This Week In the National League: Week Twelve

The twelfth report in Pete Khazen's regular season weekly trip around Major League Baseball's senior circuit in 2007. During June, the pack continues to pull more tightly together.

Not a single team moved up or down a position in the divisional races this past week. But things continue to tighten. The Mets are sliding. The middle of the Central continues to be a scrum. And the three best teams in the NL are in the West? Or at least we can say the three best records are in the West.


Yes, a stationary front has pulled over the National League and continues to linger. Much like 2006, this league will be up for grabs. It's sitting there for the taking, which can be frustrating for fans. Just one solid month, one solid winning streak and that can be the difference between October bliss and disappointment. Opportunities exist for teams to get back in the race or distance themselves from the pack, but no one is seizing them.

East Division


New York Mets (38-31) - The formidable Mets have been not so in the month of June. They haven't even won a series, going 4-13 and were swept twice, once by the Phillies and once by the Dodgers. In the big subway series this past weekend, Oliver Perez pitched 7.1 shutout innings to outduel Roger Clemens in the opener Friday night, giving new life to the Mets. But if fizzled quickly. The Mets got whooped the final two games of the series and have split their first two of their series against Minnesota after being shut out by Johan Santana. The brightest spot for the Mets during this swooning June has been Jose Reyes, who has hit safely in every game and has an 18-game streak going.


Atlanta Braves (38-34) - Chipper Jones returned from the DL this week and got right back into his swing of things. Jones hasn't gone yard or driven any runs in, but he's boosted his batting average from a pre-DL .300 to .321. After going 0-for-1 in his last two starts and missing his last scheduled one outright due to inflammation in his shoulder, John Smoltz got right back on the horse Saturday pitching 6.0 solid innings against Cleveland. Smoltz gave up two runs on seven hits while striking out seven en route to earning win number eight.


Philadelphia Phillies (37-34) - After a dismal start, the Phils are just two games behind the Mets and a half game behind Atlanta. Ryan Howard's recent performance has been a big part of that resurgence. Surprise, surprise. Howard is 4-for-9 in his last two games, including home runs number 15 and 16. And his 18 RBI in June brings his season total to 48. Cole Hamels, who leads the NL with nine wins, had his shortest outing of the season Monday against Cleveland. Hamels lasted just 5.0 innings and suffered his third loss after giving up eight hits and six earned runs.


Florida Marlins (34-38) - Dontrelle Willis left Tuesday's game against the White Sox with tightness in his forearm after pitching just one inning. Hanley Ramirez (61) and Dan Uggla (57) are one-two, respectively, in runs scored in the NL. Uggla is also proving to be a solid power-hitting, free swinger too. He has 13 home runs, which is second on the team behind Miguel Cabrera's 16, and a team-high 76 strikeouts.


Washington Nationals (30-41) - Playing for Triple-A Columbus, Brandon Watson had his 43-game hitting streak snapped. His reward for such a feat was a call-up to the big show after a roster spot opened with Robert Fick going on bereavement leave. Sadly, after winning two games in a row, Jason Simontacchi is the team leader in wins with four. Some wins leader. Simontacchi was pummeled by the Tigers Tuesday. In a 15-1 rout, Simontacchi lasted just 3.0 innings giving up 10 runs on 10 hits.

Central Division


Milwaukee Brewers (40-31) - After plenty of injuries, disappointing skids, and being on several bad teams, Ben Sheets is finally on a good team, healthy, and pitching consistently well. In front of a fairly hostile crowd supportive of their Hank Aaron, Sheets tossed a complete game Tuesday against Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants, earning his eighth win. The Brewers won the game without J.J. Hardy, who was scratched from the lineup with tightness in his hip. And on the Prince Fielder watch, chalk up three more long balls bringing the season total to 26 and the RBI count to 59. Add in the fact he was born in 1984, and you can see just how special this budding star could be.


Chicago Cubs (32-37) - There's one thing the Cubs aren't afraid of in 2007, and that's to throw a few punches. After getting beaned with a high and tight fastball Saturday, 6-foot 5-inch Derrek Lee got into words with 6-foot 10-inch Chris Young, and before you knew it fists were flying. Neither imposing player landed a blow, but both were ejected and subsequently suspended five games. Lee is appealing his suspension and continues to play as he awaits a decision. Teammate Aramis Ramirez has not been playing though, as he landed on the 15-day DL with patellar tendonitis in his left knee. On a side note, Sammy Sosa is sitting on career home run 599 and has two games left against the Cubs down in Arlington this Wednesday and Thursday with a chance for number 600 against his former club.


