This Week in the National League – Week 16

The 16th report in Pete Khazen's regular season weekly trip around Major League Baseball's National League in 2007. Controversy is no stranger across the Senior Circuit.

With a gambling scandal in the NBA involving a referee and a despicable dog-fighting controversy involving one of the NFL's most gifted athletes, Bud Selig might just have it easy. A steroid controversy involving the player about to break one of the most prolific records in sports and a serious debate involving safety of coaches in baseball seem fairly pale in comparison to what the other commissioners have to deal with as of late. Yes, there's lot of big news in sports, but the beat of the National League goes on. And so, here's the latest and greatest from around the league:


East Division


New York Mets (56-43) - In search of some breathing room atop the NL East, the Mets have won four of five and still have five games left against Pittsburgh and Washington. Their lone loss came at the hands of Brad Penny, but they took the other three games in this past weekend's four-game set with the Dodgers. Carlos Beltran hit homers in three consecutive games, and in their win Tuesday night, John Maine powered the Mets with a homer of his own to go with his seven strong innings on the mound.


Atlanta Braves (54-47) - Chipper Jones is starting to look like one of those ageless wonders. Though occasionally sidelined with an injury, the third baseman can flat out hit. In his past eight games he has two home runs, five multi-hit games, and 10 RBI boosting his average to .347. After Bob Wickman blew a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the ninth in San Francisco Tuesday night, the Braves rallied for a 13-inning win. Tyler Yates earned his second save of the year, just two days after suffering a late-inning loss to the Cardinals.


Philadelphia Phillies (51-48) - The Phils have a four-game winning streak going, which includes three straight wins against San Diego's tough pitching staff. In those three games the Phillies scored 28 runs, powered by none other than Ryan Howard who had eight RBI in those three games, including a two-homer, five-RBI day at the plate on Saturday. J.D. Durbin has gotten into the starting mix, and he's 2-0 in his last two games. He's given up just one run in 15.0 innings and tossed his first complete game shutout on Sunday against Jake Peavy and the Padres.


Florida Marlins (48-53) - Star shortstop Hanley Ramirez partially dislocated his shoulder Sunday and will be out for at least a few more games. He currently leads the NL with 132 hits and is batting .336. The number seven has not been kind to Dontrelle Willis. He's been stuck on seven wins since May 29 with an 0-7 record in his last 10 starts. That means he's got one shot left to avoid getting skunked in two consecutive months.


Washington Nationals (42-57) - Infielder Ronnie Belliard is hitting .304 and got himself a nice two-year contract extension worth $3.5 million. He's fairly safe in Washington, but the rest of the crew might not be as that trade deadline approaches. Teams competing around the league are desperate for consistent hitting and relief pitching, which means the likes of Dmitri Young and Chad Cordero could find themselves going from worst to first sometime soon.


Central Division


Milwaukee Brewers (56-44) - Their lead has shrunk to three games in the Central, but they're still hanging on. The Brew Crew's offense has been faltering a bit lately. Prince Fielder is stuck on 30 home runs, having not hit one since his first game back from the All-Star break. The big man did manage his first triple of the year Tuesday night, though. And though it might not be pretty, Yovani Gallardo and Claudio Vargas are both 2-0 in their last two starts.


Chicago Cubs (52-46) - The Cubs continued their hot streak this past week. Though they dropped two straight to Arizona over the weekend, they rebounded with a tough 4-3 win Tuesday night while visiting the Cardinals. Carlos Zambrano earned his 13th win and in a matter of 10 starts has shrunken his ERA from an uncharacteristic 5.38 to 3.65. With the stick, it's been Aramis Ramirez, whose hitting has been timely as well as consistent. Ramirez has 14 RBI in his last 10 games and has also lifted his batting average from .307 to .321, in part thanks to a four-hit night Tuesday in St. Louis.


St. Louis Cardinals (45-51) - The defending World Champions are lingering around in the NL Central. With two games remaining against the Cubs and three afterwards against the Brewers, it's catch-up week for the Cards. They don't need to win them all, but they do need at least a split to stay alive and keep the teeter-totter on the side of the "buyers" with the trade deadline approaching. If they get back into the race, though, they'll be doing it without ace pitcher Chris Carpenter, who went under the Tommy John knife this week. Youthfulness has been carrying this injury-riddled team. And Skip Schumaker has been leading the charge, batting .315 through 92 at-bats and driving in five runs in his last three games.


