This Week in the National League: ‘08 Week 14

We hit the mid-season point and are cruising into Fourth of July weekend and the All-Star break in a couple weeks. There have been some surprises, no doubt, but as of late it's the injury bug that is taking its toll. Too often it's the health of a team and their management of injuries that makes the difference in getting to October. We'll see how the second half of the season pans out.

So let's get right to it. Here's the latest and greatest from around the league.

East Division

Philadelphia Phillies (45-39) - Despite a downright ugly .218 batting average, Ryan Howard is tied for the NL lead in RBI with 68 and is among the league leaders with 20 RBI. I guess he's making those hits count. Another Phil trying to work out the kinks is Brett Myers, who now finds himself down in the minor leagues after being sent down this week. Myers started opening day for the Phillies and has gone 3-9 on the season with a team-worst 5.84 ERA.

Florida Marlins (43-40) - Dan Uggla sprained his left ankle Saturday and has been out of the Marlins lineup for two straight games. He might miss out completely on the Washington pitching staff and could be in danger of also missing the spoils awaiting the power hitter in Colorado. Hanley Ramirez has been getting in on the action, though. Ramirez homered in his third straight game Tuesday and drove in five RBI despite the club losing 9-6 to the Nationals.

New York Mets (41-42) - Pitcher John Maine expressed that his arm felt tired after suffering the loss to the Cardinals on Monday in a 4.0-inning outing. Though there isn't any serious concern, definitely keep watch as the Mets try to get back into this divisional race.

Atlanta Braves (40-44) - Halfway through the season, Chipper Jones is still flirting with .400, though he had been out of the lineup for the past week or so dealing with a strain in his quadriceps. He did make his return with a 1-for-3 outing Tuesday night. His season average now sits at .393. Jair Jurrjens continues to be an anchor for the Braves staff. Jurrjens is 4-0 in his past eight starts, and the team has won all but one of those games. He leads the staff with a 2.94 ERA.
Washington Nationals (34-51) - The Nationals lost two of their bright, young stars to the 15-day DL this past week. Outfielder Lastings Milledge, who was leading the team with 32 RBI, strained his groin muscle and landed on the DL. Shawn Hill, who despite having a 1-5 record and 5.83 ERA has shown signs of being a quality big league pitcher, strained a forearm muscle and is right next to Milledge on the DL.

Central Division

Chicago Cubs (50-34) - The Cubs have finally taken a skid this season. After being swept in US Cellular field by the White Sox and splitting their first two games in San Francisco, they are just 2-6 in their past eight games. Despite having the best home record in baseball at 33-10, the Cubs are just 17-24 on the road. After finishing up the series in SF, the club will head to St. Louis for a huge mid-season showdown with their division rivals, the Cardinals. Carlos Zambrano will be slated to come off the DL and start the opener on the Fourth of July. And after crushing the ball two weekends ago against the White Sox, Aramis Ramirez was skunked 0-for-13 this past weekend against the same team. He's been on leave from the team to deal with a family matter, but is expected to return Thursday.

St. Louis Cardinals (48-37) - Albert Pujols returned from the DL last week with a 4-for-4 outing Thursday against the Tigers. After collecting a pair of hits and RBI in each game Monday and Tuesday, Pujols appears to be back in mid-season form and isn't being bothered by his calf muscle. Todd Wellemeyer is starting to struggle a bit, though. The Cards starting pitcher, who was named NL Pitcher of the Month in May is 0-2 in his past three starts and has seen his ERA rise from 2.92 to 3.86.

Milwaukee Brewers (45-38) - With the Cubs' slide, the Brewers are right back in the NL Central hunt. A big part of their resurgence has been the resolution of their closing woes. Salomon Torres appears to be their answer, perfect in closing out games and nailing down his last 13 opportunities. In a span of 16 appearances for 16.2 innings, Torres has given up just three earned runs. Corey Hart looks like he is poised to surpass his 2007 numbers, which included 24 home runs and 81 RBI. Through 82 games, Hart has 14 home runs and 52 RBI.

Houston Astros (40-44) - The Lance Berkman watch continues, and he's a sight to see. The Elvis-looking Astro keeps pounding the baseball. He added another eight RBI in the past eight games to bring his NL-best total to 68. But the Astros were dealt a blow this past week to any hopes of jumping back into this race. Staff ace Roy Oswalt strained a hip muscle, and it's still not clear if time on the DL is necessary or if he'll make his next scheduled start on Saturday.

Pittsburgh Pirates (39-44) - After a red-hot start to the season, Nate McLouth has just two home runs since May 30th. His batting average has also dropped more than 30 points to .282 in that same span. Meanwhile, Freddy Sanchez, who was the NL batting champ just two years ago, can't seem to find the hole in his swing. Sanchez is batting a dismal .229 this year in 79 games and has just a .257 on-base percentage.

Cincinnati Reds (39-46) - Brandon Phillips is starting to catch fire. With four RBI Tuesday night, the Reds RBI leader has driven home ten in his past ten games and has 51 on the season. After having one of the worst pitching starts in recent years where he gave up 10 runs on 11 hits in just one inning of work against Toronto, Bronson Arroyo bounced back with a solid 6.0 innings on the road in Cleveland. He gave up just one run and earned his fifth win of the season.

West Division

Arizona Diamondbacks (42-42) - The injury bug has set up camp in the D'Backs clubhouse. Eric Byrnes landed back on the DL with a hamstring strain. His last stint out began the D'Backs slide from their dominance early in the season. Catcher Chris Snyder also strained a groin muscle and was placed on the DL. To add to their woes, starting pitcher Micah Owings has been dealing with some back pain and is expected to miss his next start, though it's unclear if a tour on the DL is necessary.

Los Angeles Dodgers (39-44) - We're past the halfway point of the season now and the Dodgers are still waiting for their first batter to break into double digits in home runs. Jeff Kent is closest with nine on the season; just one big swing away from all that glory. Despite not having much punch, the Dodgers are lingering in the division battle thanks to a D'Backs team that can't seem to pull things together and run away with the title. Brad Penny has been on the DL with mild tendinitis in his arm and could make his return this holiday weekend.

San Francisco Giants (37-47) - Matt Cain pitched eight shutout innings and struck out 10 Cubs Tuesday night for one of his best starts of his career. He earned his fifth win of the season and lowered his ERA to 4.14. Brian Wilson gave up a run in the ninth inning but managed to hold on to close out his 14th consecutive save, bringing his season total to an unexpected and impressive 23.

Colorado Rockies (33-51) - Aaron Cook tossed a complete game shutout Tuesday against the Padres, a day after San Diego scored 15 runs. The Rockies needed the win and it was a great bounce back after back-to-back losses for Cook. He now has 11 Ws on the season and a solid 3.38 ERA. An interesting note, though, as we pass the halfway point in the season, with all the firepower on the Rockies roster, their top home run man, Brad Hawpe, has just 11 long balls.

San Diego Padres (33-52) - Seeing Greg Maddux as the team leader in ERA shouldn't be that surprising. But seeing Maddux hold that spot near the end of his career with a mark of 4.04 is quite eye-opening with respect to how the Padres season has been going. The Padres have been a haven for great pitching the past several seasons, but the staff just isn't getting the job done. Jake Peavy has a 2.90 ERA in just 13 starts this injury-riddled season, but he's just 1-2 since coming off the DL and 5-5 on the season.

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