This Week in the National League - Sept. 13

As September rolls on, the 2006 National League races head toward the wire with tales of thrills and heartbreak. Pete Khazen catches us up on the week's action all around the Senior Circuit.

It's that time of year. Each game can be a thriller or a heartbreaker as teams continue to vie for the postseason. For clubs completely out of the playoff hunt, it's a matter of pride and possibly a chance to be spoilers. For individuals, especially youngsters and fading veterans, there are potential jobs on the line. And for fans and players across the league in the hunt, it's a time where the art of scoreboard watching becomes addictive. And so, here's the latest and greatest from around the league as teams find their way through these waning weeks of the regular season:



East Division


New York Mets (89-55)

The Mets magic number is three. It's almost time to celebrate, and this team is just not letting up. Carlos Beltran smacked his 40th homer. Billy Wagner racked up three saves to improve his total to 37. And the speedster Jose Reyes knocked his first inside the park home run. They're going to be a force come October, no doubt.


Philadelphia Phillies (72-71)

The Phils are very much in the hunt, though they had their game postponed against the Braves on Tuesday and will now play a twinbill on Wednesday. Jamie Moyer continues to pitch like fine wine tossing 8.0 innings of five-hit, one-run baseball in earning his second win wearing a Phillies uniform on Friday. And Ryan Howard, well, he continues to destroy opposing pitching. He had four multi-hit games and crushed three more home runs this past week. He's now batting .316 with 56 home runs and 138 RBI. Can you say MVP?


Florida Marlins (73-72)

Just after last week's article ran, rookie Anibal Sanchez made history tossing a no-hitter. Though he didn't follow that up with a second no-no, he did earn win number eight against the Mets on Monday as the Marlins hammered New York 15-6. Cody Ross hit three long balls and drove in seven while Dan Uggla went 5-for-5 with a homer of his own. The victory followed a four-game split with the Phillies, which ended Sunday with Dontrelle Willis tossing a nifty complete game shutout like the high-kicking Dontrelle we came to know and love the past few years. But the big fish from South Florida blew a 4-0 lead late against the high-powered Mets on Tuesday to lose 6-4 and remain chasers in the Wild Card race.


Atlanta Braves (69-74)

Sitting 5.0 games back with 19 games to go, it's going to take a miracle for the Braves to make the postseason. It was an impressive run, but it's finally coming to a close. The Braves have been streaky all season, but John Smoltz's performance lately has hurt. He's lost his last three starts, including a brief 2.0-inning showing against the Chicago on Sunday where the Braves failed to complete the four-game sweep of the lowly Cubs. Couple that with Andruw Jones' one home run and one RBI in September and you get a recipe not worthy of postseason play.


Washington Nationals (63-82)

The Nationals continue to play with pride and gut out some solid victories. Alfonso Soriano set a franchise record by hitting his 45th home run this week, and Jose Vidro demonstrated just how healthy he is feeling. In the past week, the veteran second baseman has posted 10 RBI and four multi-hit games.



Central Division


St. Louis Cardinals (77-67)

Albert Pujols reminded everyone that Ryan Howard isn't the only MVP-worthy player this season. Pujols ripped a two-out, two-run, walk-off double into the left field corner Tuesday night to beat Houston 6-5. Who was the victim? Brad Lidge once again. Pujols stuck a dagger in Lidge and the Houston faithful's playoff hopes once again. He's a clear candidate for the National League MVP and with a .996 fielding percentage might bring home a Gold Glove this season. Teammate Chris Carpenter is a likely repeat Cy Young Award candidate as well. Carp has been lights out down the stretch. In his last six starts, he's 4-0 and has pitched three complete games. But the Cards have a big question in the closer role now that Jason Isringhausen is reportedly suffering from hip pain. That's not to say they didn't have questions while he wasn't nursing a sore hip.


Cincinnati Reds (72-72)

The yo-yo Reds were trying to fade away, but they've come screaming back with three wins in their last four games. The most notable victory came Tuesday night in a huge win over NL Wild Card leading San Diego as the two clubs opened a three-game set. Jason LaRue, who has struggled big time this season, hit an eleventh-inning, walk-off home run to keep the Reds in the thick of things. Bronson Arroyo is heating up in September when his club needs him most. Arroyo won his third straight start on Sunday tossing 8.0 innings of two-run baseball.


