This Week in the National League: 2008 Week 4

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

We are just three weeks into the season, and we're already getting a taste of what's to come. We all know things can change on a dime, but there are definitely some players out there that have fans leaping for joy wondering, "Where'd this guy come from?" Of course, there are always those players that have fans muttering, "What happened to him?" Yes, it's a long season and anything can happen, so let's take a look at the latest and greatest from the past week in the National League.


East Division


Florida Marlins (12-8) - Dan Uggla finally came to life going a combined 5-for-8 with a home run Sunday and Monday. If the Marlins are going to contend, they'll need Uggla's bat. And that's not to take away from his teammate up the middle, Hanley Ramirez, who is en fuego with six home runs, 16 RBI, and a .355 batting average to start the season.


New York Mets (10-9) - Johan Santana posted his first double-digit strikeout performance with 10 against the Phillies on the 18th en route to earning his second win. John Maine, who got off to a rough start to the season is settling down and improving with each game. He lost his last start to the Cubs on Monday night, but he had really good stuff. Look for Maine to potentially string together a series of great starts come May.


Philadelphia Phillies (11-10) - Chase Utley is special. There's no other way to put it. Utley homered in five straight games until his streak was broken Tuesday in Colorado. He's batting .357 with nine home runs and 20 RBI to start the season. Not bad considering Jimmy Rollins has been out. Then there is Pat Burrell, who can be as streaky as they come. And man, is he riding a hot streak! Burrell is also batting .357 and has seven home runs and a team-high 23 RBI.


Atlanta Braves (10-10) - John Smoltz became the 16th pitcher to reach the 3,000-strikeout milestone on Tuesday night. He only needed four punchouts to reach the milestone, and in true Smoltz fashion he put a ten-spot up. Unfortunately, the Braves couldn't get the sticks going against the Nationals and Smoltz suffered his first loss of the season despite giving up just one run. After lasting just three innings and suffering his first loss of the season last Wednesday, Tim Hudson bounced back Monday night with win number three. He did scatter 10 hits, though, over the course of 6.2 innings.


Washington Nationals (6-15) - In a period spanning three years (2005-2007), Tim Redding managed just three wins as an MLB pitcher with all coming last season. Well, 2008 has arrived and Redding has already tallied three Ws. He might just be the feel-good story of 2008 should this comeback continue. Shortstop Christian Guzman knows what it is like to battle back from injury and disappointment. Guzman is having a nice comeback year himself, sporting a .321 batting average and getting a decent boost to a .512 slugging percentage.

Central Division


Chicago Cubs (14-6) - The Cubs are playing solid baseball in April. Fans would probably prefer April be changed to October, but no one is complaining in Wrigleyville. After beating up on the Pirates, the Cubs swept a two-game series against the Mets. Plain and simple, the Cubs are putting up some big offensive numbers. Five Cubbies have at least 13 RBI, including Derrek Lee (17), Mark DeRosa (14), Geovany Soto (13), Aramis Ramirez (13), and Ronny Cedeno (13). Granted some might be surprised to see that Kerry Wood has lasted this long as the Cubs closer, the biggest surprise from the pitching staff has to be Ryan Dempster, who is 3-0 in four starts with a 3.00 ERA.


St. Louis Cardinals (13-8) - The Cardinals are young and have a lot of grit. There's no doubt the face of Redbird baseball is a bit younger and greener, but this team is finding ways to win early in the season, which is a good sign for St. Louis fans. Rookie outfielder Brian Barton might not have a lot of runs and RBI just yet, but that .323 batting average over 18 games is looking pretty nice. One thing to keep an eye on is Albert Pujols walks. Troy Glaus and Ryan Ludwick have been hitting behind him, and pitchers are making someone other than Pujols beat them. Pujols has 20 free passes already this season, which puts him on pace for about 160. That's a considerable increase considering he's never hit the century mark.


Milwaukee Brewers (12-8) - Ben Sheets had his shortest outing of the season lasting just 5.0 innings Friday, but it was good enough for win number three. The shutout performance dropped Sheets ERA down to 0.96. Meanwhile, Prince Fielder might finally be pulling out of his season-opening funk. Fielder hit his first long ball of the season this week and had a 3-for-3 afternoon against St. Louis to boost his average to .250.


Houston Astros (9-12) - He might only be hitting .216, but Michael Bourn can fly. If he keeps this pace up, people might have to start calling him "Swiper" from Dora the Explorer. Bourn has 13 stolen bases in this very young season. It's exciting baseball when someone like him gets on base, so here's to him recovering from this strained groin setback and getting back on the diamond soon. Miguel Tejada seems to be settling into his role in the NL. Tejada is batting a blistering .370 with 18 RBI to start the year.


Cincinnati Reds (9-12) - Jerry Hairston Jr. recorded four hits in his debut with the Reds as their leadoff man on Tuesday after getting the big call-up on Monday. And if you haven't noticed him yet, keep an eye on Edinson Volquez. The starting pitcher didn't get much of a chance in Texas, but has found gold in Cincinnati. Volquez earned his third win in four starts Tuesday. He's got a ridiculous 1.21 ERA and has struck out 23 batters in 22.1 innings.


Pittsburgh Pirates (8-12) - Nate McLouth had hit safely in every game this season... until Tuesday. With a questionable call against him, McLouth went 0-for-2 ending his 19-game streak. Perhaps the call was the spark the Bucs needed to pull out a W. After losing six straight, the Pirates beat the Marlins 3-2 Tuesday.

West Division


Arizona Diamondbacks (15-5) - A year ago Micah Owings started 27 games and went 8-8 with a 4.30 ERA and approximately six strikeouts per nine innings. This season Owings has four starts under his belt, and he's a perfect 4-0 with a 2.42 ERA and nearly nine strikeouts per nine innings. Mark Reynolds, who hit just 17 home runs his rookie season last year while driving in 62 runs, already has six long balls and 19 RBI to his name.


Colorado Rockies (9-11) - Clint Barmes was off to a remarkable start to the season in 2005. His batting average hovered near .400 until mid-May and was still at .329 on June 5 when a freak injury fouled everything up. Barmes has never been the same and has never lived up to that hype from early 2005. Maybe 2008 is the year he does. Barmes is batting .400 this early season and could also be a comeback, feel-good candidate.


San Diego Padres (9-12) - It seems like every year is the same story in San Diego. The Padres have no offense, which means great pitching will have to carry them. And it usually does. But it's not shaping up as so this year. Usually the staff is loaded with ERAs under 3.00, but Trevor Hoffman's 8.10, Chris Young's 4.57, and Greg Maddux's 4.68 are cause for concern.


Los Angeles Dodgers (8-12) - Different team, same story. Andruw Jones can't hit for average. Jones is batting just .156 and has been moved to the eighth spot in the lineup. Similarly, Russell Martin is struggling at the plate managing just a .231 batting average.


San Francisco Giants (8-13) - Barry Zito is 0-5. His latest defeat came at the hands of Brandon Webb (5-0) and the Arizona Diamondbacks. If Zito turns this season around, he might deserve the comeback kid award, but it's not looking so hot right now. Ah, but the Giants do have a talented young pitcher to boast about. Tim Lincecum is shaping up to be exactly what the scouts predicted. The youngster is 3-0 in three starts and has racked up 27 Ks in 23.0 innings pitched. Oh, and he's got a 1.57 ERA to boot.


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