NL Central, What Would We Do Without You, You Crazy Nut?


You mocked the National League's Central Division. Called it the race nobody wanted. But now it's September, and it's the most compelling race in baseball, with three teams within a game of each other atop the standings. You've got Carlos Zambrano pouting into his sippy cup. Rick Ankiel not caring if everyone discovers his secret identity. Prince Fielder wielding The Bat (And Stomach) Of Destiny. Aside from the Padres and Diamondbacks waltzing in the NL West, the Central is the only place to be right now. Plus, remember this guy? It's a nonstop party!

Lou Piniella is threatening wholesale lineup changes in the wake of Chicago's 6-2 loss to the Dodgers, in which the Cubs failed to deliver with runners on base and hit into five double plays. Brad Penny went seven strong innings and Matt Kemp had four hits as La made a mockery of Steve Trachsel's return to the Cubs. Chicago is now a half-game ahead of the Brewers, who beat the Astros 5-3 behind Francisco Cordero, who set a franchise record with his 40th save.

Meanwhile, the Joel Pineiro Saga continues in St. Louis, as the former Red Sox reliever won for the fourth time in six starts as the Cardinals beat the Pirates 6-2. St. Louis is one game behind the Cubs. Pineiro (4-2) allowed two runs and eight hits in 5 2-3 innings and was helped by Chris Duncan bases-loaded double goodness. And hey, all three teams are above .500.

A Little Chien Music. Everyone stopped breathing at once as Alex Rodriguez grimaced in pain after rolling his right ankle in a collision at third base in the seventh inning. Don't worry girls ... Alex WILL be at the dance tonight! Will be there! (X-Rays were negative). Chien-Ming Wang won his 17th as the Yankees beat the Mariners 12-3, moving two games ahead of Seattle in the AL wild card. Clemens, meanwhile, got a "cortisone shot" for his "elbow injury."

Just Like Me, They Long To Be, Close To You. Tony Clark and Eric Byrnes homered off of Chris Young as Arizona beat San Diego 9-1, the Diamondbacks coming to within .001 of the first-place Padres. My, that's close.

A Pair Of Threes Beats An Ace. The New York Mets are back in control of this ship! Paul Lo Duca hit a pair of three-run homers and had seven RBI as the Mets beat the Reds 11-7, their fifth straight win. New York is five games ahead of Philadelphia in the East.