This Week in the National League – Week 15

The 15th report in Pete Khazen's regular season weekly trip around Major League Baseball's National League in 2007. The second half offers fresh hope for a number of clubs.

With the All-Star break in the past, teams and players can forget about mistakes and slumps from the first half of the season. Those who got off to a fast start have to try to sustain it now with a league of onlookers saying they can't possibly do that. It's put up or shut up time as we cruise into mid-July.

 

That trade deadline is approaching, and if teams are going to give their front offices motivation to get out the checkbooks and make a run, they better produce now, because later it won't matter.

 

And so here is the latest and greatest from around the National League as action picks back up following the midsummer classic.

 

East Division

 

New York Mets (52-41) - Orlando Hernandez outpitched Jake Peavy Tuesday night en route to his sixth win. He pitched 7.0 brilliant shutout innings, giving up just two hits and lowering his ERA to 2.96. The Mets are 4-2 since the break, with Billy Wagner picking up saves in three of those wins. Jose Reyes failed in his first two attempts to swipe a base since the break, but the Willie Mays Hays-like base-stealing machine took grabbed SB #47 Tuesday night against San Diego.

 

Atlanta Braves (50-44) - The Braves swept Pittsburgh to open their second half of the season, but they dropped the first two of a three-game set with Cincinnati.  They hope John Smoltz can play stopper to this little two-game losing streak as the veteran returns from the DL Wednesday. Catcher Brian McCann picked up where he left off. He hit a home run with four RBI in his last game before the break, and in the first game after the break on Friday, he rocked two long balls and drove in four more runs.

 

Philadelphia Phillies (47-46) - Talk about a roller coast first week to the second half of the season.  Check out these scores for the Phillies past five games: 13-3, 10-4, 2-10, 3-10, and 15-3. It's feast or famine for the offense, and the pitching for that matter. Everyone has been hitting, but Ryan Howard has been on a tear.  He blasted two home runs Tuesday night in LA and has eight RBI since the break. With their 10-2 loss on Sunday, though, the Phillies became the first professional team to reach 10,000 losses - a milestone only a mother can love.

 

Florida Marlins (45-59) - After a magical rookie season, Josh Johnson is back on the DL with right forearm stiffness. He's only pitched in four games this season. The injury might just open the door for an opportunist, and Rick Vanden Hurk took advantage Tuesday night. He got the call-up from Triple-A and tossed a five-inning gem against the Cardinals, shutting them out and earning the win.

 

Washington Nationals (38-55) - All-Star Dmitri Young has a nine-game hit streak going and has driven in nine runs since action started back up following the break. Relief pitcher Saul Rivera managed to earn vulture of the week honors by picking up two wins in three appearances since the break.


Central Division

 

Milwaukee Brewers (53-40) - The Brewers might have a hot Chicago team on their heels, but they're holding their own. After losing their first game following the break, they've pulled out four consecutive one-run wins. Francisco Cordero has pitched in three straight games earning three saves and bringing his season total to a remarkable 30. The Brewers did get word, though, that they've lost Ben Sheets for four to six weeks thanks to a sprain of his middle finger.

 

Chicago Cubs (48-44) - The Cubs have been playing great baseball - as if they could do no wrong. Timely hitting, solid pitching, a little luck, and some good all-around fundamental defense have been key for them. But their run hit a bump in the road Tuesday night as they walked in the winning run against the Giants to snap their four-game win streak. Starting pitcher Ted Lilly has won his last four starts bringing his season total to nine, and he's only given up one run in each of his past three starts. The Cubs did make a move adding catcher Jason Kendall to the roster after a trade with the Athletics. After waiving his no-trade clause, Kendall returns to the NL Central, where he spent the first nine years of his career with the Pirates.

 

St. Louis Cardinals (42-48) - The Cardinals have looked brutal at times, but they're still lingering around out there in a weak National League. Keep an eye out for next week's series against Chicago and Milwaukee. They could make or break the Cardinals season and give the front office motivation to try and add to the roster for a run at another October or pack it in and deal some veterans away for some rebuilding youth. There's no doubt that Albert Pujols is staying put though. And after that home run draught, everyone knew he'd bust out following his Home Run Derby appearance. And that he did. Pujols hit four home runs in his first three games after the break and has his eyes on a big second half.