Houston Astros (43-57) - On Tuesday, Craig Biggio announced his plans to retire after this season. He then went out and cracked a grand slam to the delight of his fanatics, leading the Astros to victory over the visiting Dodgers. The Astros did lose Hunter Pence and his .330 batting average to the DL with a sprained wrist. Thanks in part to some solid defense, the Astros leapt over the Pirates this weekend. Woody Williams pitched eight solid innings en route to a W, and Roy Oswalt looked like the Roy Oswalt we know and love tossing six innings of one-run ball on his way to his ninth win of the season.


Pittsburgh Pirates (41-57) - The Bucs are in a bit of a freefall. The offense just hasn't been there, scoring just 15 runs in their last five games, including seven in their lone win during that span. Tom Gorzelanny continues to be the big bright spot in the rotation. Though 0-1 in his last two starts, he maintains a team-best 3.20 ERA, has a team-high nine wins, and has reached 132 innings pitched through 20 starts. Now the true test comes to see how well he does down the stretch as he enters into uncharted territory for wear and tear on his arm.


Cincinnati Reds (42-59) - After another disappointing season, finding themselves 17 games under .500, for the Reds it's just a matter of who and when. They've got plenty of high-priced veteran talent to deal. Adam Dunn is one of those guys. And you can't help but wonder what a player like him would be like on a real contender. Would he thrive, or just not show up. He's on pace to break 40 home runs again, and come close to 200 strikeouts. Interestingly enough, during his career, as his strikeout totals increase, so does his batting average. Go figure.


West Division


Los Angeles Dodgers (56-45) - Though they're struggling as of late, the Dodgers have held on to a hairline lead in the West thanks in part to the fact the rest of the division has had rough weeks as well. Brad Penny continues to anchor this team, earning his 12th win of the season beating the Mets Saturday. When he was pulled with one out in the seventh, he had a little tirade in the dugout, but it's completely understandable when you're one of the top pitchers in the league and want the ball. Outfielder Matt Kemp continues to pound the baseball, which makes you scratch your head in bewilderment why he's not playing every day. He's batting .371 on the season, and in his last five full games played, he's 10-for-22 with three home runs and 10 RBI.


San Diego Padres (54-45) - Midseason blues for Jake Peavy? The guy was lights out through mid-June with a 9-1 record and league-best 1.98 ERA. Since then he's gone 0-4 in five starts. In those four losses, though his powerless Padres managed just four runs to support him. Chris Young, who has been the unsung hero of this club with his 1.82 ERA and nine wins, pulled himself from Tuesday night's game in Colorado while warming up in the third inning. He reportedly has an abdominal strain and is listed as day-to-day. With the rash of similar injuries in the league, this is definitely one to keep a close eye on in this tight divisional race.


Arizona Diamondbacks (54-48) - The D'Backs are heating up. Winners of four in a row, including two against the surging Cubs, pitching has been their key to success. Yusmeiro Petit pitched six scoreless innings to lead Arizona to a victory Sunday in Chicago and a series win. Jose Valverde chalked up four saves this past week, carrying his season total to 31. He's given up just one hit and two walks in his last five appearances, while striking out eight in 5.0 innings of work. Orlando Hudson has caught a bit of a spark. He's gone 5-for-9 in his last two games, homering twice and driving in five runs.


Colorado Rockies (50-50) - In a division with no clear favorites, why not the Rockies? They're playing .500 ball and are just 5.5 games behind the Dodgers. Starting pitcher Jeff Francis earned his tenth win this week, but he couldn't pull off the two-win week, getting a no-decision in a Rockies win Monday. Rockies first base coach Glenallen Hill also made some news this week. Following the tragic death of Mike Coolbaugh, a minor league first base coach who was struck by a line drive and subsequently passed away from the trauma, Hill decided it just made sense and went safety first.


San Francisco Giants (41-57) - Barry Bonds cracked two home runs in the series finale on Thursday last week in Chicago bringing his career total to 753, just two within Hank Aaron's record. But he was skunked over the weekend in front of Commissioner Bud Selig in Milwaukee. So the quest returns to AT&T Park, where the kayaks and swimmers might surpass the crowds we saw for the home run derby just a few weeks ago.


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