This Week in the National League - Sept. 6

As September rolls in, the 2006 National League races head toward the wire. Pete Khazen catches us up on the action all around the circuit.

The stretch run is upon us as we flip our calendars to the month of September. The Mets are gearing up for October, and the Cardinals have dug in their heels reminding everyone that they're not going to just give away the division. Without further delay, here's the latest and greatest from the league as the rest of the teams battle it out for the West Division title and the Wild Card:


East Division


New York Mets (84-52)

Courtesy of the best record in baseball, the Mets magic number is 11 heading into Wednesday's action. They're definitely the favorite to represent the National League in the World Series. And they got some good news this week. Carlos Beltran injured his knee crashing into the fence Saturday night after making a great catch in Houston, but an MRI showed that his knee is just bruised. He's expected back in the lineup anytime now. In other good news, staff ace Pedro Martinez reportedly tossed 65 pitches in a bullpen session as he continues on the road back from a strained calf muscle.


Philadelphia Phillies (70-68)

Ryan Howard is making a huge name for himself, and he's keeping his Phillies in the playoff hunt by doing so. Howard has been putting up monster numbers, and is definitely a contender for the National League MVP award regardless if his team makes the playoffs. Howard has rocked eight home runs in his last 10 games and currently sits with 53. He's definitely got a shot for 62, which would be a feat in this new era of drug testing. Oh, his 134 RBI total isn't too shabby either.


Florida Marlins (69-69)

Joe Girardi and his 2006 Marlins team are arguably the story of the 2006 season… so far. At one point in the season the Marlins were 11-31. And now they stand as the first team in history to hit a low point of 20 games under .500 and rise back above .500. They lost Tuesday to fall back to .500, but what this team with a $15-million payroll has done is nothing short of remarkable. Starting pitcher Scott Olsen (11-7) is just one of the big reasons this club has performed so well. The rookie pitcher is 3-0 in his last three starts and has given up just three earned runs in those games. The resurgent Joe Borowski is another big reason. The club's closer has racked up an unexpected 33 saves reminding everyone of his success in 2003 with the Cubs. And despite blowing two save opportunities in his last two appearances, Borowski managed to gut it out and earn wins in both games.


Atlanta Braves (66-71)

The Braves are staying alive in the playoff hunt despite inclement weather giving them fits and forcing twinbills. Starting pitcher Chuck James is 4-0 in his last five starts, including an 8.0-inning gem against the Mets on Labor Day when he held the league leaders to just one hit and no runs. Chipper Jones continues to prove his worth as a clutch player. He's got five home runs and 12 RBI in his last 10 games.


Washington Nationals (60-78)

Ramon Ortiz hit a home run and carried a no-hitter into the ninth inning Monday against the Cardinals. Pesky shortstop Aaron Miles broke up the no-no to start the ninth inning, and Albert Pujols chased Ortiz from the game with a two-out solo home run in the ninth inning. Nonetheless, Ortiz dominated as he earned his first win since August 9. It capped a big weekend in Washington as the Nats won five straight, including four games with late-inning rallies. Austin Kearns was one of the big hitters over the weekend going yard twice and driving in seven runs.



Central Division


St. Louis Cardinals (74-63)

The Cardinals appear to be right back on track. Chris Carpenter is 3-0 in his last four starts. He's given up just four earned runs in that period, dropping his ERA to a league-best 2.87. And he's thrown at least 8.0 innings in all four games, including two complete games. Albert Pujols has also done his part to get the Cards going. Pujols has five home runs in his last three games and is heating up as the temperature in St. Louis begins to drop. But two players can't do it all. Jeff Suppan is apparently in complete agreement. The veteran-starting pitcher has picked up his game the past two weeks. He's 2-0 in his past three starts, pitching at least 7.0-innings in each game, and most notably, he's only given up one run.


Cincinnati Reds (69-70)

It appeared as though someone finally tossed a chicken bone at the Reds. They were in a tailspin, choking their way right out of the playoff race. But Bronson Arroyo decided to wake up and perform the Heimlich Maneuver Tuesday. The Reds starter pitched a complete-game, three-hit shutout against the Giants to earn his second win in as many starts. Still the Reds are just 2-8 in their last 10 games and need to get more production out of their pitching staff. Aaron Harang is just 1-3 in his last six starts, and the Reds have lost all five games where Harang didn't earn the W.