 

Pittsburgh Pirates (40-53) - The Bucs are 0-5 since the break and have fallen to 13.0 games behind the Brewers. They often say a winning streak can get you right back in the race, but a losing streak can just as soon bury you too. Starting pitcher Shane Youman suffered his first loss Tuesday falling to 2-1 after giving up five runs in five innings of work against the Rockies.

 

Houston Astros (40-54) - Craig Biggio figures to get some extra bench time on the road as the Astros look to work Chris Burke a bit more at second base. The club hopes to give Biggio the majority of the starts at home in Houston, where the fans would likely turn rabid if they couldn't see their loyal, veteran star regularly. Roy Oswalt is having the worst year of his career. He's 8-6 on the season, but his 3.91 ERA this year is the worst of his career.

 

Cincinnati Reds (39-55) - With his 24th homer of the season Monday, Ken Griffey Jr. moved past Frank Robinson into sixth place in career home runs. Starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo didn't have as dramatic feat occur, but he did pitch 7.0 innings of shutout ball against the Braves where he only gave up three hits and struck out nine.

 

West Division

 

Los Angeles Dodgers (53-41) - The Dodgers beat up on a slumping Giants team, sweeping them over the weekend and ended up winning four straight to jump-start the second half before falling to the Phils 15-3 on Tuesday night. Brad Penny beat Jamie Moyer on Monday to earn his 11th win. He gave up just four hits and one run while striking out eight. Veteran second baseman Jeff Kent has been red hot since the break. He's smacked two home runs and has driven in nine bringing his season total to 50 RBI.

 

San Diego Padres (51-41) - When you look at a string of games for the Padres and see one shutout, you almost expect it to belong to Chris Young or Jake Peavy. Not this week. It's all Justin Germano. He played stopper on Sunday against the Diamondbacks leading the Padres en route to averting a sweep to start the second half of the season. Germano tossed 6.1 strong shutout innings and outdueled Brandon Webb, who struck out 10 despite giving up four runs and 11 hits. On Monday, catcher Michael Barrett had one of his best games at the plate for his new club. He tallied three hits and drove in three runs, doubling his total for the month of July.

 

Arizona Diamondbacks (49-46) - The D'Backs have scored just five runs in their past three games. The race is tight out West, and Arizona definitely needs their leadoff man and center fielder Chris Young to start getting on base more. His .279 on-base percentage just isn't good enough to kickstart the offense with enough regularity. They also need shortstop Stephen Drew to start hitting the ball. His .240 batting average is just two points above Young's, which clearly isn't saying much.

 

Colorado Rockies (47-46) - It doesn't look as though this Rockies team has plans to fade away anytime soon. Colorado is right in the middle of the battle for the West mainly because they have offense in a division that doesn't know what offense is. Besides the big names we hear every day, even the likes of Yorvit Torrealba are swinging a hot stick. Torrealba has an eight-game hit streak going during which he has lifted his average from .237 to .271 and driven in seven runs. Staff ace Jeff Francis continues to do his thing too. It may not always be pretty as he's given up six runs in three of his last four starts, but in the most recent, it was good enough for win number nine on the season.

 

San Francisco Giants (39-52) - Barry Bonds is in an 0-for-19 slump. He didn't play in Monday's game against the Cubs and he lined out in a pinch-hit appearance Tuesday night. Right now he's stuck on 751 career home runs, but you know it's just a matter of time. Like Bonds, the Giants as a team have been slumping and find themselves double-digit games back at 12.5 in the divisional race. At least Barry Zito looked a little like the highest paid pitcher in baseball Tuesday night against the Cubs. He gave up just one earned run in 7.0 innings of work and earned his first win after going 0-4 in his past six starts.

 

Got questions or comments? Sound off to pete@petekhazen.com.


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