This Week in the National League – Week 13

The 13th report in Pete Khazen's regular season weekly trip around Major League Baseball's senior circuit in 2007. As we move into July, everyone seems to think they are still in it.

There's nothing like fireworks, hot dog eating contests, barbecues, apple pie, and baseball to celebrate the nation's independence. The Fourth of July also marks the halfway point of the Major League Baseball season. The All-Star rosters have been selected with some final balloting to decide the remaining spots, and not without some controversy.


As we look back on the first half of the season and look ahead to the playoff races down the stretch, there's no doubt we'll see some interesting player transactions as teams fall from the competitive ranks and pack up their season for next year. Right now, it's tough to say who will be in that boat in a jam-packed National League. Much like the 2006 season, most clubs figure to be in this hunt for a long while. 


Here's the latest and greatest from around the league. Have a safe and happy holiday!

East Division


New York Mets (46-36) - After a dismal first two-thirds of June, the Mets finished on a high note winning eight of their last nine games, but they slammed on the brakes in July dropping their first three of the hot summer month. John Maine struggled through a bit through seven starts going just 1-4 in that span, but he's back on track. Maine has pitched at least 7.0 innings in each of his past three starts and earned a W in each. The Mets are going to need him too, as they just lost two from their rotation to the disabled list. Oliver Perez was put on the DL with lower back stiffness, and Jorge Sosa joined him with a strained hamstring. This could be an opportunity for Mike Pelfrey, who was recalled from the minors and is 0-6 in seven starts for the Mets this season.


Atlanta Braves (43-41) - Edgar Renteria is a career .290 hitter, but he's having a year that might rival his career best in 2003 when he hit .330 and drove in 100 runs for the Cardinals. Renteria is currently batting .323 with 43 RBI, and his slugging percentage is .492, 85 points higher than his career average. Yet, he was left off the NL All-Star Team. Starting pitcher Chuck James had his best outing in six weeks on Friday when he tossed 6.2 innings against the Marlins holding the big fish to just one run on four hits.


Philadelphia Phillies (42-42) - After back-to-back seasons breaking the 100-RBI mark, Chase Utley is once again proving he's no joke. Through 83 games, Utley has 15 home runs and 66 RBI, well on his way to a 25-homer, 110-RBI season. Cole Hamels, who has been one of the bigger surprise pitchers this season, has gone a bit cold. He's 0-2 in his last three starts. Now, he only got four total runs of support in those games and one outing was shortened to three innings thanks to a rain delay. But his ERA is up to 3.87 and steadily climbing.


Florida Marlins (39-45) - Shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who is batting .321 this season with 25 stolen bases, left the game early Monday with a strained hamstring. He's day-to-day and did make a pinch-hit appearance Tuesday where he pulled a Kirk Gibson. Ramirez tied the game in the seventh when he cracked a two-run homer allowing himself minimal strain on that hamstring around the bases. But pitching has been a struggle as of late for the Marlins. Dontrelle Willis is 0-4 in his last six starts, and Josh Johnson is winless with a 10.97 ERA in three starts since coming off the DL.


Washington Nationals (33-50) - Dmitri Young was named to the 2007 National League All-Star team with his impressive comeback .331 batting average. He's definitely been doing his part to try to make the Nationals competitive, but it's been a struggle for the rest of the team. Jason Simontacchi is the team-leader in wins with five, but he also carries a 6.27 ERA. All in all, the Nats have used 10 different starting pitchers this season, nine of who have started at least five games. They're searching for answers but just aren't finding any.

Central Division


Milwaukee Brewers (48-35) - The Cubs are hot on their heels, but the Brew Crew is hanging tough in the NL Central. After dropping a heartbreaker to the Cubs on Friday blowing a 5-3 lead in the ninth inning, they bounced back with a 13-run offensive outburst on Saturday. Still the Cubs inched closer to them, taking two of three in the big weekend series. Despite the blown save Friday, Francisco Cordero has been money for the Brewers, racking up a whopping 27 saves this first half of the season. And as though the youthful play of J.J. Hardy and Prince Fielder wasn't enough for this team, rookie third baseman Ryan Braun emerged this month. He garnered Rookie of the Month honors for June, hitting six home runs and batting .382.


Chicago Cubs (42-40) - No June swoon for the Cubbies this year. They're in one of those zones where everyone is contributing and someone new is being the hero each day. The club is 10-1 in their last 11, including an 8-1 home stand in front of a boisterous crowd at Wrigley Field. Carlos Zambrano has been leading the charge. Since his fisticuffs with former Cubs catcher Michael Barrett, Zambrano has been virtually lights out. He's 5-1 since June 1, earning win number 10 on Tuesday, and has dropped his ERA from 5.62 to 4.04. With the bats, it seems like everyone is on fire. Aramis Ramirez hit a walk-off homer Friday against the Brewers and has eight RBI in his last five games. Mark DeRosa has quietly caused a huge impact on the club. He has 13 RBI in his last eight games and currently ranks second on the team with 46 behind Ramirez's 49.


