June 10, 1998
BP Polling: Clay Davenport's BallotTwo months is a brief piece of a baseball season to be basing sweeping pronouncements on, yet I'll step in front of the gale and do it.
One of the strangest things I noted in setting this up, looking for the ten best teams, is how exactly ten teams have seperated themselves from the general crowd. These ten teams, on June 4, all had an established pace of 93 or more wins, eight of them between 93 and 99. A drop of six, to 87, picks up one more team, and you have to fall five more slots, to 82, to get to twelfth.
Top Ten Teams
1. Atlanta Braves: I know the Yankees have a better record, but Atlanta is doing a pretty good job themselves. I'm not sure that an offense with Galarraga and Weiss will continue to run so hot - and boy, do the statheads of the world have egg on their faces for those two - but the pitching staff continues to be the best in history.
2. New York Yankees: The best offense in baseball. The players you thought would be good have been, and their question marks (LF, 3B, C) have been solidly answered. The starters (other than Irabu) haven't been stellar, but Rivera is flashing the unhittable form of '96.
3. Houston Astros: Kile? Who? The Astros rotation has been more than solid all year, with only the fifth spot giving any trouble at all (though I don't know how Bergman is doing it.) Meanwhile, the better-than-expected Alou and Bell have made up for the worse-than-expected Bagwell and Ausmus.
4. San Diego Padres: Old, perhaps, but good, especially since Greg Vaughn is back in shape. The pitching is only average, although the key spots (Brown and Ashby, with Hoffman closing) matches up with anybody.
5. Texas Rangers: The Ranger bullpen has been unbelieveably good, but I don't know if they can keep at it with Witt/Oliver/Burkett getting toasted with regularity. The hitting has been downright scary, and it stretches credibility to expect it to continue.
6. San Francisco Giants: Barry is hitting, even if no one except Buck Showalter notices, and he's not alone: Mueller and Aurilia add up to a dynamite left side. They need to relocate the pod that played for J.T. Snow last year, and for the starters to step it up: the pen's been outstanding (2.15 ERA), but they've logged a lot of innings.
7. Cleveland Indians: It seems strange to say that Charles Nagy has been the weak link in the rotation, especially since he's 7-2, but that's how I see it. The Indians may have the best pitching overall in the AL, to go with an offense that has been severely disappointing. Given that they have no competition for their division, I don't know how motivated they'll be to kick it into gear.
8. New York Mets: Starting pitching bails out an offense rendered anemic by the absence of Hundley and presence of Ordonez. Al Leiter has been especially noteworthy, but Yoshii and Reed have done their part as well.
9. Boston Red Sox: My pre-season wild card pick is right on track. The biggest question coming in for them was, "Can Pedro keep pitching like he did last year?", and so far that answer is yes. The offense has been a little slower than expected, but should pick up.
10. Chicago Cubs. I don't think they're really this good, but it seems somehow satisfying to write "Cubs" into the top 10. We knew Wood was a potential ace if he could maintain his control, and he has. Trachsel has been terriffic. And a host of hitters (Sosa, Grace, Morandini, and Brown) are hitting way over their heads. I don't expect them to stay here, especially if the Cardinals' rotation comes home, but enjoy the ride in Wrigleyville while it lasts.
Most disappointing teams:
1. St. Louis Cardinals: Its rude to point to a team that's down, but pitching injuries are so far wasting some incredible batting performances.
2. Seattle Mariners: Once again, while we knew coming in that the bullpen was bad, the absolute depths of mediocrity which Piniella's Pen is plumbing are revealing things the world has rarely, if ever, seen before. And its not as if the starters were setting the world on fire, either. Again, an absolute waste of great hitters.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks: Even more than the Orioles, in my opinion, they demonstrate that throwing money at a team won't help it if you are stupid. Linus will have to come to Phoenix this year to find the Great Pumpkin: pick one of Matt Williams, Jorge Fabregas, Jay Bell, Willie Blair, Andy Benes. Premium prices for average work.
1. Mark McGwire. Currently flirting with a .400 EqA, which hasn't been done since 1957. And some meaningless home run record, as if anyone cares about that.
2. Chipper Jones. Arguably a better overall season than McGwire, since he's hitting right well himself and plays a more important position. And plays for a winner. I get the feeling that if Mark fails to hit 61, the disappointment will be such that he won't win MVP.
3. Craig Biggio. Top-notch production from second base and a leader of the league's second-best team.
4. Barry Bonds. Easy to forget him, since its a typical Bonds year, but deserving nontheless.
5. Moises Alou. A tough choice over Sosa and pick-a-Padre, especially since I already named Biggio. But he deserves it.
1. Ivan Rodriguez. Reminds me of a fierce argument two years ago. For a catcher to lead the league in batting average is a rare thing; for him to lead in equivalent average is rarer still. And to be a _good_ catcher on top of that...so far, an historic season.
2. Alex Rodriguez. 1996 redux.
3. Bernie Williams. The best hitter on a team full of good ones...imagine what an MVP would do for his negotiating position.
4. Juan Gonzalez. Even I can't ignore those RBIs completely, even if his teammates deserve a lot of credit. He is getting the opportunities by the ton, and banking them.
5. Jim Thome. Lost in the Indians' lackluster offense, but it isn't his fault they're lackluster.
Cy Young Award
1. Greg Maddux. An ERA of 1.39, except for two games with the Rockies.
2. Al Leiter. Hasn't given up more than three runs in a game yet.
3. Frankie Cordova. He's become one of my favorite pitchers. Extremely consistent from one game to the next, which is why he gets the nod over Kevin Brown.
1. Pedro Martinez. Keeping Boston in contention, but has been hit hard in his last couple of games.
2. Chuck Finley. Strong so far, but I'm a little concerned about his recent workload (122-136 pitches in 4 of the last 5 starts).
3. Brad Radke. The ace of a surprisingly good Twin staff.
Rookie of the Year
1. Kerry Wood, for the moment. His pitch counts and walks are climbing, though.
2. Masato Yoshii. A non-traditional rookie at age 33, the bottom line is results: and he has them.
3. Brian Meadows. A solid job for the expans^H^H^H^H^H^H Marlins; I like his results a little more than any of the hitters in the league.
1. Ben Grieve. Everything advertised.
2. Rolando Arrojo. A big part of why the D-Rays are better than the D-backs.
3. David Ortiz. Currently out with a wrist injury, but was a rare source of strength in the Minnesota lineup.
Managers of the Year
1. Larry Dierker
2. Dusty Baker
3. Bobby Valentine
1. Joe Torre
2. Johnny Oates
3. Terry Collins