This Week in the National League – Week 23

Week 23 in Pete Khazen's regular season trip around Major League Baseball's National League in 2007 looks at tightening division races.

This humble writer is back from a four-week hiatus enjoying the fresh new life of fatherhood. During that time, I did manage to introduce my brand-spankin' new daughter to baseball. I'm not quite sure if she can make sense of the game, but she can definitely tell when Dad is upset about what certain teams are doing on that thing they call the television. Needless to say, I've probably watched more baseball in recent weeks than in a long time, but unfortunately, the little one has kept me sufficiently distracted and away from the computer for any length of time. Being a father now I guess I'm more acute to her surroundings than I normally would care about my own. Fresh air is definitely a high priced commodity, and with the crisp air of Fall arriving, those competitive goose bumps definitely get triggered in preparation for the stretch run and the second season in October. So here's the latest and greatest since my hiatus, and more particularly in the last week from around the Senior Circuit.

East Division


New York Mets (82-62) - No surprises here. The Mets have the best record in the beleaguered National League. Their competition has all but faded into the sunset as the team atop the East Division has guaranteed at least a winning record this season. David Wright is undoubtedly an NL Most Valuable Player contender, batting .316 with 28 home runs and 96 RBI on arguably the best, if not the most consistent, team in the league. John Maine has been solid this season posting a 14-9 record with a 3.80 ERA, but it has been Oliver Perez who has come on to steal the show. Perez is also 14-9, but has a most impressive 3.42 ERA and is winner of his only two starts in September.


Philadelphia Phillies (76-68) - Chase Utley returned right before I disappeared, and he's definitely keeping the Phils hopes alive, hitting .338 this season. Starting pitcher Kyle Lohse may only have one win in his last three starts, but his Phils have won all three games. With the Phillies, he's 2-0 with a respectable 4.12 ERA.


Atlanta Braves (74-71) - The Braves are still somewhat in the hunt, but they're going to have to really catch fire to grab that wild card spot. Chipper Jones is having another spectacular year, hitting .330 with 25 home runs, but as the end of the season approaches, he's struggling with a strained muscle in his side and has been day-to-day. Tim Hudson has not been the go-to guy down the stretch. Though he has 15 wins, Hudson has been stuck there since I began my little vacation and is 0-3 in his last four starts.


Washington Nationals (65-80) - Ah, the first change in the standings I have to report. The Nationals have leapt over the Marlins in the East. Ryan Zimmerman is only hitting .269, but he has put together a decent year full of power numbers. Zimmerman has 23 home runs and 83 RBI with a team that isn't exactly an offensive powerhouse. Shawn Hill has definitely shown he's a kid to keep an eye on going forward. He's only 1-0 in six starts since returning from injury in August, but that 2.87 ERA speaks for itself.


Florida Marlins (62-83) - A year ago they were competing for the playoffs and the talk of the NL. After kicking their Manager of the Year to the curb, they're in the NL East cellar and the bottom of the entire league. Go figure. With talented offensive players like Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla, Miguel Cabrera, and Josh Willingham, this team should be more competitive, but no Marlin pitcher has double-digit wins. Scott Olsen is closest with nine.

Central Division


Milwaukee Brewers (74-70) - The Brewers, Cubs, and Cardinals are in a dogfight (sorry, can we say things like that anymore?). It's clear though that this team is going to live and die with the long ball much like some basketball teams do with the three-pointer. And with a guy like Prince Fielder, your odds for making the postseason using that strategy seems pretty good. Fielder has five home runs, eight RBI, and has hit safely in every game in September. And though he's been a bit wild walking more guys than expected, Ben Sheets is 2-0 since returning from the DL. The Brewers will be in it down to the last moment, no doubt.


Chicago Cubs (73-71) - Carlos Zambrano got his big money contract, and then he sucked it up big time losing five straight starts. It was so bad that he got booed by the Wrigley faithful, retorted back at them, and then apologized. He followed it up with a Zambrano-like two-hit gem against the pesky Pirates. The Cubs need Big Z to bring it down the stretch. They also need Aramis Ramirez to keep battling through his aches and pains. He's hitting .319 and continues to be one of the more-clutch hitters the Cubs have. But it all will be for naught if they can't figure out who can close out games for them. Ryan Dempster blew his last save opportunity and suffered the loss in Tuesday's extra-inning game against Houston.


