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05/19/2005 Archived Entry: "NL Round-up 5-19-2005"

NL Roundup

Greetings, and welcome to the May 19th edition of your National League round-up. Since this is my first time writing this column, I want to take the opportunity to survey where the divisional races stand. In the future I plan to devote more time to game recaps, but context is everything, and the games mean nothing without it.

So we’re off: a quarter of the season is in the books. Sixteen teams charged out of Spring Training, all convinced they had the strength and stamina for the race of head. Who was right? Who was delusional? Now that they’ve passed the first turn, it’s time to survey the field and see where the divisional races stand.

Out of the three divisions, there is only one clear leader, St. Louis, who have taken command of the Central with a league best 25-14 record, good for a six game bulge over the 19-20 Brewers. The East is wide-open, with Florida (21-16), Washington (22-18) and the New York Mets (22-19) hot on the heels of the perennially front-running Atlanta Braves (23-17). San Diego has surged to the lead in the West by winning 7 in a row and 14 of 16. The rebuilt Arizona Diamondbacks (24-17) remain in striking distance one game back, as do the slumping Los Angeles Dodgers, 2 ½ behind with a 22-18 record. Balance is the name of the game, with the division leaders the only three teams in the top five in both scoring and ERA. St Louis’ high-powered offense has rung up 209 runs despite the loss of third-sacker Scott Rolen to injury, while Atlanta’s 3.43 ERA is a distant 2nd to Florida’s ungodly 3.09.

The wild card race sees Arizona, Florida, Los Angelos, Washington (!) and New York all within two games of each other. It looks to be an exciting year heading down the stretch; eight of sixteen teams have a solid shot at the play-offs, while Milwaukee, the Cubs (18-20) and the Barry-less Giants (19-20) are looking to join the hunt.

On the individual level, Clint Barnes of Colorado is your hitting leader at .377; Troy Glaus (Arizona), Bobby Abreau (Philadelphia) and Derrek Lee (Chicago) pace the league in homers with 12, and Chicago’s Lee also has the most RBI’s with 37. Three players, Lee, Abreau, and Albert Pujols (St. Louis) are in the top ten in each category and stand an outside shot of nabbing the Triple Crown. On the pitching side of the ledger, Roger Clemens (Houston, 1.11), Dontrelle Willis (Florida, 1.45) and Chad Myers (Philadelphia, 1.63) lead the league in ERA.

Now, on to yesterday’s action. Two division leaders squared off in San Diego last night as the Padres completed a three game sweep of the Atlanta Braves with a convincing 8-4 victory. Khalil Greene notched to 3-run round-trippers to lead the way, and Adam Eaton worked 6 1/3 innings for his 6th win of the year against only one defeat. Horacio Ramirez took the brunt of the Padres assault, allowing 7 runs on 8 hits in only four innings of work. This is San Diego’s first sweep of Atlanta since August 1-3 of 1989, and follows their sweep of the Braves chief pursuer, the Florida Marlins. No one can say the Padres are fattening up against sub-par opposition as they have cut a broad swathe through the cream of the NL East.

Meanwhile, the Central leading Cards, in Philadelphia for a three game set, tied their series at a game apiece by downing the Philadelphia Phillies 8-4. Mark Grudzielanek went 3-4 with 2 RBI’s, Jadier Molina smacked a three-run dinger, and Albert Pujols clubbed a two-run shot of his own as St. Louis raced out to an 8-0 lead. The game was not without drama, however, thanks to Philadelphia’s hot-hitting Bobby Abreau. Abreau extended his hitting streak to eleven games and slammed 9th homer in ten to cut the lead to 8-3 in the sixth. In the 9th he came to the plate with the bases loaded and his team four runs down, but struck out on three straight curve-balls from Jason Isringhausen. Chris Carpenter raised his record to 6-2 with the win, while Jon Leiber earned the loss, dropping his record to 5-3.

In Los Angeles, Florida took the rubber- match of a three game series by ambushing the Dodgers Jeff Weaver for five runs in the sixth-inning. For Weaver, it is the second straight start in which he has been hammered late in a game while seemingly cruising along; Adam Laroche of Atlanta spoiled his last outing by hitting eighth-inning grand slam to break up a shutout and cost Los Angeles the game. Weaver was ahead 2-1 this time, before Carols Delgado, Miguel Cabrera and Damion Easley went yard on him to chase him from the mound. Weaver, normally a hard thrower, had his fastball clocked consistently at 84 mph during the game, raising questions about his health. The loss drops his record to 4-3; Josh Beckett plugged away for the Marlins, raising his record to 6-3 despite struggling with his command. Beckett walked five in 6 innings, but was able to work out of trouble repeatedly with the help of 6 strikeouts, surrendering only two runs in the process.

Three games were decided in the ninth inning last night. In Pittsburgh, the Chicago Cubs handed Jose Mesa his second blown save in two nights. Mesa had saved 23 straight entering the two game series. Jose Macias brought home the winning run with a sacrifice fly after Todd Hollandsworth tied the game with a vicious ground-ball base-hit that Pirates first-baseman Daryle Ward could not handle. Mesa dropped to 0-3 with the loss. Michel Wuertz got the win in relief for the Cubbies, bringing his record to 2-1. Ryan Dempster earned his second save by closing down the Bucs, despite loading the bases on a double, an error and a walk. Dempster coaxed a double-play from the bat of Jack Wilson to end the threat.

The wandering, ownerless old Expos finally have a home in Washington as the Nationals, and they rewarded their fans last night when Jeffrey Hammonds ripped a bases-loaded single to break up a scoreless tie in the bottom of the ninth. It was only Hammonds third hit of the year, and it gave the Nats a 2-1 series victory over the Brewers. Chris Capuano of the Brewers and Esteban Loaiza had locked horns in a classic pitchers duel to that point, and neither pitcher got the reward they both so richly deserved. Loaiza was left with a no-decision, and Capuano’s record dropped to 3-3 when a run charged to him was let in by reliever Mike Adams.

Colorado saw a pitchers duel of its own, a rare treat for the home fans until Deivi Cruz hit a tie-breaking triple in the ninth to give the San Francisco Giants a 3-2 victory. Jim Brower got the win in relief of Brad Hennessey for San Francisco, his second of the year against one defeat, and Tyle Walker worked the bottom of the ninth without incident for his fourth save. Brian Fuentes saw his record drop to 0-3 with the loss, ruining a seven-inning five-strikeout appearance by Bobby Chacon. The series, knotted at one, concludes tonight.

In other action, the Diamondbacks beat Houston 7-6 on the road to tie their series at one game apiece. Troy Glaus went 3-for-five with a two-run homer, and Russ Ortiz raised his record to 4-2 with the win, despite giving up four runs in 5 1/3 innings. Andy Pettite was worse, giving up 7 in five for the loss, dropping his record to 2-5. Bruce Bruney notched his third save for the surprising D-backs who have won 6 of 8 to stay within a game of the Western leading Padres.

Finally, in New York, the Mets pounded the hapless Reds 10-6, sweeping their three game set. The Reds committed four errors in the game, losing their 16th of 20. Tom Glavine (3-4) went six strong innings for the win, while Eric Milton (2-5) took the loss. Mike Piazza had four hits and Jose Reyes had two triples to pace the Mets; Sean Casey’s 5-for-5, four RBI effort was wasted by the Reds.

That’s the day that was in the Senior Circuit, I’ll be back tomorrow to wrap up tonight’s action.

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