This Week in the National League: 2008 Week 1

Pete Khazen returns to celebrate Opening Day in his first weekly report on happenings around baseball's Senior Circuit

It was a soggy Opening Day for many clubs, but, alas, the 2008 Major League Baseball Season is upon us. There's not much action about which to report with the National League marathon just seconds into the race. But the race is here. And it is good. This is why we come back from more. So without further delay, we'll get things going with the latest and greatest from around our favorite league, which leaves the designated hitter behind, where it belongs.

 

East Division

 

Washington Nationals (2-0) – Last to first? The Nationals broke in their shiny, new ballpark Sunday night before a national audience (no pun intended). Ryan Zimmerman, candidate of many sportswriters to have a monster season, cracked a walk-off home run to christen his new backyard. And before the champagne was dry, the Nationals went to Philly and spoiled their home opener, scoring five runs in the ninth inning. Nick Johnson had a pair of doubles and drove in the eventual game-winning run.

 

New York Mets (1-1)Johan Santana shined in his debut for the Mets. The star pitcher tossed seven solid innings striking out eight and giving up just two runs. The Mets rolled to victory behind David Wright's three RBI. But the Mets didn't take home the win in game two against the Marlins, losing 5-4. Still, keep an eye on Angel Pagan this year. The Mets new outfielder has blazing speed and has a pair of hits in early action with three RBI himself.

 

Florida Marlins (1-1) – That Florida lineup looks drastically different without the monster bat of Miguel Cabrera penciled in. Cabrera's absence might bring down both Dan Uggla's and Hanley Ramirez's production this season. Still Dan Uggla is off to a fast start, belting his first home run on Tuesday.

 

Philadelphia Phillies (0-1) – With the game tied, the Phils went with fill-in closer Tom Gordon to work the ninth inning. Brad Lidge is starting the season on the DL, so Gordon will have to do for now. Sigh, Flash wasn't up to the task in this non-save opportunity. He gave up five ugly runs to the Nationals en route to the loss and starting the season with a 135.00 ERA. But hey, both Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins had pairs of hits, including a home run and two RBI each.

 

Atlanta Braves (0-2) – Two games. Two one-run losses. One-run games make or break a season. Every playoff team you hear about does well in one-run games. And teams in the cellar, well, they don't. The Braves lost to the Nationals Sunday night when Peter Moylan gave up that Zimmerman home run. They went on to lose a 12-11 contest to the lowly Pirates on Monday for their home opener. Tom Glavine pitched five innings, only giving up one run, and he left the game with a 4-1 lead. But the Braves bullpen couldn't hold on, and despite a valiant comeback by the Braves, the pen still faltered in extras. Of note, Chipper Jones is blazing with four RBI out the gate and is on pace for 324 this season (smile).

 

 

Central Division

 

Pittsburgh Pirates (1-0) – Last to first for the Bucs this season? One thing is for sure: there is not a single writer outside Pittsburgh that has such a prediction on record. But the Pirates have a solid, young pitching staff and a team of veterans that know how to compete. One of those vets is Xavier Nady who cracked two home runs in his debut. Move over Barry Bonds - he's on pace for 324 this season. Nady combined with Nate McLouth for seven hits, six runs, and eight RBI in the opener.

 

Milwaukee Brewers (1-0)Ben Sheets was masterful in his first start, tossing a rain-delayed 6.1 scoreless innings, striking out seven, and giving up just two hits. He didn't factor in the decision, but the Brew Crew got the best of the Cubs in the division matchup at Wrigley Field. Despite the clinic Sheets put on, Eric Gagne apparently wasn't paying attention. The Mitchell Report-named star closer faltered in his first save opportunity, but managed the win as the Brewers won in extras.

