This Week in the National League – May 9

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

It's no secret why teams spend so much money trying to lock in a dominating closer - one of those guys who just doesn't crack under pressure and gets the job done. Having one or two quality setup men in the bullpen is huge to support that closer too. Teams competing for the playoffs are often separated by just a few games, so those few dozen one and two-run games mean all the difference in the world. The teams that win them advance to the postseason, and those that don't watch October baseball on the television. It's really that simple. We're already getting a taste of the teams that have the bullpens and the benches to win those close games, and this week definitely showcased some of that clutch talent.

East Division

Atlanta Braves (20-12) - Andruw Jones finally broke out of an 0-for-21 funk on Tuesday with a two-hit, two-RBI day at the ballpark. His struggles haven't kept the Braves from playing solid baseball and spreading around the glory. Shortstop Edgar Renteria leads the team with a .338 batting average. Chipper Jones is tops in the long ball with 10. And Jeff Francoeur is the current RBI king in Atlanta with 27. It should also be noted that we'll get to enjoy a marquee matchup Wednesday between old teammates as John Smoltz takes the hill against the Professor Greg Maddux.

New York Mets (20-12) - Approaching age 35 this Fall, Shawn Green is having a great season, batting .356 with 19 RBI and 21 runs scored. He's definitely finding his groove in New York, as is John Maine, who has quickly established himself as one of the best pitchers in the NL this early season. Through six starts, Maine has a 5-0 record and dominant 1.37 ERA.

Florida Marlins (15-17) - Josh Willingham has been the surprising lead-RBI man this season for the Marlins with 26. Super slugger Miguel Cabrera isn't far behind with 21, and his .349 batting average continues to lead the club. Dontrelle Willis had just one start this past week, and his struggles continued. He didn't figure in the decision, but he did give up four runs in 6.0 innings of work, boosting his ERA to 5.44.

Philadelphia Phillies (14-19) - Closer Tom Gordon was placed on the 15-day disabled list with inflammation in his right shoulder effective May 2. In his absence, Brett Myers has taken over as the team stopper and he's two-for-two in his new role. Ryan Howard did hit two home runs this past week, but his average continues to slide and he's under .200 with a very un-MVP-like .198 at the plate.

Washington Nationals (9-24) - The Nationals have yet to hit double digits in the win column and already are a crisp 11.5 games off the pace of the Braves in the division. They are dead last in the NL with a .228 team batting average and have hit an MLB-worst 13 home runs.

Central Division

Milwaukee Brewers (23-10) - Close games can make or break a season, and they're making the Brewers season so far. Sitting 13 games above .500 speaks for itself. The club is 5-2 in one-run games and the bullpen combination of reborn setup man Derrick Turnbow and closer Francisco Cordero have been lights out. Turnbow has a save and a 2.01 ERA in 13.1 innings pitched, while Cordero is perfect in 13 save opportunities. He hasn't given up a run in 16 appearances this season and has surrendered just two hits. On the offensive front, Prince Fielder is living up to everything we thought he'd be. Fielder leads the team in home runs with nine and RBI with 26. But shortstop J.J. Hardy is right behind him with eight and 26 from the shortstop position.

Chicago Cubs (15-15) - Despite dropping a 15-inning marathon to the Pirates Tuesday evening, the Cubs inched their way to .500 with a sweep of the Nationals at home this weekend. Closer Ryan Dempster had a big week, saving three games and earning a win in Sunday's comeback victory to complete the sweep. Ryan Theriot, who's been given time at both shortstop and second base, has been a spark for the Cubs offense. Theriot is batting .322 with 13 RBI and six stolen bases in just 87 at-bats this season.

Houston Astros (15-17) - The Astros dropped two of three to the struggling Cards this weekend, and then realized their hopes of Roger Clemens maybe rejoining their club once again for a run at the playoffs were squashed. Clemens signed a very lucrative contract with the Yankees and will only be seen in NL parks during interleague play and possibly the World Series. That won't stop Roy Oswalt from doing his thing. The Astros staff ace won two games this week, pitching 15.0 total innings and giving up just three runs. And for the Astros, it's a good sign that Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman are starting to wake up. They both went yard Tuesday and have their batting averages creeping closer to .300.

