This Week in the National League: '08 Week 26

The final few games of the regular season are here, and we still have two divisions up for grabs and a wild card race, giving five teams legitimate chances at the playoffs.

Here's the latest and greatest from around the National League as we head down the final stretch.

East Division

Philadelphia Phillies (89-69) - With four games to go, the Phillies magic number to clinch the division is four. They're two up in the win column and one in the loss column on the Mets. And at a 2.5-game lead on Milwaukee, that means even if they lose the division, they're just two wins away from clinching a playoff spot. Ryan Howard continues to mash his way to MVP consideration. Just five strikeouts away from 200, Howard has 46 home runs and 141 RBI. No one in the NL is even close in either category.

New York Mets (87-70) - With a 6-2 win over the Cubs Tuesday night, the Mets are hanging one game ahead of the Brewers in the wild card chase. David Wright is second only to Howard in RBI for the year with 122. He picked up another pair Tuesday. With five consecutive two-hit games, Wright has an even .300 batting average. And as the push for October continues in New York, look for John Maine, who has been battling a bone spur in his shoulder, to make a comeback via the bullpen.

Florida Marlins (81-76) - After making some late-season noise, the Marlins ran out of gas and dropped four straight. They no doubt have one of the most electric young lineups in the game. The likes of Hanley Ramirez (32 HR, 119 R), Dan Uggla (31 HR, 89 RBI), Jorge Cantu (29 HR, 93 RBI), and Mike Jacobs (32 HR, 92 RBI) are going to continue to be exciting athletes to watch for some time.

Atlanta Braves (70-88) - Unless something drastic happens, Chipper Jones and his .364 average should be a lock for the 2008 NL batting title. And perhaps looking for some momentum to build on, Mike Hampton looked solid Tuesday against the Phillies, pitching 6.0 strong innings and giving up just two runs en route to the victory.

Washington Nationals (59-98) - In the battle for last place in the NL, the Nationals took top honors by losing all three this past weekend to the San Diego Padres. With five games to go, the Nationals are just two losses away from the century mark.

Central Division

Chicago Cubs (95-61) - Carlos Zambrano got rocked again by the Cardinals on Friday, but the Cubs bounced back to take the final two games of the series this weekend. They clinched with Jim Edmonds making the final catch against his former team, and Kerry Wood, the lone remaining Cub from the 2003 roster, earning the save. The Cubs went on to clinch home field advantage through the League Championship Series. This marks the first time since 1908 the Cubs won back-to-back division titles.
 
Milwaukee Brewers (86-71) - Showing a little fight in the final couple weeks, the Brewers aren't done yet. They've had a dismal September but remain just one game off the wild card pace set by the Mets. Prince Fielder hit a walk-off homer Tuesday and has five home runs and 16 RBI in his last 11 games.

Houston Astros (82-74) - It was a valiant run that ran out of gas, in part due to the circumstances surrounding Hurricane Ike, and now the Astros are on the brink of mathematical elimination. Carlos Lee, who broke his finger on August 9th, will finish the season with 28 home runs and 100 RBI. Just imagine what the race down the stretch would have been like if he was healthy.

St. Louis Cardinals (81-76) - With the Mets' win Tuesday, the Cardinals have been eliminated from postseason contention. Albert Pujols is no doubt a favorite for the NL MVP award, batting .350 with 34 home runs and 108 RBI. And don't forget about the season Ryan Ludwick had. He came from nowhere this year and could likely get some MVP votes of his own thanks to his 35 home runs and 106 RBI.

Cincinnati Reds (74-83) - One thing is for certain, the Reds didn't give up this season, and played competitive ball through what can be some very long days in September. The club has played the spoiler role en route to building momentum into next season. Edinson Volquez, who was 0-1 in four starts this September, earned win number 17 Tuesday giving up just one run in 7.1 innings against the Astros. He struck out nine and dropped his ERA to 3.21.

Pittsburgh Pirates (65-92) - Paul Maholm (9-8), who has effectively been the staff ace this season in Pittsburgh, will attempt to beat C.C. Sabathia on Wednesday and earn his 10th win of the season. Not a single Pirates pitcher has 10 wins. Nate McLouth leads the team in most all major offensive categories: average (.280), home runs (26), RBI (94), runs (111), and stolen bases (21).

West Division

Los Angeles Dodgers (82-75) - With the D'Backs loss Tuesday in St. Louis, the Dodgers' magic number shrank to three. Takashi Saito blew his first save opportunity since coming off the disabled list, but he also earned a win and a loss in back-to-back appearances. The Dodgers need Saito to get back on track these final games should they make the postseason.

Arizona Diamondbacks (79-78) - Brandon Webb kept the D'Backs playoff hopes going with another strong outing Monday night against the Cardinals. He's 22-7 and figures to get one more start this weekend, hopefully with a chance to keep his team in the hunt for October.

Colorado Rockies (72-85) - A year ago Jeff Francis was 17-9 with a 4.22 ERA and 165 strikeouts. This season Francis is 4-10 with a 5.01 ERA and just 94 strikeouts. He's not the only Rockies player to have a down year following last season's phenomenal run... not a single hitter has 100 RBI. With that high-powered offense in that park, it's hard to figure why.

San Francisco Giants (70-87) - Tim Lincecum has dropped back-to-back starts. The latest came Tuesday against Colorado where he gave up six runs in 4.1 innings. His ERA hopped up to 2.66 and his record fell to 17-5. Still, with nine more Ks Tuesday night, he set a Giants record with 252 strikeouts this season. He'll likely get one more start to factor into Cy Young Award consideration.

San Diego Padres (61-96) - In his last 10 games Adrian Gonzalez has six home runs and 17 RBI. That gives him 35 and 116 on the year. That's amazing given how rough their offense has been this season. And though Brian Giles' run production has slowed, kudos to him. With a .304 batting average, he's got a solid chance at finishing above .300, a drastic improvement from .271 and .263 from 2007 and 2006, respectively.

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


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