This Week in the National League: ‘08 Week 24

Who wants it? The weather is getting cooler and crisp. October is so close you can almost smell it. We're at that time of the season where pitchers battle through stiffness in their shoulder and hitters fight through knee pain. Ten teams still have a reasonable shot at the postseason. With just two and a half weeks to go, time is running out. It's now or never, put up or shut up.

Let's get to the latest and greatest from around the league.

East Division

New York Mets (81-63) - Billy Wagner will need Tommy John surgery and has been officially shut down for this season and next. Still the Mets are getting by and continue to lead the division. One big reason is the big man they acquired this offseason, Johan Santana. He now boasts a 2.70 ERA, and in the typical Santana fashion we've come to expect in the second half of the season, he hasn't lost a game since June 28th.

Philadelphia Phillies (79-66) - It's been the story all year: Ryan Howard is batting a dismal .241, but he leads the majors with 41 home runs and 125 RBI. Just this past week he has four more home runs and eight RBI. As the push for October continues, Howard isn't letting up.

Florida Marlins (73-72) - Hovering around .500, the Marlins are going to have to work a monstrous finale to make the playoffs. They've lived and died with the long ball all season long, unfortunately. They rank third in MLB with 185 home runs, but are 16th with 666 runs scored. In contrast, the Twins have only hit 100 home runs, but have scored an MLB 5th-best 726 runs.

Atlanta Braves (63-82) - Chipper Jones is batting .359 and figures to be in a fight to the finish with Albert Pujols for the NL batting title. Meanwhile, it's been 38 games since Mark Teixeira was dealt from the Braves, yet he remained the team leader in RBI with 78 until this past week when Brian McCann finally passed him up.

Washington Nationals (56-89) - The Nationals have shown some life the past couple weeks and need just seven wins in their final 17 games to avert a 100-loss season. One promising young pitcher that has flown under the radar in D.C. has been relief pitcher Steven Shell. In 33 games and 43.1 innings pitched, he is 2-1 with a 1.87 ERA and two saves. He's also held opponents to a .185 batting average.

Central Division

Chicago Cubs (86-58) - Losers of eight of their last nine games the Cubs are struggling in September to find a groove. Still, they are 28 games above .500 and continue to boast the best record in the NL. Carlos Zambrano was diagnosed this past week with tendinitis in his shoulder, but after a prolonged rest, he's expected back in the rotation this weekend. Rich Harden, who also was given a little extra time off, more of a precautionary measure, will start the finale of a three-game set in St. Louis on Thursday.

Milwaukee Brewers (82-63) - The Cubs have opened the door for the Brewers, but Milwaukee has stayed far away from the threshold. In fact, they've allowed the Wild Card race to tighten a bit. Solomon Torres has two blown saves, two losses, and just one save in his last six appearances. Since September began, the Brew Crew has scored more than five runs just once, and they lost that game 6-5.

St. Louis Cardinals (78-66) - The Cardinals have gone through some bullpen woes, but are still hanging around in the playoff hunt. It seems like no one can put their opponents away for good. They've won three straight, including the first game against the Cubs Tuesday night, a 4-3 come-from-behind victory. Despite some recent discussion about Pujols possibly needing surgery on his elbow in the offseason, the slugger continues to battle for the batting title, and his three-run homer Tuesday night tied the game and woke the Cards from their slumber.

Houston Astros (78-67) - The Astros continue to be one of the hottest teams in baseball. Winners of four straight and 12 of their last 13, Houston believes they'll be playing in October. When talks came up about Carlos Lee potentially being ready for the playoffs, manager Cecil Cooper was quoted as saying, "Put it this way, we'll be playing in October, and I plan on having him." Roy Oswalt is definitely feeling it. He's been lights out and has given up just one run in 24.1 innings in his last three starts.

Cincinnati Reds (66-79) - Dusty Baker and the Reds get to play spoilers. They scored three in the ninth to rally for a win in the rubber game against the Cubs on Sunday, and then they scored three in the ninth to rally for a 5-4 win against Milwaukee on Monday. Oh, and they pulled out another 5-4 victory over the Brewers in 11 innings Tuesday night as well. Down the stretch, they have nothing but games left with playoff contenders. Watch out!

Pittsburgh Pirates (60-84) - For the first time this decade, perhaps even longer (I just didn't go further back than 2000), the Pirates are in danger of not having a single pitcher earn at least 10 wins. Paul Maholm is the only starter that has a chance. He's only 8-8 in 28 starts despite a respectable 3.74 ERA. With the schedule as it is, he figures to have four chances to earn at least two wins.

West Division

Los Angeles Dodgers (73-71) - The Dodgers swept the D'Backs this weekend drawing the line in the sand and saying it's their division for the taking. Derek Lowe beat Dan Haren on Friday tossing 8.0 scoreless innings, and Chad Billingsley took it to Brandon Webb on Saturday throwing 6.1 scoreless frames of his own.

Arizona Diamondbacks (71-72) - With three opportunities to earn his 20th win, Brandon Webb is 0-3. In those three starts he has given up no fewer than six earned runs, and his past two losses have come at the hands of the Dodgers. He's the anchor, and if the D'Backs are going to make another run in the postseason, they need the Webb train back on the tracks.

Colorado Rockies (67-78) - The Rockies have lost four of their last five games, yet they are still only six games back in the divisional standings. If they can put a string of wins together like they did last year, they could find themselves in the postseason. But that's obviously easier said than done. Fewer ways to lose can be as painful as what the Rockies experienced Tuesday night. After scoring two late runs to force extra innings, they lost in ten thanks to a run-scoring balk by Taylor Buchholz.

San Francisco Giants (63-80) - Tim Lincecum threw 8.1 strong innings Monday against the Diamondbacks, striking out nine and giving up just one run. He lowered his ERA to 2.54 and raised his punchout count to 225, which are both best in the NL. Lincecum also improved his record to 16-3 and may just be the NL Cy Young Award winner in just his first full season in baseball.

San Diego Padres (56-88) - Competing with the Nationals for the worst record in the National League, the Padres have decided to play spoiler and turn up the heat on their opponents. The beat Milwaukee 10-1 to earn a split in the four-game, weekend series, and then took game one against the Dodgers on Monday 4-0. Chris Young went the distance against the Brewers giving up just one run on two hits, and Cha Seung Baek pitched 7.0 scoreless innings Monday to earn his first win in over a month.

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