St. Louis Cardinals (69-73) - The Redbirds continue to hang despite some dreadful injuries, new faces, and a pitching staff that can make you scratch your head. And with four games remaining against the Cubs and three against Milwaukee, they will have their say in this three-team battle. Rick Ankiel has definitely been a catalyst for the club with nine home runs and 29 RBI since being called up. For those who think he has the mental game finally figured out after those wild pitch spells way back when, think again. A report broke regarding Ankiel receiving human growth hormone in 2004. Since those alarming questions popped up, he's had one hit, his average has dropped 50 points and he has made some odd plays in the field.


Cincinnati Reds (65-79) - The Reds have come on fairly strong, but it's definitely too little, too late. But with a load of divisional games remaining, look for the Reds to play spoilers and love every minute of it. Adam Dunn homered twice, including a grand slam, Tuesday night to help knock the Cards four games back. With a 14-4 record and a 3.64 ERA, it's just a shame we don't get to see Aaron Harang compete for the postseason.
Pittsburgh Pirates (64-81) - The Bucs have also been spoilers, taking far too many games down this stretch from Milwaukee, Chicago, and St. Louis. Tom Gorzelanny is the surprise NL pitcher this season. He's been steadfast all season long, and at 14-7 with a 3.48 ERA he's a pitcher folks recognize now. During the past few weeks, Adam LaRoche has come on to produce some decent numbers. He current has a seven-game hit streak, and his 21 home runs and 84 RBI are about what was expected this season. 


Houston Astros (63-81) - Manager Phil Garner got the boot. It's amazing how bad some owners' memories can be. Will the Astros really benefit from not having Garner these last few weeks? Competitors they are, they won't make it easy on anyone and don't want any part of the NL Central cellar. Carlos Lee may just have one home run and two RBI in his last 10 games, but his glove cost the Cubs a win Tuesday night. Roy Oswalt had won six straight decisions, improving to 14-6, but he lost to the Mets Sunday. Still look for Oswalt to pick up a couple more wins before this season is done.


West Division


Arizona Diamondbacks (82-64) - The D'Backs have been the hottest team in the NL for about six weeks now. With a six-game winning streak that ended Tuesday, Arizona muscled up and pulled a bit ahead of the NL West pack. The club did lose second baseman Orlando Hudson to season-ending thumb surgery this week. But the story of the year in the desert has been Jose Valverde. The guy has been lights out. He's rattled off 45 saves with a 2.83 ERA and still has gas left in the tank.


San Diego Padres (78-65) - Jake Peavy wants it. He pitched seven innings against the Dodgers Tuesday night giving up just two runs and earning his 17th victory this season. The Padres are the current wild card leaders and are still after the prized divisional title. And though he's had just one hit in his last three games, Adrian Gonzalez has three home runs and 11 RBI in his last 10 games. That's monstrous production for a Padres hitter.


Colorado Rockies (75-69) - Don't count Colorado out yet. With those bats, how could you? Matt Holiday has cranked four home runs in the last three games. He's hitting .335 with 29 home runs and 116 RBI. It's just too bad he plays in Colorado - unless he magnifies those numbers by 20%, he won't get MVP consideration. With 191.1 innings already, Jeff Francis is poised to hit that 200-inning milestone, something he fell one inning short of last season. His 15 wins are also a personal best.


Los Angeles Dodgers (75-69) - The Dodgers are also alive, but after beating up on the Cubs, they went on to lose two of three in San Francisco. It's tough to make the playoffs when you don't beat the teams you're expected to beat. Brad Penny continues to be consistent, but he's got just two wins in his last nine starts. He hasn't been lights out down the stretch, and that has cost the Dodgers. But he definitely can't do it alone. And with Nomar Garciaparra continuing to battle injuries, things don't get any easier.


San Francisco Giants (66-79) - Amidst a pretty dismal season in the Bay Area, Noah Lowry has amassed some solid stats. The Giants starting pitcher is 14-8 with a 3.92 ERA. His elbow has been bothering him and a recent MRI revealed minor inflammation. Expect the Giants to play it safe and keep him out of the rotation the rest of the season.


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