This Week in the National League – Week 14

The 14th report in Pete Khazen's regular season weekly trip around Major League Baseball's National League in 2007. The Senior Circuit once again is taking a back seat to the Junior Circuit.

No, the title for this article has nothing to do with Nell Carter's television show or those catchy KitKat commercial jingles you can't get out of your head. Instead, it's about frustration with the National League. The NL has gone and done it again. Yep, ten straight losses to the American League. There was fleeting hope in that ninth inning of the All-Star game, but as Maxwell Smart used to say, the NL "missed it by that much."


And so the beat goes on. Whoever makes it to the World Series to represent this league will have to overcome home field advantage, which once again favors the American League. Perhaps we are better off with it alternating leagues each year and allowing ties in exhibition All-Star games.


Nonetheless, here's the latest and greatest from around the NL this past, festive, shortened week.


East Division


New York Mets (48-39) - Carlos Beltran may be leading the team with 16 home runs and 55 RBI, but the All-Star starter is hitting just .264. In fact, he's hitting just .152 in July, but he does have a modest five-game hitting streak and has cranked out six home runs in his last 10 games. Starting pitcher John Maine will look to extend his hot start into the second half of the season. Maine is 10-4 after winning his last four starts and dropping his ERA down to 2.71.


Atlanta Braves (47-42) - The Braves are hot on the Mets' heels after winning four of their last five games before the break on a west coast road trip. After a dreadful outing against the Dodgers on Thursday where he gave up six runs on 10 hits, Tim Hudson will look to rebound when action gets started up again Friday against the Pirates. The Braves will need Hudson to have a solid start to the second half with John Smoltz going the way of the DL with inflammation in his right shoulder.


Philadelphia Phillies (44-44) - The Phillies were unsung heroes when they rushed out to help the Colorado grounds crew after a large gust of wind took hold of the tarp during a rain delay. Unfortunately, Aaron Rowand couldn't come through to earn hero status for the NL Tuesday night in the All-Star game as he flew out to right field ending the game with the bases loaded. Chase Utley ended play going into the break on a hot streak, carrying a five-game hitting streak good enough to boost his team-best batting average to .325.


Florida Marlins (42-47) - Twenty-three year-old shortstop Hanley Ramirez went 10-for-his-last-21 to finish the first half of the season, boosting his average to .331. Combine that with 14 home runs, 70 runs scored, and 27 stolen bases, and you've got a production machine. Starting pitcher Sergio Mitre boasts an impressive 2.85 ERA through 15 starts, but he doesn't have the record to match. Mitre is just 3-4 on the season with a 1-2 record in his last eight starts.


Washington Nationals (36-52) - The Nationals went down swinging into the break taking the last two games of a three-game set with the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers. Matt Chico has been dominant through his last three starts, allowing just one run over 19.0 innings. Ryan Zimmerman has collected five multi-hit games in his last 10, but his .253 average is still way down from his .281 career mark.

Central Division


Milwaukee Brewers (49-39) - The Brew Crew has been trying to fend off the surging Cubs and a looming Cardinals club. After a great first half, the questions ominously loom wondering if the Brewers will fizzle or stay hot. Losing Bill Hall to the 15-day disabled list due to a high ankle sprain will make things a little more difficult. Tony Gwynn Jr. will be looked upon in his absence, and we might just get to see what he can do with some regular action.


Chicago Cubs (44-43) - The Cubs stayed hot, finishing the first half of the season just 4.5 games behind the Brewers. They could have inched closer, but dropped two of their last three to the pesky Pirates. Besides consistency in the second half, the Cubs will need the power to return to Derrek Lee's bat. He's hitting .330, but the power numbers are way down. He has only six home runs and a .479 slugging percentage, which is way off the pace of the 46 home runs and .662 slugging percentage he put up in 2005 when competing with Albert Pujols for league MVP.


St. Louis Cardinals (40-45) - Tony La Russa and his Cardinals proved last year that home field advantage doesn't mean squat if you just beat the tar out of your opponent. Interestingly enough, La Russa left Albert Pujols on the bench during the All-Star game, particularly noticeable when the game was within reach in the ninth inning. Pujols has struggled as of late in the power department, getting skunked in the long ball column since June 14, but he put on quite a show at the Home Run Derby Monday, giving fans hopes his power stroke might be ready to break out the second half of the season.


Pittsburgh Pirates (40-48) - Sidelined with irritation in his elbow, starting pitcher Zach Duke figures to be out several weeks before he can even throw again. That means more opportunities for youngsters like Shane Youman, who is 2-0 in two starts for the Pirates this season along with a 3.00 ERA.


Houston Astros (39-50) - Wandy Rodriguez pitched his first career complete game, a four-hit shutout Friday against the New York Mets. It was his second win in a row following a 7.0-inning, three-hit shutout performance against Colorado. Outfielder Luke Scott is just 1-for-24 heading into the break. With a .226 batting average that continues to sink, he's likely to see less and less at-bats as time goes on.


Cincinnati Reds (36-52) - The Reds are being eyeballed by most teams in the playoff hunt. They have a number of seasoned veterans itching to get into a race for October. Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn might be prized possessions to watch as the trade deadline approaches at the end of the month.

West Division


San Diego Padres (49-38) - There's no doubt the Padres are in need of a big bat down the stretch - at least one, for that matter. They're dead last in the NL with a .242 team batting average and second to last in MLB behind the White Sox (.241). But they have the best ERA in baseball with a dominating mark of 3.06. The closest to them is the Oakland Athletics with 3.66. Chris Young is 8-3, just one win behind Jake Peavy who started the Midsummer Classic, but Young entered the break carrying a better ERA at 2.00 compared to Peavy's 2.19. His stuff has been so good that he beat out all other competitors in balloting for the final spot on the NL All-Star roster.


Los Angeles Dodgers (49-40) - Randy Wolf, who is having his best season since 2003 when he pitched 200 innings and went 16-10, landed on the DL this past week with shoulder inflammation. He did receive a cortisone shot and is expected back after missing only a start or two. Juan Pierre has had a slow first three months to the season. The speedy outfielder only scored 12 runs in each of the months of May and June, but he's off to a fast start in July. He's already crossed the plate seven times and his batting average is .324 for the month.


Arizona Diamondbacks (47-43) - Brandon Webb was named to the All-Star team to replace an injured Brian Fuentes. He's not quite as dominant as he was last year when he won the Cy Young Award, but he's definitely got potential to break out in the second half of the season. Closer Jose Valverde didn't get any save opportunities in the final week before the break, but he did see action in two games against Cincinnati. He pitched a shutout inning on Friday, but was wild on Sunday walking two and taking the loss after giving up the winning run. Still, 26 saves with a 2.83 ERA is mighty impressive.


Colorado Rockies (44-44) - Matt Holliday has been criticized a bit lately because he's hitting .379 at home with 10 home runs. He may only have five long balls while visiting other parks, but last I checked a .301 road batting average wasn't exactly easy to come by in this league. With Brian Fuentes out, Manny Corpas appears to be in line for the closer position. He struck out the side to earn his first save on Saturday.


San Francisco Giants (38-48) - San Francisco played host to the 2007 All-Star Game, and soon it could very well play host to Barry Bonds surpassing Hank Aaron's record of 755 career home runs. Bonds sits with 751. Whether he does it at home remains to be seen. The Giants are at home against the Dodgers for three, then in Chicago and Milwaukee for seven before returning back to San Francisco for a seven-game homestand against Atlanta and Florida. With a tough road trip in Dodger Stadium and Petco Park following that, the smart money might be on the Nationals series back at AT&T Park starting August 6. We'll see.


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