This Week in the National League: 2008 Week 3

Pete Khazen's weekly jaunt around the National League for all the latest news.

This isn't exactly the start to the 2008 National League season we were anticipating, or is it? The NL has been so goofy the past few years it's hard to say what is right and what is out of the ordinary. There are some new names popping up in both the "good" and "bad" categories, so without further delay, here's the latest and greatest from around the league.


East Division


Florida Marlins (8-5) - Mike Jacobs only hit 17 home runs in 114 games last season - he's got five long balls through 11 this year. Yes, the Marlins have been living and dying with the home run this year, and even Jeremy Hermida is showing signs of life. Maybe 2007 will finally be his breakout year. Hermida has two home runs and six RBI since returning to the Marlins lineup.


Philadelphia Phillies (7-7) - Jimmy Rollins has been nursing a sore ankle and hasn't been in the lineup for a week. He's been desperately avoiding the disabled list and might just be back in the lineup by the time you read this. With Rollins out, the Phillies lineup has been laboring, and it took another hit this past weekend when Shane Victorino landed on the DL with a strained calf muscle. Meanwhile, Cole Hamels has been just fine and is starting his campaign for the Cy Young Award. Hamels is 2-1 in his first three games and boasts an impressive 0.82 ERA.


New York Mets (6-6) - He showed some promise in a Cubs uniform the past two seasons and right now Angel Pagan is leading the Mets with a .385 batting average and is tied for the team lead with David Wright in RBI (10). Pagan has been leading off with Jose Reyes nursing a hamstring strain, but will likely head to the bench when Moises Alou comes off the DL. Despite a 3.05 ERA, Johan Santana is only 1-2, having dropped his last two contests.


Atlanta Braves (5-8) - Chipper Jones will turn 36 years young in a week, and the guy still hits like he's in his mid-20s.  The veteran third baseman is batting .408 with two home runs, 11 RBI, and 10 runs scored in his first 12 games this year. Alas, it's pitching that has been woeful for the Braves. Banking on arms similar in age to Jones just hasn't been a good business plan for Atlanta. Tom Glavine, age 42, strained his hamstring this weekend and is out indefinitely. He joins the injury ranks of perennial DL-man Mike Hampton, age 35. And, well, John Smoltz, age 40, is 2-0 with a 0.82 ERA, but he's coasting on fumes thanks to a shoulder that has been sore.


Washington Nationals (4-10) - It didn't take long for the Nationals to remind us all how quickly a season can go bad. Washington dropped nine straight and have lost 10 of their past 11, all after winning their first three games. Shawn Hill, who was a nice bright spot for the Nationals last year with a 3.42 ERA and 1.14 WHIP, is expected to make his first start of the season Saturday in Florida.

Central Division

St. Louis Cardinals (10-4) - Even in the National League where parity runs wild, the expectations for this young Cardinals team were extremely low heading into the season. Could all that be changing? The Redbirds had a favorable start to the season facing teams like Houston, San Francisco, and Pittsburgh three of their first four series, but they have also taken it to the Rockies and Brewers in early action. Braden Looper is 3-0 to start the season and Kyle Lohse will try to match him on Thursday. Jason Isringhausen, who was drafted by the Mets in the 44th round of the 1991 draft, continues to be a moneyman in the bullpen. Izzy already has five saves and a win on the books in 2008.


Chicago Cubs (8-5) - The Wrigley faithful greeted new Reds manager Dusty Baker to a chorus of boos Tuesday night upon his return to the unfriendly confines. Unfortunately, Tuesday's game started off poorly for Chicago, as Alfonso Soriano had to leave with a calf injury in the first inning. MRI results are forthcoming, but it doesn't look good for the Cubbies. Derrek Lee continues to hammer the baseball in signs he might just be returning to form from that magical 2005 season. With another homer Tuesday night, Lee has five on the season, and RBI total up to 12, and a nifty .368 batting average.


Milwaukee Brewers (8-5) - Gabe Kapler hit a total three home runs in his past two seasons for the Red Sox. Here we are just two weeks into the season and he's batting .423 with four home runs and 11 RBI in a Brewers uniform. He's no doubt a player to keep your eyes on. In an effort to add depth to their pitching staff, the Brewers signed veteran Jeff Weaver to a minor league contract with hopes a return to the NL Central might resurrect that confidence he demonstrated during the Cardinals World Series run in 2006.


Pittsburgh Pirates (7-7) - Nate McLouth has been the pleasant surprise from the Pittsburgh clubhouse this season. He's batting .383, but more notably he has 11 extra-base hits in 60 at-bats, not to mention 14 RBI. Tom Gorzelanny, who was one of the surprise pitchers last year, had a rough go his first two starts, but bounced back nicely against Cincinnati this weekend lasting 6.1 innings, giving up just one run, and earning his first win.


Cincinnati Reds (6-8) - Didn't see this one coming... Aaron Harang is 1-2 to start the season. Granted his 3.33 ERA isn't too bad, he just hasn't looked his dominant self. Keep an eye on him. Meanwhile Adam Dunn is batting just .162 and has as many home runs as he does stolen bases, just one.
Houston Astros (5-9) - There's nothing quite like watching your starter Shawn Chacon pitch eight beautiful scoreless innings and then watching your bullpen blow a 3-0 lead in the ninth inning. Losses like that aren't easy to swallow and aren't a good sign of positive things to come. On the bright side, Lance Berkman, who mysteriously forgot how to hit for average last season, having batted only .278, is hitting .311 this year.

West Division


Arizona Diamondbacks (10-4) - Randy Johnson made his 2008 debut and lasted five innings. He didn't give up an earned run and struck out seven. Considering Johnson is joining Brandon Webb, Micah Owings, and Dan Haren, who are a combined 8-0, the rest of the league better beware.


San Diego Padres (8-6) – The only team with fewer home runs in the NL than San Diego is the Mets, who have five. The seemingly powerless Padres have only six. The power is just not there. Perhaps there is an out-of-work home run record holder interested in a job with a playoff contender in a city that typically ranges in temperature year-round from the mid-50s to the mid-70s.


Los Angeles Dodgers (6-8) - It may only be two weeks into the season, but that's still not a good time to see that the pitcher leading your staff in wins is also your closer. Takashi Saito, the Dodgers ninth-inning man, has one save and one win. And no pitchers on the staff have two wins. But hey, Rafael Furcal is off to a hot start. After a down year in 2007 produced a .270 batting average, Furcal is making a comeback with a .360 mark in early action. Note, though, that Furcal only has one stolen base this season. He had 25 in 2007 and 37 in 2006.


San Francisco Giants (6-9) - In three starts, Barry Zito is 0-3 with a 4.50 ERA. The pressure will be on Wednesday afternoon, though, as Zito faces off against Brandon Webb and the Arizona Diamondbacks with what could be a chance to turn an ugly start to the season around. Or it could be the opportunity to maintain course on a straight freefall.


Colorado Rockies (5-8) - Two games, two losses, and a 9.35 ERA isn't a good beginning to 2008 for staff ace Jeff Francis. And his reward for a great first two games is a date with Jake Peavy on Thursday. At least the San Diego offense isn't anything to be afraid of. Francis isn't the only struggling Colorado ball player returning from a great 2007 playoff season. Brad Hawpe, who hit above .290 the past two years and averaged 25 home runs and 100 RBI, is hitting just .206 with one dinger and three ribbies to start the year.


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