Houston Astros (70-74)

Brad Lidge just can't exorcise those Cardinal demons. Craig Biggio is in an 0-for-20 slump and has been given a couple days off. And Andy Pettitte had to leave Tuesday game against the Cardinals early with a reported flexor muscle strain. These aren't the signs of a team that's looking dangerous and ready to make their move. Time has just about run out unless Phil Garner has some miracle up his sleeve.


Milwaukee Brewers (65-79)

The Brewers have pretty much fallen to pieces and have very little hope with finishing near the .500 mark, where they ended last season. It's a disappointment for sure. Earlier in the season I was tracking Milwaukee strikeouts. As of Tuesday morning, the three big Brewers all ranked in the top 30 in all of MLB. Bill Hall was number four with 145. Geoff Jenkins was 17th with 122, and rookie Prince Fielder was 29th with 113.


Pittsburgh Pirates (59-86)

Freddy Sanchez dropped to second in the race for the NL batting title as Miguel Cabrera moved a point higher with a .340 average, but Sanchez is sure to be in the thick of the hunt through the final days of the season. Teammate and fellow All-Star Jason Bay is sitting with 32 home runs and 101 RBI, identical numbers with what he finished the 2005 campaign.


Chicago Cubs (58-87)

The Cubs are just three games ahead of the Royals for the worst record in baseball, and the possibility of a 100-loss season still exists. They've got 17 games to go. Dusty Baker's club needs to go 5-12 or better to finish the season and avoid that disaster. As if it might have some impact on Baker's fate in Chicago. Regardless, the Cubs opened a series with the Dodgers Tuesday and managed an eleventh-inning victory as they attempt to play spoilers. Cesar Izturis singled home the winning run against his former team. After the Dodgers leave town, the Reds visit Wrigley Field. Motivated by fear of a 100-loss season and a desire to play the spoiler role, the Cubs might not be a welcome opponent down the stretch. Then again, they are the Cubs.



West Division


Los Angeles Dodgers (76-68)

Like a rabbit in a race, the Dodgers sprint out of the gates and are now laboring hoping the dogs trailing them don't catch up before the final gun sounds. The Dodgers have dropped six of their last nine with the most recent the aforementioned loss to the Cubs. Brad Penny got roughed up by the Mets in his last start giving up 10 hits and seven runs, and Greg Maddux has lost his last two starts.


San Diego Padres (74-69)

Jake Peavy lost his league-high 14th game this week and continues to have more of a Dr. Jeckyll season than that of a Mr. Hyde. Shortstop Khalil Greene also continues to have his own struggles, but with that of a ligament strain in his finger that still has him unable to swing a bat. His condition should keep him out of the lineup until Friday at the earliest.


San Francisco Giants (73-71)

The Giants continue to hang tough. They took two of three from San Diego this weekend and have won four of their last five. With six of their next nine games against Colorado, the Rockies could become their spoiler. Matt Cain continues to step up his game. The young pitcher improved his record to 12-9 with a one-hit, shutout performance over seven innings against the Padres on Friday. Cain hasn't given up an earned run since his start on August 22 and is showing the qualities the Giants expected out of their future staff ace.


Arizona Diamondbacks (68-77)

Arizona might be out of the playoff picture, but Brandon Webb isn't finished just yet. The D'Backs ace has his eyes set on a potential Cy Young award, and he earned his league-leading 15th win this weekend by throwing a complete-game, one-hit shutout against the Cardinals. Luis Gonzalez made some history this week. The veteran smacked his 50th double of the season to become the oldest player to reach that milestone at the young age of 39 years, 9 days.


Colorado Rockies (67-77)

With a .334 batting average, Matt Holliday has a shot at catching Miguel Cabrera and Freddy Sanchez in the batting title race. He's six points off the pace after having back-to-back three-hit games and then getting skunked 0-for-3 on Tuesday. Teammate Todd Helton is having the worst season of his storied career. He's batting .297, but he has a chance at saving some face and getting over .300. In his ninth season, Helton hasn't hit less than .315, which just happens to be his first full year at the big league level.


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