St. Louis Cardinals (31-37) - After giving up 31 runs in back-to-back losses to Kansas City and Oakland, the Cards busted out with 25 runs in back-to-back wins to close out the series in Oakland. That loss to the Athletics featured Danny Haren's first game against his old club. Haren, who was traded for Mark Mulder, and is 8-2 this season with an MLB-best 1.62 ERA. In that same game, the Cards top pitcher this season, Braden Looper, was forced to leave prematurely with tightness in his arm. He has since landed on the DL with a shoulder strain, and he joins both World Series MVP David Eckstein and Jim Edmonds. Eckstein has been struggling with lower back spasms, and Edmonds a pinched nerve in his lower back.


Pittsburgh Pirates (31-39) - Ian Snell burned his hand on a stove at home and subsequently missed his last start Tuesday, but he is expected to be back on Saturday against the Angels. Xavier Nady had three multi-hit, multi-RBI games this past week. He's batting .282 on the season and has a very respectable RBI total of 42, which is second on the team to Jason Bay's 46.


Houston Astros (31-40) - Brad Lidge landed on the 15-day DL with a strained oblique muscle Tuesday night after the Astros' 9-5 win over the Angels. With a sweep of Seattle this past weekend, the Astros have a little momentum building. Mark Loretta has been red hot at the plate, boosting his average from .303 to .333 this past week. Mike Lamb has been right there with him. Lamb has six multi-hit games in a row, including a 4-for-4 outing against the Mariners on Friday. During this past streak, Lamb's batting average has jumped from .248 to .318, a very nice 70 points.


Cincinnati Reds (28-44) - There's no denying that Ken Griffey Jr. was one of the most electric and enjoyable ball players to play the game in recent decades. His all-out play in field and that sweet, powerful swing were something else. Injuries have befuddled Griffey since his move to Cincinnati, but he's starting to pour it on again. And it's rekindling those electric memories. Griffey has a six-game hit streak, moving his average up to .290, and during that span, he's cranked four long balls, bringing his season total to 19 and putting him just 18 away from number 600.


West Division


San Diego Padres (41-28) - Jake Peavy saw his ERA rise from 1.47 to 1.97 and said enough was enough. He went out last Wednesday in Tampa Bay and tossed win number eight, a two-hit, 7.0-inning shutout. He followed that up with win number nine Tuesday night. Granted, he gave up three runs on six hits, but his offense came through. They produced 12 runs in support of their ace pitcher, who reached the century mark in innings pitched this season. For a team to have the best record in the NL, the little things count, including the little guys. Props have to be given to Marcus Giles for his role in the bench-clearing melee that started with Chris Young and Derrek Lee. Giles is listed at 5-foot-8 inches, 175 pounds. He's giving up seven inches and 70 pounds to Lee, and 14 inches and 85 pounds to Young. Still Giles was the one to step in and separate the two testosterone-filled giants, keeping an ugly situation from getting out of hand.


Los Angeles Dodgers (40-30) - Jason Schmidt landed on the disabled list once again, and the Dodgers have announced he'll be having shoulder surgery. He's out indefinitely, and the return of L.A.'s $47 million investment in Schmidt isn't looking good. Brad Penny continues to pick up the slack for Schmidt. Penny won both his starts this week tossing two 7.0-inning, one-run gems. He now sits with shrinking 2.12 ERA and a dominant 9-1 record.


Arizona Diamondbacks (41-31) - There's nothing like a come-from-behind victory to get a team's mojo going. The D'Backs rallied from down six to beat the Devil Rays Tuesday night in extra innings. Outfielder Eric Byrnes leads the team in four major offensive categories. He's batting .310 with 10 home runs, 42 runs scored, and 14 stolen bases. His 36 RBI is second only to Orlando Hudson, who has 39.


Colorado Rockies (36-34) - Todd Helton is batting .324 this season. He was looking for a trade in the off-season, and Boston was on everyone's mind. Now he's in the middle of trade rumors with the New York Yankees. Helton has one of the best swings in baseball still, but it's no secret that the team now belongs to Matt Holliday. He's a machine. There's no other way to put it. Holliday has five multi-hit games in his last six and a league-best .364 batting average. He's also got two home runs, four doubles, and six RBI in the past week, proving he's definitely not just a singles guy. Starting pitcher Jeff Francis gave Boston's Josh Beckett his first loss last Thursday. Francis pitched 5.0 innings, scattering seven hits and shutting the Red Sox out to earn his sixth victory this season.


San Francisco Giants (30-40) - Ray Durham's power numbers are down this season. A career .280 hitter, he's batting just .261. And after that 26-home run season in 2006 that produced a .538 slugging percentage, Durham has just seven long balls this year and a .417 slugging percentage. Then there's the tale of the two Matts. Matt Cain and Matt Morris have each started 14 games. Cain's ERA is 3.15 and opponents are batting just .216 against him. Morris' ERA is 3.21 and opponents are batting .253 against him. Still Morris' record is 7-4 while Cain's is 2-7. Go figure.


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