This Week in the National League – April 18

Pete Khazen's 2007 regular season weekly jaunt around Major League Baseball's senior circuit.

With the league remembering the 60th anniversary of the debut of Jackie Robinson, a large number of baseball players sported the Hall of Famer's number 42 this past Sunday afternoon. Some teams had multiple players wear the number of the first African-American to break into Major League Baseball. It was an emotional and inspiring weekend for baseball and the country followed up by a tragic and horrific Monday, not only on the campus of Virginia Tech, but for the entire nation. As was the case with the events of 9/11, many people attempted to take comfort and seek normalcy in the great sport of baseball. And so during this somber and emotional week, here's the latest and greatest from around the league:

East Division

Atlanta Braves (9-4) - The Braves starting pitching staff is looking strong once again this season. The trio of Tim Hudson, Chuck James, and John Smoltz has rattled off six wins already, two each. Hudson leads the crew with a 0.86 ERA in three starts, and he earned NL Player of the Week honors. The offense is tops in the NL in home runs, belting 18 in their first 14 games with Chipper Jones leading the charge with four.

New York Mets (8-4) - Unlike the Braves, the Mets have just six home runs to start the season, and Jose Reyes, their leadoff man, is leading the team with 11 RBIs. But the Mets pitching continues to shine. In a matchup that featured 85 years of life walking the earth, the 41-year old Tom Glavine outshined the 45-year old Jamie Moyer Thursday night, pitching 6.0 strong innings of four-hit, three-run ball.

Florida Marlins (6-7) - Sergio Mitre left the Marlins game after only one inning in Houston Tuesday night, but the injury was related to a torn callus. While hand injuries like calluses and blisters can be frustrating for pitchers, this doesn't seem to be a serious problem. Young star shortstop Hanley Ramirez appears to be gearing up for a monster breakout year. Ramirez is batting .371 with 12 runs scored and four stolen bases to his name.

Washington Nationals (4-10) - The Nationals have responded to all the negative press by winning three of their last five games. Despite losing Tuesday evening to the Braves, the club donned Virginia Tech baseball caps as a way to honor the victims of Monday's tragic massacre in nearby Blacksburg, Virginia. Centerfielder Ryan Church has been swinging a hot bat and is batting .341 with three home runs this season. Starting pitcher Shawn Hill might only be 1-2, but he's got a healthy 2.89 ERA through three starts and is a player worth watching.

Philadelphia Phillies (3-9) - After crazy weather in the Northeast delayed Freddy Garcia's debut with the Phils, the Mets offense rocked him. He didn't make it out of the fifth and was responsible for three runs and eight hits Tuesday night. And so the woes continue for the Phillies, who now find themselves in the cellar of the East looking up at the Nationals. Jimmy Rollins might have six home runs already, but if the club is going to get back on track, they need Ryan Howard to improve on that .237 average and single home run he's sitting on.

Central Division

Cincinnati Reds (8-6) - Josh Hamilton is proving to be the real deal. In eight games and 18 at-bats, the Reds rookie has cracked three home runs and is batting .278. Adam Dunn is striking out at his normal pace and has 13 punchouts to his name, but he only has five walks so far this year. Despite his walks being a bit down, Dunn's average is through the roof this season at .354, and he's got an unheard-of count of four in the steals department. Starting pitcher Matt Belisle has also been a pleasant surprise, going 2-0 through two starts and posting a 1.50 ERA.

Milwaukee Brewers (7-6) - Big off-season acquisition Jeff Suppan returned for his first start against his old teammates at Busch Stadium on Saturday and mowed them down. In 6.1 innings of work, Suppan held the Cards to just two runs while striking out five in earning his first win of the season. Fellow starting pitcher Ben Sheets looked magical on Opening Day, but has been dreadful since then. After throwing that complete game, two-hitter in his first start, Sheets has been rocked by Chicago and St. Louis for 12 runs and back-to-back losses.