Houston Astros (67-71)

The Astros have dropped three of their past four games, but their still a team to watch in the playoff race. In 15 games this season Roger Clemens is just 6-4, but he's got a 2.27 ERA. It's really remarkable how dominating he still is on the mound, and he's showing no signs of slowing up. He's given up one run or less in each of his last four starts and in seven of his last ten. But as always, getting offense has been the tricky part for the Astros. Sure, Lance Berkman has 112 RBI on the season, but the second-best on the team in that category is Preston Wilson and his 55 RBI. Oh wait, he's no longer with the Astros.


Milwaukee Brewers (64-75)

The Brewers have fallen out of the Wild Card race for the most part, but they're not about to lie down and die. And they reminded the Dodgers of that by taking the first two of a three game series. The most recent win came via the strong arm of Doug Davis who tossed a complete game, four-hit shutout Tuesday. Outfielder Corey Hart had a career day Tuesday, rocking two home runs and driving in six of the Brewers nine runs.


Pittsburgh Pirates (56-83)

The Pirates managed to climb out of the cellar by spanking the Cubs, and Freddy Sanchez remains the league's leader with a .347 batting average. Teammate and fellow All-Star Jason Bay hit two home runs Tuesday to bring his season total to 31 and also lift his RBI count to 98.


Chicago Cubs (55-82)

One of the last things the Cubs fans had to cheer for was the possibility of staff ace Carlos Zambrano winning the Cy Young Award. The pitcher left Monday's game against the Pirates with stiffness in his back. An MRI conducted on Tuesday showed no significant damage, but there's no definitive word whether the back spasms the big hurler is experiencing will keep him from tossing another game this season. With a 1-9 streak in their last 10 games, including dropping five of five to the Pirates, the Cubs now own the worst record in the National League. They're a definite candidate to reach the dreaded 100-loss mark. Ryan Dempster's performance as of late hasn't helped. The Cubs closer is now 1-8 after earning the loss in three of his last four appearances, the most recent happening Tuesday night when the Pirates scored the winning run on one of his wild pitches.



West Division


Los Angeles Dodgers (73-65)

The Dodgers continue to streak, both good and bad. After winning seven straight they dropped three straight. First baseman Nomar Garciaparra has been slumping. Don't be fooled by his six-RBI outburst on Saturday. His batting average has dropped 20 points (from .330 to 310) in the past two weeks, and if you throw out that six-RBI anomaly, he's got just three RBI in the past ten games. Fellow Cubs transplant Greg Maddux suffered his first loss in a Dodger uniform Monday as he gave up six runs and ten hits in 5.1 innings of work. It was the second time in three starts that Maddux gave up double-digit hits.


San Diego Padres (71-66)

Rookie second baseman Josh Barfield is finding out how much fun it is to come up big in the playoff race. The youngster has two home runs and six RBI in his last four games, which includes a three-run, game-winning homer against the Rockies on Monday. And to help the Padres in their quest for the playoffs, the club picked up veteran pitcher David Wells from Boston. Wells tossed 6.0 solid innings in a no-decision on Sunday where he gave up just one run on five hits.


San Francisco Giants (69-70)

Remember that Barry Bonds guy? Well, he had a nine-game hit streak before he ran into Bronson Arroyo Tuesday. More notably, he's found his power stroke again. Bonds has launched five home runs in his last seven games in his effort to help his Giants reach the postseason once again. Starting pitcher Matt Cain is also starting to find his groove. He's 3-0 in his last four starts and has given up just one run in those four games while striking out 31.


Arizona Diamondbacks (65-73)

With 198.0 innings pitched, Brandon Webb is a virtual lock to toss over 200 innings for the third straight year. His 14-6 record leads the team. Miguel Batista isn't far behind him though with a 10-5 mark. Interestingly enough, Batista may be just 2-0 in his last 10 starts, but he's avoided losses and has lowered his ERA from 4.94 to 4.34 during that time.


Colorado Rockies (63-74)

For Colorado being a big hitters' park, it's definitely noticeable that we're in the middle of September and not a single Rockies hitter has over 100 RBI. Garrett Atkins is likely the only person that will reach that milestone this year as he currently sits with 95. Matt Holliday, who has 85 RBI, definitely has an outside shot, but he'll need a strong finish to the year. Jason Jennings leads the pitching staff with a 3.61 ERA, which is quite respectable, but his 7-12 record is a clear indication that he just hasn't gotten the run support he has deserved this season.


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