This Week in the National League – May 2

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

The St. Louis Cardinals and Major League Baseball lost one of its brothers Sunday morning. Redbird relief pitcher Josh Hancock passed away as a result of an automobile accident. The incident prompted postponing the finale of a three-game series with the rival Chicago Cubs.

The defending World Series Champions, and all of baseball for that matter, were forced onto the roller coaster of perspective. For the Cards still riding the high of that improbable championship last Fall, and the rest of the baseball world enjoying the action of this Spring, we were all forced to remember that baseball is game, and life, as we know it, really is quite fragile. As we no doubt remember Josh Hancock and recount stories of other athletes who have suddenly passed, we also know that life eventually moves on.

And so, here's the latest and greatest from around the league the past week:

East Division

Atlanta Braves (16-10) - Bob Wickman landed on the disabled list with a sore back, which means the door has been opened for Mike Gonzalez. The Braves' offseason acquisition earned 24 saves with the Pirates last season and is already paying dividends for Atlanta after winning his first game out of the bullpen Monday night. Second baseman Kelly Johnson is thriving in the leadoff spot. Courtesy of a seven-game hitting streak, Johnson has his average up to .326 and has already crossed the plate 25 times this season.

New York Mets (15-10) - The Mets were forced to add two tough names to the disabled list this week. Jose Valentin partially tore his right anterior cruciate ligament and will miss two to four weeks. And after being scratched from his start on Monday, Orlando Hernandez also landed on the DL with bursitis in his shoulder. On the plus side, though, Moises Alou had an MRI on his shoulder after injuring it Saturday and then crashing into the wall making a play on Monday. The MRI revealed no structural damage. He had his problematic knee checked too, which also came out clean. Alou has his sweet swing working again this season, boasting a .349 batting average.

Florida Marlins (13-13) -Starting pitcher Ricky Nolasco was activated from the disabled list Tuesday and held the Mets to one run over five innings for win number one on the season. He got all the offensive help he needed from Josh Willingham, who drove in all the Marlin runs with a career-high five RBI. Dontrelle Willis earned his fifth win of the season this week, improving to 5-1, but his ERA continues to climb, now up to 5.35.

Philadelphia Phillies (12-14) - The Phillies have basically been injury-free, which doesn't help explain their early season struggles. Jamie Moyer has not been contributing to those struggles. We might as well start calling him the Energizer Bunny. At age 44, Moyer is 3-1 with a 2.65 ERA and hasn't given up more than three earned runs in a start this season. Last season's NL MVP has been virtually nonexistent this season. Ryan Howard has just three home runs and 13 RBI. More noticeably, Moyer's .231 batting average is ten points above Howard's .221.

Washington Nationals (9-18) - The Nationals have been plagued with early season injuries and just lost 0-4 starting pitcher Jerome Williams to the DL with a sprained ankle. But Shawn Hill continues to impress. He's 2-3 with a 3.00 ERA and had given up exactly two earned runs in each start this season prior to his three-run loss Tuesday night. Ryan Zimmerman, who had a solid campaign last season with a .287 average and 110 RBI can't find the rhythm yet this year. The Nats third baseman is batting just .236 with eight RBI.

Central Division

Milwaukee Brewers (17-9) - The first month of the season is in the books, another week has gone by, and the Brewers remain in first place. Everyone keeps saying this Central Division is completely up for grabs, but right now the Brew Crew is looking like the cream of the crop of the Division, if not the National League. But it is a long season - a marathon, some might say, not a sprint. Jeff Suppan appears to be settling in nicely with his new team. The day after hearing about the tragic death of his former teammate Josh Hancock, Suppan had to face his former club, and he tossed a gem against the grieving Cards. It was his first complete game as a Brewer, his fourth consecutive win, and the second time he's beaten the Redbirds this year.

Cincinnati Reds (13-13) - Alex Gonzalez has just been on fire. With six multi-hit games in the past seven, the Reds shortstop has lifted his batting average from .241 to .333 and scored 11 runs. Despite giving up five runs on ten hits Sunday, Aaron Harang worked 8.0 innings against the Pirates and earned his fourth win of the season, improving to 4-0. He was joined by Bronson Arroyo, who finally earned his first win of the season Tuesday night, giving up just one earned run in 7.0 innings of work and improving his ERA to 2.59.

