This Week in the National League – Week Nine

The ninth report in Pete Khazen's regular season weekly jaunt around Major League Baseball's senior circuit in 2007. June is right around the corner!

We are almost two months into this season, and it should be no surprise that virtually all teams are well-alive in the playoff hunt. Even the Nationals are making a little noise after a dismal start to the year. The Mets are on top, as expected, and though the Brewers are fading a bit from the glory of April, it's clear they have some solid young talent that will keep them competitive year ‘round.

Yes, it's going to be a bumpy ride in the NL. With a league so balanced, an injury or two can make all the difference, as can one or two hot pitchers on the mound or hitters at the plate. And so, here's the latest and greatest from around the league this past week:

East Division

New York Mets (33-17) - Things can turn on a dime during a season as the Milwaukee Brewers learned this week, but the New York Mets appear to be distancing themselves from the pack already. Right now, Carlos Delgado has the worst batting average in the regular starting lineup with .234, but he's still leading the team with 29 RBI, making those hits count when they matter most. And the Mets will need those clutch hits with Shawn Green landing on the DL with a chipped bone in his foot. And though John Maine is leading the club with six wins, Tom Glavine is right behind him with five. Thing is, relief pitcher Aaron Heilman has been the king scavenger, racking up a nifty 5-2 record out of the pen and competing with the starters for most wins this season.

Atlanta Braves (29-23) - John Smoltz won game number 200, reaching an impressive milestone with his 154 saves. But in Smoltz's first start after hitting that benchmark, he fell short of earning his eighth win of the season, leaving the game early after injuring his pinky swinging the bat and then injuring his shoulder during warm-ups in the fourth inning. The ability to score runs isn't what's keeping the Braves from leading the division. Atlanta has at seven players with at least 22 RBI, including Jeff Francoeur, who is leading the pack with 37. Edgar Renteria, who has 27 RBI, leads the regulars in batting average with an impressive .320 mark.

Philadelphia Phillies (26-26) - Ryan Howard smashed three home runs in two games, giving Philly fans hope that the draught in power is over. Then he pulled up lame Tuesday night scaring the wits out of those same fans. Thankfully for everyone involved it was only a cramp. Still the Phillies will have to march on without Brett Myers. The starter turned reliever turned closer strained his shoulder and landed on the 15-day disabled list. With Tom Gordon already out, it looks like the Phils will now turn to Antonio Alfonseca to be their closer. Alfonseca already earned his first save and was more than happy to give his teammates a round of celebratory high sixes.

Florida Marlins (25-27) - Josh Johnson is inching his way back to the starting rotation. After going 12-7 with a 3.10 ERA as a rookie for the Marlins last season, Johnson has been sidelined with an elbow injury. He tossed a pain-free bullpen session over the weekend and moved on to a 62-pitch pain-free extended spring training performance on Tuesday. With three RBI on Tuesday night against the Cubs, Josh Willingham now leads the Marlins in driving home runs with 35.

Washington Nationals (21-31) - The Nationals aren't going to settle for the National League cellar that easily. Washington battled it out with the Cardinals taking two of three and fighting to extend the third game into a rain delay with two outs in the ninth inning. Courtesy of the six RBI he had last Tuesday, Ryan Church is leading the Nationals with 25. Though the staff has no eye-dropping ace, Matt Chico has been the mainstay with a team-high 11 starts. Chico is tied with Shawn Hill for the team lead in wins with three - that is if you only look at starters. Lights-out reliever Jesus Colome has managed four wins out of the pen and a 2.20 ERA.

Central Division

Milwaukee Brewers (29-23) - After losing six straight and eight of ten, Ben Sheets stepped up to beat the Braves Tuesday and earn his fifth win of the season. Prince Fielder and J.J. Hardy continue to lead the offensive charge. Fielder blasted his NL-leading 17th homer Tuesday, and Hardy leads the team in his comeback season with a .301 batting average. Between the two of them, they have 84 RBI, 44 for Hardy and 40 for Fielder. Even after the skid, the Brewers have realized that the NL Central is the division where playing just .500 baseball will more than keep you alive in the playoff race.

Pittsburgh Pirates (23-28) - Tom Gorzelanny's magical season for the Pirates continued Tuesday as he kept the Padres at bay and improved his record to 6-3. More notably, he lowered his ERA to a mere 2.39. Adam LaRoche, who saw his batting average drop to .191, is showing signs of life. LaRoche has a modest four-game hitting streak alive, including a three-hit performance Tuesday.

