This Week in the National League - August 30

Unlikely plays, unlikely teams, and unlikely heroes are emerging just about every day as the 2006 National League races head toward the wire.

This season has been jam-packed with unlikely plays, unlikely teams, and unlikely heroes. This week we were reminded of that on a number of occasions. Baseball definitely can't be scripted. A World Championship definitely cannot be purchased. The unlikely can and will happen. Just like the flip of a coin, there are two sides to the unlikely. It's just a matter of being on the good side more than on the bad side. And if you can create your own unlikely magic, well then you've got a leg up on the rest.

 

Here's the latest and greatest from around the league:

 

East Division

 

New York Mets (81-49)

Well, there's just not much "unlikely" about this Mets team. Sure, their pitching staff may be considered overachievers this season, but when you've got a lineup like that, your pitching staff always seems to do a tad bit better than they normally would. OK, so Steve Trachsel going 14-5 at this point would have been considered unlikely regardless of the batting order behind him, but the veteran is getting the job done. And his teammates continue to pound their opponents. Carlos Beltran leads them all with 110 RBI and 39 home runs. Carlos Delgado has 95 RBI and 33 long balls, and David Wright brought his RBI total to 96 Tuesday night. It doesn't stop there. Jose Reyes has a .299 batting average, 16 home runs, 54 stolen bases, and 68 runs driven in (out of the leadoff spot, mind you). Paul Lo Duca has a .315 team-leading batting average, and even newcomer Shawn Green has been getting in on the fun posting five RBI in his first five games. Ridiculous!

 

Philadelphia Phillies (66-65)

The Phils dumped Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle, and now they're in the unlikely situation where they're competing for a playoff spot. Go figure. Though their run has been unlikely, the play of Ryan Howard has not. He tied Mike Schmidt's franchise record of 48 home runs with a blast Tuesday night. It's highly unlikely that Schmidt will hold a share of that record come this weekend. Howard has his batting average up to .296 and his RBI count to 125. If he keeps this up, he'll be a very likely National League MVP candidate.

 

Florida Marlins (65-66)

Everything about this club is "unlikely". Yet it all makes perfect sense. Maybe it's a yin and yang thing. Maybe it's just poetic justice. These young, big fish in South Florida are continuing to have a magical, unlikely season. Most folks were probably thinking they'd have a shot at 120 losses this year. Not so much. The Marlins are on an eight-game winning streak and are scaring the beejeezes out of the National League. Josh Johnson improved to 12-6 this week and lowered his MLB-best ERA to 2.87. And though his teammates are doing just about everything right these days, Dan Uggla has been on fire. The rookie second baseman continues to show great power. He blasted two dingers in his last two games, the most recent of which landed way up in the infamous "Big Mac Land" at Busch Stadium, and he's boosted his RBI count to 79. Young teams with energy, spunk, and great leadership are very dangerous when they're constantly reminded that they shouldn't even be where they're at.

 

Atlanta Braves (62-68)

It was unlikely that the Braves' run as NL East division champs would continue forever, even though it sure did seem like it might. It's going to finally come to an end this season, and though they are still in the playoff hunt, they've got seven teams to leapfrog, which is no easy task with one month remaining in the season. Still, the club refuses to give up and has posted three double-digit scores in a row. They beat Washington twice over the weekend 10-1 and 13-6, and then blasted San Francisco Tuesday 13-8. The source of their power has been a likely one. In those three games, Chipper Jones led the charge with three home runs and seven RBI.

 

Washington Nationals (55-76)

Most felt it was unlikely that Alfonso Soriano would stick around in D.C. But there he is. And he continues to hammer the baseball. Soriano blasted home run number 42 Tuesday. Despite the Nationals disappointing, losing ways, he continues to be an exciting playmaker to keep an eye on.

 

 

Central Division

 

St. Louis Cardinals (69-61)

Just about everything about this Cardinals season has seemed unlikely. After getting swept by the Mets last week and reminded of how far they need to go to compete for the NL pennant, they pulled out the brooms and swept the pesky Cubs. They didn't exactly do it in typical Cardinal fashion, though. It wasn't Albert Pujols, or Scott Rolen. It was backup catcher Gary Bennett, who had the weekend of his career. He went 7-for-10 against the Cubs with two home runs and six RBI. He hit a walk-off RBI single Saturday and then stepped in and crushed a walk-off grand salami Sunday night to sweep the Cubs out of St. Louis. But on a more troublesome note, Jim Edmonds continues to deal with reported post-concussion syndrome and has been a shell of his normal self. The condition has been puzzling and frustrating all the same, and there's no word when he'll be better and back in the lineup.

