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June 10, 1998
BP Polling: Chris Kahrl's BallotTop Ten Teams
1. NY Yankees: they're strong enough to survive injuries almost anywhere in the lineup or on the pitching staff and still not suffer a noticeable dropoff.
2. Atlanta: the key hitters are all young and can get better (I don't consider the Big Cat key, whatever the last two months say), while the pitching staff can comfortably put up with multi-week absences from John Smoltz.
3. Cleveland: they've always been able to get by without much pitching, and this year, they may actually have their best rotation of the '90s. The offense is more fragile, but they've got help in the system, and Hart rarely holds anything back.
4. Houston: Does Larry Dierker walk on water?
5. San Diego: They're getting good work from their bench, none of their vets are scuffling, and if they ever get Joey Hamilton straightened out, they could get very hot.
6. San Francisco: I'm surprised, but this is what happens when you give Bonds a good teammate or two.
7. Boston: Dan Duquette needs to stay out of the way, stop the constant roster shuffling for its own sake, and focus on the big in-season goal: an outfielder who's an asset.
8. Texas: Now here's a fun idea: could the Rangers actually help themselves by putting Matt Perisho or Todd Van Poppel into the rotation? That'd be chutzpah...
9. NY Mets: Can we expect Yoshii or Leiter or Reed to keep being this good? If not, the nagging offensive problems may leave the Mets fighting to stand in place, let alone moving up.
10. Chicago Cubs: Its been awhile since we had to remember the franchise's tradition of the June swoon. Although they're red-hot now, they've still got several problems they're going to have to straighten out: Hank Rodriguez? Scott Servais? Brant Brown in center?
1. Los Angeles: Being big and splashy can either mean you're making progress, or you're Shamu. For now, I'm going with the fishy alternative.
2. Seattle: Until Woody Woodward acknowledges that the team can't make any progress with Piniella scragging and misusing his staff, they're going to be making fans and networks unhappy.
3. Cincinnati: I can't pick Baltimore, because I don't see them being appreciably worse than they ought to be. The Reds should be in much better shape, but they've gone through some self-inflicted wounds (Dave Weathers?), and some disappointments (Reggie Sanders, Jon Nunnally).
Most Valuable Player
1. Mark McGwire, StL
2. Craig Biggio, HOU
3. Barry Bonds, SF
4. John Olerud, NYM
5. Jason Kendall, PIT
McGwire gets my vote for the showy stat totals, but in a team-relative context, I could end up switching to Biggio or Bonds by season's end. Olerud and Kendall get my picks as offensive workhorses on teams that rely heavily on them.
1. Ivan Rodriguez, TEX
2. Jim Thome, CLV
3. Alex Rodriguez, SEA
4. Ken Griffey Jr., SEA
5. Bernie Williams, NYY
Pudge and Thome get my pics because of how critical they are to their teams, while the rest are some great players playing well.
Cy Young Award
1. Greg Maddux. A default setting.
2. Al Leiter. I'm not counting on him still being here at season's end, but give credit where it's due.
3. Andy Ashby. An outstanding turnaround, and a great example of a pitcher learning and adapting over the course of his career.
1. Brad Radke. A crummy defense behind him doesn't help, and he's still outstanding.
2. Pedro Martinez. Some guy from the NL...
3. Chuck Finley. An excellent start, but he's the AL's answer to Al Leiter.
Rookie of the Year
1. Ben Grieve, OAK
2. Rolando Arrojo, TB
3. Mike Caruso, CHW
The first two aren't really that surprising, although Arrojo has been almost J.R. Richard-like in his ability to just freeze, dissect, and blow away right-handed batters. Caruso has shown progress as a hitter, but he's just beginning to learn how to field his position.
1. Kerry Wood, CHI
2. Masato Yoshii, NYM
3. Travis Lee, ARI
Wood and Yoshii have each been amazing in their distinctly different ways. Travis Lee only seems to be brought up now and again as being even more mellow than Ben Grieve, as if that's a bad thing. He's an outstanding glove and an improving hitter playing regularly. I'm surprised he isn't mentioned more often for what he does on the field.
1. Johnny Oates, TEX
2. Tom Kelly, MIN
3. Mike Hargrove, CLV
Voting for Oates is sort of a vote for his general manager, but Johnny O has managed to take advantage of the deep bench and pen that he's been handed, and that's what has the Rangers going strong. TK deserves some credit for standing by LaTroy Hawkins, but he's always going to have somebody like Brent Gates around to irk someone like me. Mike Hargrove has gotten some reasonable criticism for his handling of his rotation, but dumping the Dunston experiment and handing the job to David Bell is, so far, one of the best moves anyone has made anywhere.
1. Larry Dierker, HOU
2. Bobby Valentine, NYM
3. Bobby Cox, ATL
Sure, Bobby Cox wins all the time. But does he make something out of other people's garbage, and contend with it? Dierker has Jose Lima thriving, is getting good use of Sean Bergman, has broken in younger pitchers like Nitkowski and Miller well, uses his bench, and has no problem not taking much credit for it, sort of like Cox.