Houston Astros (6-6) - Lance Berkman still hasn't figured out where his sweet swing went and is still batting just .206. After a shaky start, Dan Wheeler is two-for-two in save opportunities replacing the bewildered Brad Lidge. But Wheeler definitely isn't a proven closer just yet. In another blow to the team, the Astros lost off-season acquisition Jason Jennings to the DL. Jennings was 0-1 with a 3.00 ERA and missed his scheduled start Saturday due to tendinitis in his right elbow. He'll miss his next two starts as well.

Pittsburgh Pirates (6-6) - The Pittsburgh starting rotation could be one of the big surprises of 2007. With some quality young arms, this staff has the potential to put together a year similar to that of the 2006 Marlins. Tom Gorzelanny is the most recent headline-grabber. He tossed 8.1 innings against the Cardinals Tuesday, holding the defending champs to just one run en route to an impressive 2-0 start to the season. Ian Snell also benefited from a solid outing against the Cardinals on Monday night. Snell worked 7.0 innings, giving up just one run as he earned his first win of the season. He lowered his ERA to 1.80 and has struck out 20 batters in 20.0 innings this season.

St. Louis Cardinals (6-7) - Albert Pujols appeared to break out of his funk on Sunday, belting two home runs and driving in five, but the Pirates pitching has lulled the giant back to sleep. Pujols is 0-for-7 since Sunday and is batting a very uncharacteristic .160 this season. His fearsome number four and number five hitters behind him, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds, have fallen on similar hard times. Rolen is batting just .214 and Edmonds a mere .210. Thus far the Cards have just three players that have been able to produce the longball: Pujols (three), Chris Duncan (three), and Rolen (one).

Chicago Cubs (5-8) - We all got a taste of a real Lou Piniella blowup last Friday. People are already comparing it to the Jim Leyland tirade from early last season. But will it produce similar results in the Cubs as it did for the Tigers? After taking a 5-0 lead into the fifth inning of Friday's game, Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano fell apart, leaving the game with the bases loaded and a 5-4 score. Reliever Will Ohman came on to walk in the tying and eventual winning run as the Cubs lost 6-5, much to the disdain of the fans and the fury of Piniella. To add to their problems, Alfonso Soriano strained his hamstring in Monday's game and is expected to be out around a week. The injury opens the door for rookie Felix Pie, who doubled in his first run Tuesday and had a nice assist on a play at the plate.

West Division

Los Angeles Dodgers (10-4) - The Dodgers have won six of their last seven games, and 10 of 12 since starting the season 0-2. What's even more impressive is that in the two losses they've had in the past 12 games, both came with Jason Schmidt on the hill. Young third baseman Wilson Betemit hasn't gotten out of his spring funk and is still batting just .071 in 12 games, but Luis Gonzalez sure looks reborn. The veteran outfielder is batting .300 with a team-high three home runs.

Arizona Diamondbacks (9-6) - Randy Johnson is expected to make one more minor league rehab start, and if all goes well, we'll see him return to the D'Backs' rotation on Tuesday against the Padres. Promising shortstop Stephen Drew is having a rough start to the season. After batting .316 through 59 games in 2006, Drew is hitting just .213 this year.

San Diego Padres (8-6) - Jake Peavy is out to erase that dismal 2006 season, and he's off to a darn good start. His strikeout count is down at only 12 through three games, but he's 2-0 with a dominating 0.90 ERA. And as noted last week, it didn't take long for Khalil Greene to come back down to earth. After a rough week, Greene is hitting a more appropriate .226 on the year.

Colorado Rockies (6-8) - Kazuo Matsui was off to a fast start with a .361 batting average in Colorado, but the Rockies second baseman fell to the 15-day DL on Sunday due to back spasms. And while there was some question about how Todd Helton's inability to land elsewhere this off-season would affect his play, it appears it's only been positive. Helton is batting .347 this season, and though his power numbers are not quite where you'd expect them, he's definitely swinging the bat well.

San Francisco Giants (4-8) - Matt Cain pitched 7.0 shutout innings against the Rockies Tuesday night lowering his ERA to 1.80, but he was forced to look on as his bullpen blew a 3-0 lead. On Friday, we got to see that familiar swing of Barry Bonds, as the history-chaser roped two home runs for his first multi-homer game of the season.

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


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