 

Cincinnati Reds (67-65)

I think I can, I think I can. That seems to be the Reds motto in this unlikely season. They caught the Cards and then laid an egg over the weekend, losing the final three games of a four-game set to the Giants and only scoring a total of two runs. Combine that with the Cards' big weekend, and the Reds were almost instantly 3.0 games behind St. Louis. They definitely need to get Bronson Arroyo back on track. He's won just one game in 13 starts since June 19.

 

Houston Astros (64-68)

Roy Oswalt nailed down a five-year, $73 million extension Tuesday and helped his Astros chalk up another W despite not factoring in the decision. Jason Lane, who is hitting .211 this season, hit an unlikely pinch-hit grand slam in Gary Bennett style in the eighth inning to lead a seven-run charge en route to a 10-3 victory. The bad news from the game, though, was that Willy Taveras' 30-game hit streak was snapped. In a frightful moment, he was drilled in the helmet with a pitch late in the game. But he stayed in the game and struck out in his final bid to extend the streak.

 

Milwaukee Brewers (62-70)

The Brew Crew were swept by the Marlins in a four-game series over the weekend and dropped the opener of a three-game set to the Astros. The past week pretty much squashed the Brewers' postseason hopes, though like most teams in the NL, they are still alive. Despite Bill Hall's unlikely rise in power this season, which has produced 30 home runs, the Brewers just don't have enough firepower with their bats or their arms.

 

Chicago Cubs (54-78)

Some can argue that this season for the Cubs has been quite the "likely" scenario. But not even the best of analysts figured the Cubs starting rotation would be the rookie-filled shell that it is today. Speculation continues that Dusty Baker will likely be out as the Cubs manager after the season ends, but there is definitely the case that some things are out of his control. The Cubs entered the weekend series against the Cardinals with a franchise-record nine players on the disabled list, including the likes of Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, and Derrek Lee. Despite having Lee back in the lineup on Monday, the Cubs dropped the first two games in their series against the Pirates and are continuing on the journey of their woeful ways. Perhaps they need to take a close look into their athletic training and strength and conditioning regimens.

 

Pittsburgh Pirates (52-81)

The Pirates might have been beat up by Houston over the weekend, but they've sought out revenge against the lone team ahead of them in the NL Central Division, the Cubs. Unfortunately, though, they lost their closer Mike Gonzalez to the DL this week with reported left arm fatigue. Gonzalez had a quality season going with a 2.17 ERA and 24 saves, but he is unlikely to see action again this season.

 

 

West Division

 

Los Angeles Dodgers (69-62)

Brad Penny earned his fourteenth win this week and continues to keep his name in the race for the Cy Young Award while keeping his team atop the NL West. But if you want to really look at a good source for the Dodgers resurgence this second half, look no further than the top of the order. Before the All-Star Break, Rafael Furcal was hitting .267. Since then he's batting .313. Setting the table goes a long way when you're hunting for dinner.

 

San Diego Padres (67-65)

The Padres officially have more wins than their top RBI-man has RBI. I'm not sure what that means, but that can't be a likely scenario; at least not when your team only has 67 wins. Brian Giles, in comparison, leads the squad with 65 RBI. The Padres have only scored 580 times this season, and are fourth worst in the majors. The fact that they're still carrying a winning record is impressive.

 

San Francisco Giants (65-67)

The Giants are in the playoff hunt after a great run the past two weeks. And Barry Bonds is starting to feel it too. Bonds rocked two home runs in the club's loss to the Braves Tuesday. But it hasn't been Bonds to carry the Giants this season. Veteran Omar Vizquel is having as good a year as anyone at the age of 39. He's batting .310 with 47 RBI, 72 runs scored, and 23 stolen bases. When you've got veteran leadership like that in the clubhouse, good things happen.

 

Arizona Diamondbacks (64-68)

Brandon Webb reportedly lost a good friend and former college teammate in that Kentucky plane crash this week. Perhaps with a little inspiration, he went out and tossed 7.1 innings of six-hit, three-run ball en route to earning his fourteenth win of the season. Arizona remains in the hunt for the postseason, but they need to get more production out of players whose last name isn't Webb.

 

Colorado Rockies (61-70)

The Rockies had an impressive run this season, but it's just about done. They're 8.0 games behind the Dodgers in the division and 5.5 games off the Wild Card pace, with a slew of teams ahead of them. But that's not stopping Matt Holliday, who continues to have a banner year. He's batting .330 with 24 home runs and 76 RBI. If he keeps it up, there's an outside shot he might contend for the NL batting title.

 

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


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