Pittsburgh Pirates (12-12) - Through five starts, Ian Snell has been as good as any pitcher in baseball. He's just 2-1, but he's carrying a 1.59 ERA, has struck out 28 while only walking 11, and is holding opposing hitters to a meager .197 batting average. Tom Gorzelanny, who had a similar start through his first four games this year, finally took one on the chin Saturday. Gorzelanny suffered his first loss of the year at the hands of the Reds offense, which scored five runs on eight hits.

Chicago Cubs (10-14) - The Cubs bats are starting to show signs of life. Alfonso Soriano didn't hit a single home run in April, but launched his first as a Cub on Tuesday night at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Derrek Lee might only have one dinger himself, but he's batting a league-high .392 with 14 doubles. One surprise, though, for the Cubs this season has been the play of two youngsters vying for playing time, Ryan Theriot and Felix Pie. Manager Lou Piniella keeps trying to find ways to get them in the lineup. Theriot has gotten some time at short and in the number two spot in the order with his .299 batting average, and Pie has received some time in center field, which has allowed Soriano to play left, where he appears more comfortable. The only problem is that budding star Matt Murton and dependable glove Cesar Izturis could be the odd men out.

St. Louis Cardinals (10-15) - It was a devastating week for the Cardinals. The Cubs came to town and took two games before Sunday night's contest was postponed due to Hancock's passing. It was an ominous reminder of Darryl Kile's passing in 2002 when the Cards were visiting the Cubs at Wrigley Field. The beat of the MLB season drum goes on, but for a team already struggling to defend their World Series title, the Cards will definitely have a tough time moving on until after they visit Mississippi for their teammate's memorial service on Thursday.

Houston Astros (10-15) - Carlos Lee is batting just .242 and hasn't hit a home run since April 17. Similarly Lance Berkman has a .256 batting average and just one home run in his past 20 games. Last season, those two sluggers combined for 82 home runs. The starting pitching staff is 8-12 combined to begin the season. Add all that up and you can see why the Astros are in the NL Central cellar.

West Division

Los Angeles Dodgers (16-11) - Randy Wolf posted a 5.56 ERA last season in Philadelphia. After his first four starts this year with the Dodgers, Wolf was 3-1 with a 3.38 ERA, but that came crashing down this week. Wolf got shelled in two outings, losing both games and seeing his ERA soar to 5.05. Leadoff man Rafael Furcal just hasn't been setting the table, and that has led to a good deal of the Dodgers' offensive struggles. Furcal is batting just .203 through his first 17 games and has crossed home plate only 11 times. Juan Pierre has been trying to pick up the slack. The new Dodger has scored 21 times and already has 12 stolen bases to his name.

Arizona Diamondbacks (16-12) - The D'Backs are red hot. Randy Johnson didn't earn a win in his second start, but he looked a lot better. The veteran starter pitched 6.0 solid innings of two-run baseball against the Giants and put his team in position to get the win. Orlando Hudson continues to carry the big stick on the team and already has 21 RBI.

San Francisco Giants (13-12) - Barry Bonds is back. He's healthy, and he's knocking the cover off the ball. Bonds is zeroing in on Hank Aaron's career home run record. With a league-best .818 slugging percentage and eight home runs, Bonds is just 13 long balls away from tying the mark of 755. Starting pitcher Matt Cain has been putting up Roger Clemens-like numbers this season. Through five starts, he is 1-1 despite a 1.54 ERA and opponent batting average of .109.

San Diego Padres (14-13) - Marcus Giles definitely appears to be enjoying his brother's company with his new club in San Diego. Giles is having a comeback year batting .327 and has already scored 16 runs while driving in 14. Starting pitcher Chris Young had his best outing of the season thus far, combining with Trevor Hoffman for a three-hit shutout Tuesday night.

Colorado Rockies (11-16) - It was a matter of time. Perhaps the weather just needed to warm up. But those Rockies bats are starting to really knock that baseball around. Brad Hawpe finally connected on his first home run of the year on Sunday. Todd Helton and Matt Holliday might be dueling banjos for the club's batting title this season. Helton is batting .285; and Holliday .395.

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