This Week in the National League – Week 16

The All-Star game is history and we're back to playing baseball.

Incidentally, did you know that the day before and the day after the All-Star game are the only two days during the year that a major sport (MLB, NFL, NHL, and NBA) doesn't have a game – how boring can those days be? Anyway, we have a tightening race in the National League Central and a couple jackrabbits starting to run away in the East and West. So here's the latest and greatest from around the league.


East Division


Philadelphia Phillies (53-39) – Winners of 10 straight, the Phils have opened up a sizeable lead in the division. The lineup is just packed with talent and when fellows like Raul Ibanez and Jayson Werth continue to outperform great bats like Ryan Howard's and Chase Utley's, well, that's just scary. Ibanez has three home runs and 8 RBI in his last five games. Werth, meanwhile, just continues to be clutch. He cranked a walk-off three run bomb against the Cubs Tuesday night to end a 13-inning pitching duel with a 4-1 Phillies win.


Atlanta Braves (48-46) – Back to .500 the Braves are once again showing some life. Yunel Escobar continues to swing a solid stick. On the year, he's leading the team with a .309 batting average and 53 RBI. But offense is still not all that easy to come by for the Braves. Both Javier Vazquez and Jair Jurrjens have ERAs under 3.00, but combined they are only 15-14.


Florida Marlins (49-47) – Dan Uggla leads the Marlins team with 16 home runs, but his .228 batting average has not been helping a whole lot. He's a lifetime .257 hitter, but that's still 29 points higher than the status quo. Uggla hasn't hit a home run since July 8 or driven home a run since July 9. Leo Nunez, who has been the team's closer for the past few weeks, earned back-to-back saves Monday and Tuesday in matching 3-2 victories over the Padres. Nunez now has six saves on the season.


New York Mets (44-49) – Getting blanked by Washington 4-0 Tuesday is a sign that this Mets season isn't going as it had been envisioned in the spring. Here we are 93 games into the season, and the team's home run leader wasn't even on the roster at the beginning of the 2009 campaign. And with the firepower slotted for this lineup, that's saying something. The top home run man is Gary Sheffield, who has 10. Next up? Carlos Beltran with 8.


Washington Nationals (27-66) – The Nationals seem to be the blind squirrel of the National League. And yes, on occasion, they do find a nut. They found one Tuesday. Heading into the game they had lost 11 of their last 12 games dating back before the All-Star break. John Lannan pitched a complete game shutout leading the Nationals to victory over the Mets. He scattered seven hits and allowed just one runner to reach second base while earning his seventh win of the season.


Central Division


St. Louis Cardinals (51-45) – Hanging on by a thread, the Cardinals have a pack of hungry wolves behind them in the standings. Wolves, might be a strong metaphor to describe the timid NL Central, but the race is, no doubt, heating up. The Redbirds have lost 3-of-4 including two in a row at the hands of the surging Astros. Ryan Franklin continues to be money, though. The All-Star closer earned another save Sunday, his 22nd of the year in 23 chance, and his first since the break. His 0.76 ERA says it all.


Chicago Cubs (48-45) – The Cubs are starting to liven up, and they did so immediately following the break by sweeping a four-game series with the Nationals – something they would be expected to do if they are looking to make a run for the playoffs. But then they dropped the first two of a three-game set with a very different opponent, the defending World Champion Phillies. Alfonso Soriano finally pulled out of his slump this past weekend. He knocked home runs in back-to-back games ending a drought that spanned 41 days.


Houston Astros (48-46) – The Astros have taken two straight against the division-leading Cardinals. Carlos Lee belted a three-run homer in the series opener to lead the Astros to a 3-2 victory over the visiting Cardinals on Monday. He also hit a home run and drove in four runs in the Astros 11-6 win Tuesday. Lee tends to be a second-half machine, and the Astros are going to need him. Lance Berkman was diagnosed with a calf strain. Although he is only expected to be out a few more days, the injury definitely has the potential to be a nagging one as the summer progresses.


Milwaukee Brewers (48-47) – After dropping 3-of-4 in the ever-tightening NL Central race, the Brewers got a strong performance Tuesday from starting pitcher Braden Looper. The veteran pitcher tossed 7.0 shutout innings en route to blanking the Pirates. He's now won four straight decisions and has a 9-4 record. Prince Fielder continues to hammer the baseball. Since the break he has two home runs and eight RBI in six games.


Cincinnati Reds (44-49) – Brandon Phillips leads the team in batting average (.271), RBI (63), and runs (47), but that didn't stop manager Dusty Baker from benching Phillips Tuesday after he didn't run out a lazy fly ball that fell in play thanks to the blinding Los Angeles sun. Bronson Arroyo, who is as hot and cold as they come, is back on a hot streak. He's won two consecutive starts pitching a total of 16.0 shutout innings.


Pittsburgh Pirates (42-52) – With Nate McLouth gone, the top RBI man on the Pirates roster is Adam LaRoche, but he just has 40. The Pirates might end up the season once again with an individual on the roster topping 100 RBI. Closer Matt Capps, who does have 20 saves this year in 22 chances, hasn't faired so well in non-save opportunities. His 1-5 record and 5.81 overall ERA tells the story.


West Division


Los Angeles Dodgers (60-34) – Right back on track. The Dodgers are picking up after the All-Star break just as they headed into it: winning. Winners of four in a row against Central Division opponents, Los Angeles continues their winning ways. Clayton Kershaw, whose name continues to get thrown around in the Roy Halladay hoopla pitched another gem Saturday. The Dodgers beat Houston 5-2 in large part thanks to Kershaw's 7.0 innings of shutout, two-hit ball. Kershaw has now won five straight decisions, and the Dodgers are undefeated the last seven times he has taken the hill.


Colorado Rockies (52-43) – Leapfrogging the Giants in the NL Wild Card race the Rockies are quietly keeping their momentum going. However, they did get hit with a minor setback as surprise 12-game winner Jason Marquis is expected to miss his next scheduled start (Friday) thanks to a blister that has been a problem on his throwing hand. Starting pitcher Jorge De La Rosa has been on fire. After starting the season 1-6, De La Rosa has moved to 7-7 and has won five straight decisions. Interestingly enough, his ERA has only improved from 5.43 to 4.95 since starting 0-6.


San Francisco Giants (50-43) – Touted during the break as the team to maybe catch the Dodgers in the second half, the Giants have dropped 4-of-5 and have scored just nine runs in those five games. Their lone win came Sunday when Matt Cain took the mound and outpitched Pittsburgh's Zach Duke by tossing 7.0 strong innings and giving up just one run. It was Cain's first win since the break, giving him 11 on the year, and his 8 strikeouts moved him over the century mark for the year (103).


Arizona Diamondbacks (40-55) – Dan Haren beat his former team, the St. Louis Cardinals, on Saturday. Haren, who was part of the Cardinals move to acquire Mark Mulder from the Athletics, pitched 8.0 innings and gave up just one run for his 10th win of the season. Haren now boasts a ridiculous 1.96 ERA and has 137 strikeouts in 138 innings of work.


San Diego Padres (37-58) – The trading deadline is approaching and now Adrian Gonzalez's name is being thrown into the mix. 23 games back in the standings, why not? The star first baseman has gotten better year after year, and he plays in one of the worst hitter's parks. Should he end up on the right team in a more hitter-friendly stadium, he could be downright scary. Still it would be surprising to see him go considering the Padres difficulty in scoring runs. They've scored just 11 runs in their past five games and lost their last two games by a score of 3-2.


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