding to their pitching questions and concerns, Chan Ho Park landed on the 15-day DL for the second time in a month with intestinal bleeding in what appears to be no small matter. And finally, as if there isn't enough for the club to deal with, Josh Barfield is now dealing with a domestic matter where his 18-year-old brother Jeremy reported got into an altercation with their father and former MLB outfielder Jesse Barfield and pushed him down a flight of stairs. When times like this crop up, teams either bond together and find great success on the field, or they simply fall to pieces. The next week will be crucial for the Padres. Judging the way the last two games have gone against the Dodgers and Jake Peavy's stud performance Tuesday night, it seems like the team is rallying for the good.

 

Arizona Diamondbacks (62-64)

Despite trading away Shawn Green, the D'Backs are still in the middle of the hunt, but they've dropped five of their last six. Craig Counsell recently came off the DL, but Stephen Drew is reportedly going to continue to get the bulk of the playing time at shortstop. Drew is batting .315 in 32 games played this season, and his play has drawn some speculation that Counsell could be traded to a contender looking to add a middle infielder.

 

San Francisco Giants (61-65)

Moises Alou, who turned 40 in July, has had his share of injuries this season and in recent years. A recurring problem has been his calf muscle and it appears as though it's acting up again. Alou had to leave the game early Sunday with tightness in his calf and hasn't been in the lineup since. When you have someone who pitches as well as Jason Schmidt, you can definitely contend, but when you have the likes of Jamey Wright it's much tougher. Wright has won just one start since the month of May, and that was back on July 18, over two months ago.

 

Colorado Rockies (59-66)

Football season must be approaching. The Rockies are quickly fading out of the playoff race, and fans are just a quickly setting their sights on the Broncos season. The Rockies have dropped seven of their last nine games, putting them now seven games under .500. Playing the Mets in New York over the weekend didn't help their cause. One person who has been turning things up a notch lately has been Cory Sullivan, who is batting .327 is August. Brad Hawpe is fading into the sunset, though. Hawpe was batting .310 with 15 home runs and 49 RBI prior to the All-Star Break. Since then he is hitting .259 with two home runs and eight RBI. Ouch!

 

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


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