This Week in the National League: ‘08 Week 15

Temperatures are rising. Trade season is heating up. And it's becoming clear that general consensus is that the road to the October in the National League requires strong pitching, although some teams might be trying to get there with little other than brute force with their bats.

Here's the latest and greatest from around the league.


East Division

Philadelphia Phillies (48-43) - With four straight losses, the Phillies have given up some ground in the NL East. Still they have one of the fiercest trios of hitters in the league. Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Pat Burrell have a combined 71 home runs and 200 RBI. If they reach 140 HR and 400 RBI, it's going to be tough to keep them from reaching the postseason.

Florida Marlins (46-44) - Dan Uggla still remains out of the lineup and is listed as day-to-day with that sprained ankle. Even without Uggla, the Marlins managed to score 17 runs on Independence Day at Coors Field. Thing is, they lost 18-17. If you want some fun, go check out that game's highlights or read the box score. Center fielder Cody Ross cracked two home runs and had 15 RBI in that series, tallying five during Friday's game.

New York Mets (46-44) - A little controversy over the firing of Willie Randolph and this Mets team is starting to show some signs of life. Tuesday night was no exception. Starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey pitched seven shutout innings, giving up just three hits to out-duel the Giants' Tim Lincecum. It was Pelfrey's fifth consecutive win in as many starts.

Atlanta Braves (43-48) - Even with a sweep at the hands of the Phils last week, the Braves still are well-within striking distance. So don't count them out yet, especially with a team leader like Chipper Jones flirting with .400. Jones is 0-for his last seven at-bats dropping his average to .379, but he had the clutch game-winning hit that ended the 17-inning marathon with Houston on Sunday. Jair Jurrjens, who lost for the first time on July 3 since way back on May 12, got back on track Tuesday with 6.0 strong innings en route to his ninth victory this season.

Washington Nationals (34-57) - What can you say? The Nationals are 14 games back in the division and are approaching a .333 win percentage.  Yes, that's a W only once in every three games. Few things are working well. One of the bright spots continues to be shortstop Cristian Guzman, who has hit safely in 26 of his last 28 games and is currently batting .311.

Central Division

Chicago Cubs (54-36) - Carlos Zambrano made his comeback off the DL with a solid 6.0-inning, shutout performance to kickoff the weekend series in St. Louis on the Fourth of July. The Cubs took two of three against the Redbirds and were one out away from the sweep, but Kerry Wood blew the save Saturday afternoon. The Cubs made a big move Tuesday to solidify their run for the postseason. They architected a six-player deal with Oakland to pick up starting pitcher Rich Harden. The notable names heading out in the deal include promising pitcher Sean Gallagher and outfielders Matt Murton and Eric Patterson.

St. Louis Cardinals (51-40) - The Cardinals salvaged that win against the Cubs with three runs in the ninth inning Saturday afternoon. Rick Ankiel, who homered earlier in the game, drove in the tying and winning runs. The win was the difference between a sweep and being 5.5 games back in the standings. Getting back on the road Tuesday in Philly, the Cards got solo homers from both Ankiel and Ryan Ludwick for a 2-0 victory. Joel Piniero led a collective shutout effort with 6.1 innings of work.

Milwaukee Brewers (50-40) - The day before the Cubs pulled the trigger on their big move to pick up Harden, the Brewers showed the NL how serious they were about the postseason hunt when they snagged defending AL Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia. He walked five batters in his Milwaukee debut Tuesday, but tossed 6.0 innings and benefited from a Colorado injury and double play in the sixth inning en route to the victory.

Cincinnati Reds (43-48) - A holiday weekend, four-game sweep of the Nationals moved the Reds a couple rungs up in the NL Central, but a trip to Chicago brought Dusty Baker's crew back to reality. Aaron Harang continues to be a mystery in 2008. He lasted just 4.1 innings Tuesday at Wrigley Field and gave up six earned runs. His season ERA stands an uncharacteristic 4.76 and his record is a dismal 3-11. Second baseman Brandon Phillips continues to try to keep the Reds competitive with 11 RBI in his last 10 games.

Pittsburgh Pirates (42-47) - With nine more RBI this past week, the 2008 dream season for Nate McLouth continues. His season total sits at 60 and he just got named to the NL All-Star team, where he figures to be the Pirates' lone representative.

Houston Astros (41-50) - As the top of the NL Central just gets stronger and stronger in the pitching department, the Astros continue to try to win with offense. Problem is, they are the new residents of the division's cellar. Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman each have a whopping 70 RBI on the season, while Miguel Tejada and Hunter Pence have 44 and 41, respectively. But you get a pretty solid dropoff after Pence. Mark Loretta is the next biggest run producer and he's only got 25 RBI.

West Division

Arizona Diamondbacks (45-45) - There's nothing like a game against the Nationals to get you really back on track. Brandon Webb took the hill Tuesday and tossed six shutout innings, good enough for his MLB-leading 13th win this season. Outfielder Chris Young, who cracked 32 home runs last season out of that leadoff position, only has 13 home runs this season. His doubles count is way up, though; already at 22 after having hit 29 last season.

Los Angeles Dodgers (44-46) - Hiroki Kuroda took a perfect game into the eighth inning Monday against the Braves, when Mark Teixeira ended his bid with a double. Still Kuroda pitched a complete game, one-hit shutout. It was Kuroda's second complete game shutout in his past four starts.

San Francisco Giants (39-51) - Closer Brian Wilson has been a tad bit shaky lately, but he continues his saving ways. Wilson's ERA may be 4.37, but he has 24 saves to his name, including 15 consecutive. Meanwhile, infielder Rich Aurilia has had a hot stick at the plate. He has three home runs and 11 RBI in his past seven games.

Colorado Rockies (38-53) - Here comes the Matt Holliday we know and love. The Rockies left fielder has four home runs and 11 RBI in his past five games and continues to carry an impressive batting average at .344. Aaron Cook was named to his first All-Star team and had one of his worst outings of the season Sunday. Cook gave up seven runs on 11 hits in 7.1 innings against the Marlins. He's now lost three of his last four starts, though he did crowbar in a complete game shutout on July 1.
 
San Diego Padres (36-55) - In a rare batting incident, catcher Michael Barrett fouled a pitch off his face, fracturing three bones last Wednesday night. It was a scary moment reminiscent of the line drive off Albert Pujols' bat that broke pitcher Chris Young's nose. Barrett will require surgery and is expected to be out at least six weeks. Hey, but to end on a good note, Jake Peavy looked like his old self Saturday. The Padres' ace pitcher tossed seven shutout innings of three-hit ball against the D'Backs to win his first game in four starts.

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


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