St. Louis Cardinals (37-43) - Jason Isringhausen has bounced back nicely from off-season surgery, and looks better than he has even in recent years. He did blow his second save opportunity of the season last Tuesday, but in true Izzy fashion he forgot about that outing and got the job done in his next appearance on Friday. With a 1.67 ERA and 15 saves, he could definitely be a hot commodity should the Cards fall out of the race in late July. The Cards were happy to welcome Yadier Molina back from the DL this week. Molina returned showing off his arm and tallying two two-hit games.


Houston Astros (37-47) - Craig Biggio went 5-for-6 last Wednesday against Colorado en route to surpassing the 3,000-hit mark. He's been hot since, too, with seven hits in his last 14 at-bats. Lance Berkman still may not be hitting for average with a mere .264, but he's starting to make those hits count more. He's got 14 RBI in his last 10 games along with five home runs. Hunter Pence is batting .345. Carlos Lee is leading the NL with 71 RBI. And Mark Loretta is having a fine season, hitting .324. If the Astros can just find some steady pitching, it's clear they have an offense that can compete.


Pittsburgh Pirates (36-47) - Starting pitcher Zach Duke and center fielder Chris Duffy both landed on the DL this week. Rookie Shane Youman got the call-up to face division-leading Milwaukee Tuesday and earned his first MLB win, limiting the Brewers to just two runs on two hits over 6.0 innings. Maybe Youman can be a spark for this club. They definitely need one on offense. Jason Bay has not been the big money man this season. Sure, he leads the club with 51 RBI, but his batting average is dismal at .256 and his slugging percentage is down to .435 from .532 last season.


Cincinnati Reds (32-51) - As they won their last game on Tuesday, the Reds dropped to 20 games below .500 with their loss on Sunday to the Cardinals. Adam Dunn is showing signs of life, perhaps enticing suitors for a potential trade or looking to make his home more permanent in Cincy. Dunn rocked a home run in each of the three games against Philadelphia last week, bringing his season total to 23 and leap-frogging Ken Griffey Jr. for the club high. Despite their woes as a team, Aaron Harang is steady as it goes. Harang hasn't lost a start since May 20 and is 9-2 this year with a 3.84 ERA and 104 punchouts.


West Division


San Diego Padres (47-35) - If you toss out Brian Giles' .284 batting average from the rankings because he's only played in 46 games, then Adrian Gonzalez is leading the team in hitting with a .268 clip. Still, this team is tied for first in the West Division. It's no doubt this club is built on pitching, and a 3.04 team ERA proves it. Their starting staff is a story of youth versus craftiness and grit. Jake Peavy and Chris Young are a combined 17-5 with ERAs of 2.09 and 2.14 respectively, while Greg Maddux and David Wells together are 11-10 with ERAs of 3.96 and 4.16 respectively. Maddux has a ridiculous win total of 340 for his career. A final total of 17 this season would bring him to 350. It might be a stretch, but it could be fun to watch down the stretch.


Los Angeles Dodgers (48-36) - In 72 at-bats this season, outfielder Matt Kemp is hitting .403. He hit home runs in back-to-back wins this week and drove in six runs. But the Dodgers' success this season definitely has rested in their pitching. Brad Penny has led the way with his 2.00 ERA and 10 wins, which is strikingly similar to the numbers he put up the first half of the season last year. And from the bullpen, Takashi Saito has been as good as it gets. He's had one blown save this season and boasts 23 successful conversions along with a 1.30 ERA.


Arizona Diamondbacks (47-38) - Randy Johnson appears to be near the end of his rope. The Big Unit landed back on the DL this week with another back injury. He's 4-3 in 10 starts this season with a 3.81 ERA. Eric Byrnes is leading the team in seven offensive categories: average (.314), hits (107), home runs (13), RBI (46), slugging percentage (.504), runs (52), and stolen bases (15). Still he was snubbed from the National League All-Star roster. Go figure.


Colorado Rockies (41-43) - The Rockies appear to enjoy playing teams from the Big Apple. They swept the Yankees a couple weeks back, and with a win on this Fourth of July will sweep the Mets. Garrett Atkins has been swinging the bat a bit better as of late. He's knocked three home runs in his last seven games and has 10 RBI to boot. And despite blowing his last four save opportunities, losing all four games, and subsequently losing his job as closer, Brian Fuentes was somehow named to the NL All-Star roster as a relief pitcher.


San Francisco Giants (35-46) - Barry Bonds overtook Alfonso Soriano in the balloting and earned a starting spot at his home field for the NL in the All-Star Game. He also knocked career home runs number 750 and 751 this week, inching closer to Aaron's record. Starting pitcher Noah Lowry has turned it on as of late. He's earned wins in each of his last two starts giving up just one run in each game and bringing his season total to eight.


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