Pittsburgh Pirates (14-17) - Relief pitcher Matt Capps was suspended four games for throwing at Milwaukee's Prince Fielder on Saturday. Tom Gorzelanny continues his solid start to the season. On Thursday he beat Milwaukee on the road, holding them to just two runs over 7.0 innings and handing them one of only 10 losses this season. But pitching hasn't been the issue for the Bucs. Their .238 team batting average hasn't helped them, especially when no one is hitting well - Jack Wilson leads the team in average with a very ordinary .288 clip.

Cincinnati Reds (14-19) - Unlike the Brewers, the close games have not been going the Reds' way this season. David Weathers has been decent out of the pen as the team's closer with a 2.70 ERA, but the rest of the staff just isn't getting the job done. Comeback kid Josh Hamilton saw his batting average drop to .263 this week, but he exploded with a four-hit game Saturday where he was a homer shy of the cycle. For good measure, he went out Sunday afternoon and rocked two homers.

St. Louis Cardinals (13-18) - The autopsy report came back on Josh Hancock's tragic death and revealed he was driving while intoxicated at the time of the accident, and the police report indicated he might have been on his cell phone as well. The news wasn't all that surprising to the St. Louis faithful, but the club reacted by banning alcohol in the clubhouse. As a team the Cards are trying to move on but are batting just .238 and have scored an MLB-bottom 96 runs this year. Albert Pujols is hitting just .252 after an 0-for-3 night Tuesday and Scott Rolen just .200 after going 0-for-4.

West Division

Los Angeles Dodgers (19-14) - After three consecutive no-decisions, Brad Penny was dominant against the Marlins Monday. Penny pitched 7.0 shutout innings and racked up 14 punchouts against the league's top strikeout team as he improved to a 4-0 record. Nomar Garciaparra, who had 20 home runs last season, has belted just one long ball this year, though he does have 20 RBI to his name.

San Diego Padres (18-15) - Starting pitcher Clay Hensley was having a rough start to the season with a 1-3 record and 7.62 ERA. Unfortunately he won't be improving on it anytime soon. Hensley landed on the 15-day DL with a strained groin that he suffered last Wednesday against the Nationals. Jake Peavy has been a red-hot strikeout machine as of late. Peavy has hit double digits in Ks his last three outings, including his win against Florida on Sunday when he tossed seven innings and gave up just one unearned run on one hit while striking out 10.

Arizona Diamondbacks (19-16) - Jose Valverde pitched three straight games, picking up two saves along the way, and was given Tuesday off. In his place, Tony Pena came on to close out the one-run victory over the Phillies. But all the close games aren't going their way. Doug Davis leads the team with a 2.36 ERA, but was skunked this week in the win column. He gave up just one unearned run and suffered the loss against the Dodgers on Wednesday last week and went on to give up just two runs in a no-decision on Monday.

San Francisco Giants (17-15) - Barry Bonds ripped his eleventh homer of the season Tuesday off Tom Glavine inching within just 10 of Hank Aaron's record. Bonds has his swing locked in on history and he's got a legitimate shot at doing it in the month of May. Matt Morris, who started the season hot and got rocked for the first time last week, bounced back this past week in his lone start. Morris lasted 7.0 innings against the Phils, holding them to just two runs and earning win number four on the year.

Colorado Rockies (14-19) - After losing in four consecutive starts and seeing his ERA soar above 6.00, Jeff Francis looked a bit better against the Cardinals Monday, but his seven-inning, two-run performance still wasn't good enough to earn a "W". Matt Holliday continues to mash the baseball. He hit his sixth homer of the year Tuesday night and has his batting average back up to .374, though that's still 19 points behind Todd Helton's team-high .393.

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