This Week in the National League – Week 19

The 19th report in Pete Khazen's regular season weekly trip around Major League Baseball's National League in 2007 looks at tightening division races.

No one seems willing and able to run away with the National League the way the Mets did last season. Then again, it didn't exactly get them to the World Series either. All three divisions are completely up for grabs with just six weeks left in the season. And thanks to a few teams that appear to have fallen asleep at the wheel the past week or two while others have started chugging their energy drinks, we've got some hotly-contested races brewing. We could see some photo finishes in September, so grab your digital cameras and get ready.


East Division


New York Mets (66-52) - Paul Lo Duca landed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right hamstring this week, and backup catcher Ramon Castro also was injured Sunday and is day-to-day as of Tuesday evening. Mike DiFelice will take on the catching duties until Castro's status is solidified. Meanwhile, the Mets have won two straight riding Moises Alou and his sweet swing. Alou rocked two home runs and had four RBI Monday against the Marlins and picked up the game-winning hit against Pittsburgh in the eighth inning Tuesday. Alou is now hitting .310 on the year.


Philadelphia Phillies (63-55) - After a slow start, Ryan Howard is putting up those MVP-like numbers again. Howard has his home run total up to 33 this year and is the NL leader in RBI with 97. Forty-four year old starting pitcher Jamie Moyer has won four straight decisions. He also hit 150 innings this season, marking the twelfth consecutive season he's hit that mark. It also means he's well on his way to his seventh consecutive season with 200 innings pitched.


Atlanta Braves (63-56) - Manager Bobby Cox was ejected arguing balls and strikes Tuesday night. It was Cox's 132nd ejection, setting a record for an MLB player or coach. The Braves continue to hang in with the Mets and Phillies. Tim Hudson has come on strong this second half and won his 13th game last Thursday beating the Mets in the series finale scattering nine hits and giving up three runs. His ERA is among the league best at 3.01.


Florida Marlins (56-63) - Dontrelle Willis finally broke that losing streak against the hottest team in the NL by striking out 11 D'Backs over the course of seven innings Tuesday night. Closer Kevin Gregg has no doubt been one of the pleasant surprises this season. Gregg made three appearances in three consecutive days this past week tossing a scoreless, hitless inning in each instance and earning three more saves. His season total is 26 and his 3.05 ERA isn't too shabby for a closer.


Washington Nationals (54-65) - The Nationals activated starting pitcher Shawn Hill from the DL this week. Hill started Tuesday's game and pitched six scoreless innings against Philly, giving up just one hit. But due to a limited pitch count, he couldn't go further into the game, and the Nats lost 3-2. Hill is 3-3 this season with a promising 2.41 ERA in nine starts.

Central Division


Milwaukee Brewers (62-57) - The Brewers don't seem like they want to hold on to first place anymore, but the Cubs aren't exactly stepping up to take it from them. The Cardinals are though. The Brewers have dropped their last four against the defending World Champions, including the opener Tuesday night to a three-game home series with St. Louis. Prince Fielder isn't giving up, though. Fielder has homered in six of his last nine games, bringing his NL-best total to 37. Since losing staff ace Ben Sheets to the DL on July 15, Milwaukee is 11-16. They need Sheets back if they're going to make a run for the postseason.


Chicago Cubs (60-58) - The Cubs offense is just hurting without Alfonso Soriano in the lineup, and with Aramis Ramirez out on occasion nursing a sore wrist, the offense has really sputtered. The club did manage a split in a four-game series in Colorado over the weekend and have a huge four-game set with the Redbirds this weekend at Wrigley Field. Carlos Zambrano, who was on fire, has cooled. Big Z gave up six runs and 13 hits to the Reds on Tuesday to suffer his ninth loss this season. He still leads the NL with 14 wins, but he's winless in his last three starts and has given up a combined 13 runs in his last two.


St. Louis Cardinals (56-60) - Rick Ankiel has been the talk of the town. Josh Hamilton was the comeback kid story of the year out of Cincy until Ankiel burst onto the scene. After a disastrous departure from his once-promising pitching career with the Cardinals, Ankiel took on an outfielder's role in the minors and got the call-up last week. He homered in his first game Thursday, and cracked two long balls on Saturday. The Cards have new life, especially with two clubs wavering above them. Both the Brewers and Cubs might have a chance to put some distance between them and the Cards this week, or the Cards could narrow the gap to virtually nothing.
Houston Astros (53-65) - Houston isn't exactly giving up on this season yet either. They swept the Cubs in a three-game series last week and continue to battle tough. Roy Oswalt has won five straight starts and has given up just three earned runs in those games. Luke Scott has also come on strong lately. In his last eight games, Scott has 10 RBI.


Cincinnati Reds (51-67) - Catcher David Ross was placed on the 15-day DL with a concussion suffered in a collision at home plate Sunday with San Diego's Mike Cameron. The Reds continue to plug along and keep things interesting. Aaron Harang definitely fits that category. Harang picked up two wins this past week: an eight-inning shutout against the Dodgers last Wednesday and a bit more unlikely win against the Cubs Tuesday night after giving up three home runs.


Pittsburgh Pirates (49-68) - The Pirates have the worst record in the NL with a .419 win percentage. They are clearly out of the playoff hunt, yet they traded for an expensive veteran pitcher in Matt Morris for some reason. Morris has started two games since coming to Pittsburgh. He's 0-0 in those starts but has given up 16 hits and nine earned runs in 12.1 innings. The Pirates did have a couple highlights this past weekend against San Francisco. Tom Gorzelanny pitched his first complete game shutout on Sunday and Freddy Sanchez had a four-hit, five-RBI day at the plate on Saturday.


West Division


Arizona Diamondbacks (67-53) - The D'Backs were the hottest team in the NL until they dropped their last two. Still their winning ways have put a little space between them and the rest of the NL West pack, at least for now. Brandon Webb pitched his second consecutive complete game shutout Saturday against the Nationals in a 1-0 win for the D'Backs.


San Diego Padres (64-54) - Catcher Michael Barrett landed on the DL with a concussion after getting injured trying to break up a double play on Saturday. But the Padres have found some offense even without Barrett's bat in the lineup. Brian Giles has a six-game hit streak going, during which he smacked five home runs and seven RBI in a three-game span. Jake Peavy won his fourth consecutive start, raising his record to 13-5. His 2.23 ERA is second in the NL only to teammate Chris Young's 2.02.


Colorado Rockies (61-57) - The Rockies have shown they can put up some monster run totals this season. With an offensively weak division, their power alone is keeping them competitive in the NL West. One of the many cashing in on the hit parade is Brad Hawpe, who has cranked three home runs and driven in eight runs this past week. Troy Tulowitzki has also been on a tear. The shortstop has three homers in his past eight games along with 12 RBI.


Los Angeles Dodgers (60-58) - The Dodgers are fading fast. The club has dropped four straight and their hitting woes suffered another setback with Nomar Garciaparra being placed on the DL this week. Brad Penny helped slow the bleeding Friday night against the Cardinals. His seven-inning shutout performance ended in a no-decision, but the club did get the win.


San Francisco Giants (50-69) - With Barry Bonds surpassing Hank Aaron in the all-time home run rankings, there is definitely a deflated feeling in San Francisco. The media is gone. The hype is over. Even the steroid controversy discussions have fizzled. All that's left is the reality that the Giants' marriage to Bonds and the home run record has ended with them competing for the worst record in the National League, just .001 percentage points off the pace currently set by the Pirates.


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