Chicago Cubs (22-28) - It's as if this season is some kind of test of Lou Piniella. The only question is whether or not the Cubs skipper read the instructions before opening the seal on his test booklet. The Cubs battled from down 5-0 Friday night in LA to take an 8-5 lead against the Dodgers only to see their bullpen blow it in the eighth inning. Carlos Zambrano managed to lead his club to victory Saturday and reminded everyone that he's just two wins off the pace of the league leader and two wins ahead of where he was last season. Still the Cubs just aren't getting it done when they need to. They're 2-12 in one-run games. The latest loss came Sunday in the rubber match in LA when they squandered opportunity after opportunity before losing the game 2-1 in 11. How'd they do that? Three walks, one intentional, and a hit batsman. Yes, Piniella's team managed to lose in extras without the other team putting the ball in play.

Houston Astros (21-30) - Houston is in one monstrous funk right now. They've dropped nine straight and 11 of their last 12. During this nine-game streak, they've managed two or fewer runs on offense in six of the contests. It's as if they're imagining that Roger Clemens is pitching every one of their games. Hunter Pence continues to be a bright spot in center field hitting .355 through 28 games. The starting pitching hasn't exactly been keeping the Astros alive either. Woody Williams has been dismal for the Astros, going 1-7 in 11 starts with near-retirement 5.65 ERA.

St. Louis Cardinals (20-29) - Perhaps joining Mark Prior in some sort of USC curse, Anthony Reyes is 0-8 with a 6.08 ERA through nine starts and now finds himself pitching for the Cards Triple-A club in Memphis. With Anthony Reyes down, the Cards moved another reliever to the starting position. This time it was recent pickup Todd Wellemeyer, who will make his first start for his new club on Wednesday. Though his batting average is still nowhere near where he'd like it to be at just .232, Jim Edmonds is starting to hit the ball better. Edmonds hit three home runs in his last five games and has nine RBI in his past 10.

Cincinnati Reds (20-33) - In a frightening collision with right fielder Norris Hopper Monday, Ryan Freel was motionless for several minutes before being carried off the field in a stretcher and taken to the hospital. Thankfully tests came back ok, but Freel landed on the 15-day DL as a result and will undergo further tests on Wednesday. Fellow outfielder Josh Hamilton is due back from the DL on Sunday following his digestive sickness, which will definitely help Cincy in the outfield. To give you an idea, though, of how rough the Reds pitching staff has been, all you have to do is look at their individual ERAs. Bronson Arroyo is second on the club amongst all pitchers, starters and relievers, with a 4.01 ERA. Only reliever Jared Burton, who has appeared in just nine games for 8.0 innings of work has a better ERA at 2.25.

West Division

Los Angeles Dodgers (30-21) - Juan Pierre only has 12 RBI this season, but this past week he tallied two game-winners against his old club, the Cubs. Pierre hit a game-winning sacrifice fly Friday night and then took one for the team off his foot for the sealer on Sunday. But if you want to talk about clutch, look no further than Nomar Garciaparra, who is hitting an electric .429 with runners in scoring position this year. And speaking of electric, Brad Penny has been just that. Penny improved his record to 7-1 and lowered his ERA to 2.06 with a 6.1-inning shutout performance against the Nationals.

Arizona Diamondbacks (31-23) - Talk about red hot. The D'Backs are on fire in the desert. They've won six in a row and nine of their last 11. Though they've been sharing the workload, Eric Byrnes is right in the middle of it, boasting a seven-game hitting streak and moving his average up to .302. Doug Davis, who is 3-6 but has the starting rotation's best ERA with 3.27, finally got some love from his offense and earned a win Monday with an eight-inning performance during which he only gave up one earned run.

San Diego Padres (29-22) - Jake Peavy continues to fire away with Cy Young Award-winning stuff. Peavy held the Brewers to just two hits over seven shutout innings to earn his seventh win of the season and drop his ERA to a miniscule 1.47. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez had back-to-back three-hit performances against the Brewers this weekend and has batting average back up to .302. Also, this could be the week Trevor Hoffman makes history by earning save number 500. He's sitting with 497 right now.

Colorado Rockies (25-27) - The Rockies have emerged this week and won seven straight. Matt Holliday has hit safely in each of those contests and has driven home eight runs. Starting pitcher Jeff Francis improved to 4-4 by winning his two starts this past week and dropping his ERA to 3.93. In his past six outings he's thrown at least 7.0 innings keeping his bullpen well rested.

San Francisco Giants (24-26) - Barry Bonds has walked 52 times this season, more than a third of the 148 team walks. Still he connected one time and cranked out home run number 746 this week. Tim Lincecum had another solid outing Tuesday, this time against the Mets. Lincecum pitched 7.0 innings in a no-decision where he gave up three runs on three hits. The game went into extra innings. Though Randy Winn gave the club a one-run lead with an RBI groundout, Armando Benitez blew the save by balking home the tying run and then surrendering a walk-off home run to Carlos Delgado.

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