This Week In the National League: 2008 Week 5

Early MVP-like campaigns, ageless veterans, and youthful bliss covered in this week's National League report from Pete Khazen.

Early MVP-like campaigns, ageless veterans, and youthful bliss summarize some of this week's highlights. Without any delay, let's get to the latest and greatest from around the National League:


East Division


Florida Marlins (15-11) - He's leading the South Florida fish with a .341 batting average, but Josh Willingham is now fighting strikingly similar back pain that sidelined him the end of last season, so keep watch. Another guy to keep an eye on is lefty starter Mike Hendrickson. He's only had one winning season in his first seven seasons as an MLB pitcher, back in 2005 when he went 11-8 with the Rays, but Hendrickson is looking mighty sharp with a 4-1 record and 3.68 ERA through six starts this season.


New York Mets (14-11) - Moises Alou has been cleared to come off the disabled list this weekend as the Mets take on the very hot Arizona Diamondbacks. As mentioned last week, starting pitcher John Maine might be poised ready to string a series of good starts together. So far so good, with one game since in the bag, Maine added a second win to his record and has a 3.58 ERA.


Philadelphia Phillies (15-12) - Chase Utley's home run streak has cooled off a bit, but the slugger is still batting .364. It's still way early, but I'll add to the list of people calling this an MVP-like season. After posting back-to-back losses, Cole Hamels rebounded with a solid performance earning win number three while lasting 7.1 innings and only giving up two runs on five hits. He beat Greg Maddux and San Diego. This season, Hamels has lasted at least 7.0 innings in all six starts.


Atlanta Braves (12-14) - John Smoltz landed on the 15-day DL this week with biceps muscle and rotator cuff inflammation. While the Braves seem optimistic, this doesn't sound like a good condition for an aging pitcher. But what does age have to do with anything? Have you seen Chipper Jones this season? He's batting .432 with 8 home runs and 21 RBI. Ridiculous!


Washington Nationals (10-17) - Ah, but youthfulness can be bliss. We might celebrate those aging veterans as they defy time and odds to dominate the competition, but we drool all over ourselves with a young prospect shows signs of future stardom. Rookie John Lannon, who is just 23 years young, boasts a 2.62 ERA and just tossed back-to-back shutout seven-inning starts for his first two wins of the season. Oh yeah, and he did it against the Braves and Cubs, which last time I checked weren't exactly the weakest offenses in the league.

Central Division


Chicago Cubs (16-10) - April isn't traditionally the best month for Carlos Zambrano. Big Z tends to struggle a bit in the early season. Not so much the case in 2008. He is 4-1 to start the season and carries a 2.21 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. The Cubs are going to need an equally big performance his next start. They're sliding a bit this past week, and Zambrano will be taking the mound on May first to keep the Cubbies on track as they head to St. Louis for the weekend. Derrek Lee is back to his MVP-like form, no doubt. Lee continues to smash the baseball. He's batting .355 with 8 HR and 22 RBI. That's the D-Lee we've come to know and love.


St. Louis Cardinals (17-11) - The Cardinals continue to play solid baseball and might not be the weak contender they were made out by many to be. Troy Glaus has been criticized for his lack of home run power, but he finally connected for his first long ball in a Cards uniform this week. Thing is, he already has driven in 21 runs, which is among the league leaders and just one behind Albert Pujols for the team lead. Jason Isringhausen has had a bit of a rough go, though. He's got a blown save and two losses in his last three appearances, which has sent his ERA skyrocketing to an uncharacteristically high 6.55.


Milwaukee Brewers (15-11) - Prince Fielder has only struck out 16 times this season in 26 games. That's way, way down from last season. Yet his power numbers are way down and so is his average. Perhaps Fielder should lose his discipline and just let it fly at the plate a bit more. Staff ace Ben Sheets missed a turn in the rotation, but returned Tuesday to earn a win against the Cubs. He wasn't exactly sharp, though. Sheets only lasted 5.0 innings and walked seven batters.


Houston Astros (13-15) - Jose Valverde is finally finding his groove in an Astros uniform with 5.2 consecutive shutout innings, which have produced four saves and a win, while dropping his ERA to 6.92 from 12.27. Slugger Lance Berkman has his swing back in form this year. Berkman has cracked eight home runs and leads the team with 23 RBI and 25 runs scored.


Cincinnati Reds (12-16) - Ryan Freel's days as a big base-swiper might be numbered. He's splitting time in the outfield and in just three stolen base attempts, he's been thrown out twice. Johnny Cueto has come back to earth, and he crash-landed hard Tuesday night in St. Louis. Cueto had his shortest outing of the season. He didn't make it out of the second inning after giving up seven runs on eight hits. Cueto is now 0-3 in his last five starts.
Pittsburgh Pirates (10-16) - Nate McLouth continues to be the most pleasant surprise of the young 2008 season. McLouth is batting .327 and with four home runs and six RBI in his last three games, the outfielder already has seven long balls in the stat column along with 22 RBI. After posting an 0-4 start to the season with a 9.67 ERA, the Pirates let go Matt Morris after a bizarre trade at the end of last season put the high-priced veteran pitcher in a Pirates uniform.

West Division


Arizona Diamondbacks (19-8) - The D'Backs remain hot and are the team to beat in the NL right now. Brandon Webb is 6-0 with a 1.98 ERA. Mark Reynolds already has seven home runs and 24 RBI to lead the team. As if those guys' stats weren't good enough, rookie Max Scherzer got the call-up and wowed everyone. The young flamethrower pitched 4.1 perfect relief innings Tuesday against the Astros, hitting 98 mph on the radar gun and striking out seven.


Los Angeles Dodgers (13-13) - A four-game win streak and the Dodgers are back to .500. Brad Penny is 3-0 in his last three starts and has that ERA back down to 2.86. Rafael Furcal is doing his best to set the table and make things happen. Furcal is batting a nifty .355 this young season and has scored 23 times.


San Francisco Giants (12-16) - The Giants are in the middle of the pack of what looks to be a weak West Division this year. Still, that's better than last year. And they've done this without the 0-6 record and 7.53 ERA of their multi-million dollar pitcher Barry Zito, who was finally demoted to bullpen duty this week. Tim Lincecum, on the other hand, might not have that monster contract, but he's pitching like he does. The youngster is 4-1 after suffering his first loss to Colorado Tuesday night, but he's got a 1.73 ERA and 40 strikeouts through 36.1 innings.


Colorado Rockies (11-16) - The power numbers just haven't been there for the Rockies this season. Only three guys have double digits in RBI: Garrett Atkins (20), Matt Holliday (14), and the recently-injured Troy Tulowitzki (11). Pitching hasn't been great either. Jeff Francis has lasted 7.0 innings in his last three starts, but he's still 0-2 on the season.


San Diego Padres (10-17) - Adrian Gonzalez leads the team with a .288 batting average. That's not good, but hitting isn't the only problem hurting this club that finds themselves close to double-digit games back at the end of April. The bullpen hasn't been theer either as evidenced by Trevor Hoffman's 0-2 record and 7.27 ERA. If your bullpen can't do the job and you can't score runs, you're going to have a tough time in this league.


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