This Week in the National League – Week 17

The trade deadline is looming. It seems the weak are getting weaker and the strong are getting stronger.

Separation is finally forming in the league of parity, and we're getting a close look at who have been pretenders and who might really be contenders. Here's the latest and greatest from around the National League:


East Division


Philadelphia Phillies (58-40) – The Philadelphia Phillies already boast one the most powerful lineups in baseball and have a comfortable division lead. But they're not getting complacent. They added Cliff Lee to their starting rotation trading some prospects to Cleveland for the ace pitcher. They are currently riding a four-game win streak where they scored 33 runs, seven of which were driven in by Ryan Howard, who just always seems to kill the Cardinals. On a side note, Jamie Moyer became the Phillies first 10-game winner of the season proving age doesn't matter.


Florida Marlins (52-48) – Florida took two of three against the Dodgers on the road this past weekend, proving that they are not a team to be taken lightly during the second half of the season. Chris Volstad picked up two wins this past week, including a win over the Dodgers on Sunday, and improved to 8-9 on the season. Staff ace Josh Johnson, who hadn't pitched since the All-Star break, earned a win in his first start, beating the Dodgers on Friday with a solid 7.0-inning, three-run performance.


Atlanta Braves (51-49) – The Braves continue to hang around. Their offense is struggling, but their starting pitching continues to carry the team on their shoulders. Chipper Jones, who flirted with .400 last season and ended up hitting .364, is batting just .289 this season. Nate McLouth, who was acquired from Pittsburgh earlier in the season, has just six home runs and 18 RBI in 43 games for the Braves, whereas he had nine home runs and 34 RBI in a 45 game span for the Pirates.


New York Mets (48-51) – The Mets have won four games in a row, outscoring their opponents by a count of 29-9. The mini streak has fans excited they might be setting up for a second-half run. They'll need Johan Santana to work his second half magic like he typically does. In his two starts previous to this past Friday's, Santana went 7.0 innings shutting his opponents out completely. Friday was a different story. Houston tagged Santana for five runs on 12 hits over 6.2 innings. It dropped his record to 11-8 and pushed his ERA back above 3.00 to 3.12.


Washington Nationals (32-68) – Four wins in a row! 38 total runs scored! That's a big week for the Nationals at the expense of San Diego and Milwaukee. Josh Willingham led the power surge with a solo home run Sunday against the Padres and a pair of grand slams against Milwaukee on Monday. Adam Dunn also had two home runs and nine RBI during the four-game outburst.



Central Division


St. Louis Cardinals (55-48) – Albert Pujols has been in a bit of a funk since the All-Star break, but not the rest of the team. The Cards added the monster bat of Matt Holliday in a trade that might have sacrificed their future at third base for a two-three month lease on Holliday. Still, his presence was felt day one with a four-hit night. Rick Ankiel seems to have gotten a spark under him with Holliday around seeing as how he might be the odd man out with Ryan Ludwick and youngster Colby Rasmus rounding out the outfield. Ankiel has two home runs, six RBI, and 10 hits in his last five games. Mark DeRosa, who came over from Cleveland a few weeks ago, has also been on fire. DeRosa has six home runs and 10 RBI in his last eight games.


Chicago Cubs (52-46) – The Cubs did lose Ted Lilly to the disabled list this past week due to inflammation in his shoulder, but they continue a second-half hot streak that has them victorious in 9-of-12 games since the break. A healthy Aramis Ramirez has been a big difference maker. Batting .336 overall, A-Ram has three home runs and 10 RBI in his last six games. And Alfonso Soriano, who has been asleep for a while, has woken up with two home runs and six RBI in his last four games, including a walk-off grand slam Monday night against Houston.


Houston Astros (51-49) – Continuing to place good baseball, the Astros might have run into a major snag on Tuesday. They beat the Cubs 11-6 to snap a three-game losing streak, but they also might have lost Roy Oswalt who injured his back and left the game in the second inning. Even with their powerful lineup, losing their staff ace would make a trip to the post-season tough to accomplish. Miguel Tejada, who has been leading the offensive charge all season, had a home run and five RBI Tuesday.


Milwaukee Brewers (49-51) – The Brewers are in a multi-week slide as evidenced most recently by a three-game losing streak and the 22 runs they gave up to the Nationals in their last two games. A deal for C.C. Sabathia last year at this time was a difference maker to push them into the playoffs, but such a move might be a stretch this season with their current course. Could they become sellers?


Cincinnati Reds (45-54) – In the playoff picture just a couple weeks ago, the Reds are fading quickly. They now find themselves eight games behind the Cardinals in the Central Division thanks to a 3-9 record since the All-Star break. Aaron Harang's struggles continue. He's now lost seven consecutive decisions dropping his record to 5-11. Harang hasn't won a game since May 25th.


Pittsburgh Pirates (43-57) – The Pirates have lost four games in a row, scoring a combined four runs. Any hopes for a breakout season seem dismal once again, which means the Bucs could become sellers at the trade deadline. All-Star second baseman Freddy Sanchez might fetch Pittsburgh some decent talent in a deal.



West Division


Los Angeles Dodgers (62-38) – The Dodgers have dropped four of their last five games, including the first two of a four-game set visiting fellow division leader, the St. Louis Cardinals. Chad Billingsley, who was on fire earlier in the year, has managed to earn just one win in his last eight starts. Manny Ramirez has even gone cold. He drove in eight runs in a four-game span last week, but he hasn't accounted for a single run in the past four games he's played.


San Francisco Giants (54-46) – Tim Lincecum went the distance again on Monday tossing yet another complete game shutout. This time it was against Pittsburgh. The young phenom struck out 15, a season high, and he now has 183 Ks on the year. The Giants closer, Brian Wilson, made three appearances this past week and pitched three scoreless innings while picking up two more saves. He has 26 on the season now.


Colorado Rockies (54-46) – After taking two of three against San Francisco over the weekend, the Rockies dropped the first two of a four-game set on the road against the Mets. Aaron Cook continued his winning ways picking up his seventh straight win on Saturday tossing 7.0 solid innings, scattering nine hits, but only giving up two runs.


Arizona Diamondbacks (43-58) – Despite back-to-back shutout wins against Pittsburgh over the weekend, the D'Backs are headed towards 20+ games back in the NL West divisional standings. With two shutout wins, you might expect Dan Haren to have started at least one, if not both, of the games. But Haren didn't. Doug Davis pitched eight shutout innings en route to a 7-0 win Saturday, and Max Schrezer tossed seven shutout innings leading Arizona to a 9-0 victory.


San Diego Padres (39-62) – Perhaps they are trying to compete with the Nationals for the worst record in the National League, but the Padres don't seem to have much punch these days. Adrian Gonzalez has 27 home runs this season, but just 57 RBI. Folks just aren't getting on base for him to drive them home. Heath Bell, the other bright spot on the roster, does have 25 saves this season in 26 chances.


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