 

St. Louis Cardinals (0-1) – A monsoon in St. Louis ruined Opening Day and spoiled a 5-1, third-inning lead. The game was cancelled against the Rockies Monday and made up Tuesday night. Starting from scratch, it was a different story. The Cards took an early lead behind a Yadier Molina home run and five scoreless innings from starting pitcher Kyle Lohse. But the short lead didn't hold up as new third baseman Troy Glaus made a throwing error which tied the game. Ryan Franklin (0-1) started that inning and got the loss. Randy Flores struck out two batters and almost preserved a tie, but walked Jayson Nix on five pitches, resulting in a tough Cardinal loss.

 

Cincinnati Reds (0-1) – When you're facing Brandon Webb and you give the Diamondbacks an unearned run in the first inning, it's tough to beat them, even with Aaron Harang on the mound. Harang gave up just two earned runs Opening Day in Cincy, but it wasn't good enough to get new skipper, Dusty Baker, a win. On a side note, Corey Patterson also returned to the NL Central, where he played under Baker in Chicago. Patterson was often criticized in Chicago for not delivering and went 0-for-3 Monday, leaving three men on base.

         

Chicago Cubs (0-1)Carlos Zambrano didn't give up any runs in his debut, but didn't last long enough in the rain to factor in the decision. Kerry Wood pitched in a non-save opportunity in the ninth inning. Surprise, surprise to cynical Cubs fans – Wood plunked a batter and gave up three runs. He didn't factor in the decision, though, as Kosuke Fukudome exploded on Wrigley Field with three hits, including a game-tying, three-run homer in the ninth inning. Alas, the oft-reliable Bob Howry couldn't put a goose egg on the board in the tenth, and the Cubs fell 4-3.

 

Houston Astros (0-2) – It's tough when you have to start the season against Jake Peavy and Chris Young, but that's the way it goes. And so, the Astros managed just one run in their first two games of the year. Roy Oswalt just didn't have it on Monday, giving up 11 hits and three runs for his first loss. But Brandon Backe did have a decent start in his debut, tossing five innings and giving up just two runs on five hits.

 

 

West Division

 

San Diego Padres (2-0) –Peavy and Young are two tough pitchers. Peavy tossed seven scoreless innings for his first victory on Monday, and Young followed him up with 5.2 innings of one-run ball for his first notch in the win column. Trevor Hoffman also earned his first save of the season Tuesday night, pitching a scoreless ninth inning. Maybe Mark Prior, who starts the season on the 60-day DL, can learn a thing or two from these guys on the road back from his shoulder trouble.

 

Los Angeles Dodgers (2-0) – Not a bad start for Joe Torre. Sure he gets to dip his toes in the NL waters again taking on the offense-less Giants, but two wins are two wins. Brad Penny pitched 6.2 innings of shutout ball to lead the Dodgers and Torre to their first victory of the season, and rookie Delwyn Young smacked a walk-off RBI single for the win in game two.

 

Colorado Rockies (1-0) – A rainout saved Jeff Francis from an ugly first game against the Cardinals. The postponement meant former Cardinal Kip Wells got to pitch the pseudo-opening day game at Busch Stadium. Wells looked sharp, pitching into the sixth inning and only giving up one run. He didn't factor in the decision, but the Rockies pulled out a W, much like they did last September and October. A Cardinals throwing error and a bases-loaded walk brought sweet victory to the Rockies clubhouse.

 

Arizona Diamondbacks (1-0)Brandon Webb earned his first victory of the season, but he was a little shaky. Webb struck out six and only gave up two runs, but he also walked four. Nonetheless, the Diamondbacks got back on the winning tracks thanks to solo home runs by Eric Byrnes, Chris Young, and Jeff Salazar. Brandon Lyon also picked up his first save as the D'Backs closer, replacing the departed Jose Valverde.

 

San Francisco Giants (0-2) – Another opening day and another disappointment for Barry Zito, who gave up four runs and eight hits over five innings in the loss on Monday against the Dodgers. Some might argue that the Giants get what they deserve – in part for giving Zito such a big contract, and in part for staying married to Barry Bonds all these years en route to cashing in on a seemingly-tainted series of broken records.

 

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


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