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April 27, 1999

AL East Notebook

by Joe Sheehan

MillerWatch

The Orioles continue to shock people who think the correlation between payroll and performance is absolute. This old, slow, defensively stagnant team has the worst record in baseball, and that's not too far from its actual level of ability.

Ray Miller is not going to make the next road trip with this Oriole team, and that's a shame, because he hasn't had much impact on the current situation. He's not a particularly effective manager, nor an incompetent: he's just one of the vast majority of managers who don't make much difference. Miller has had a reasonably successful career as a pitching coach, and if allowed to return to that role, may still be able to positively impact this Oriole team.

The real problem? A pattern of committing to players who are past- prime, building a team that had nowhere to go but down as age and injuries ate away at the thirty-somethings. Fielding a defense that had no hope of supporting a staff that was going to put the ball in play a lot.

This team is going down, hard, and it's fault of Peter Angelos and the comedy team of Pat Gillick and Frank Wren. Ray Miller, when they make you the scapegoat, walk away with your head held high: Joe McCarthy couldn't have saved this team.

Rays & Jays

The two teams making the most noise in the East are Tampa Bay and Toronto, with winning streaks of eight and five games, respectively.

Some numbers:

           Record   RS/RA    OBP/SLG  ERA
Toronto:     12-4  101/66  .392/.496 4.03
Tampa Bay:   10-7   86/84  .333/.444 4.61

There's a difference between a bad team's run of good fortune and a good team playing near the top of its game. The Devil Rays are simply not going to score five runs a game all year, and when Kevin Stocker (1.664 OPS), Dave Martinez (.873 OPS) and John Flaherty (.834 OPS) return to earth, this team is going to lose a lot of 4-1 games.

The Jays, on the other hand, have plenty of hitters with real upside, and even when Tony Fernandez (1.085 OPS) and Darren Fletcher (.905 OPS) return to their level, the core of Shannon Stewart, Jose Cruz, Shawn Green and Carlos Delgado is going to put lots of runs on the board. Match that with their deep and effective starting pitching, and there's at least some reason to believe the Yankees won't be running away from the pack this year.

The Jays aren't a .750 team; they don't need to be. Look for them to be in the wild card mix all season long.

Out in Left Field

Sometimes when you have three solutions for one position, you really don't have any:

.185/.228/.333

Rany Jazayerli's Little League career? No, that's the combined performance of Chad Curtis, Shane Spencer and Ricky Ledee. The Yankee left field triumvirate has provided nothing at the plate, leading to a general offensive breakdown.

The 1998 Yankee lineup was strong top to bottom, with Scott Brosius and Jorge Posada putting up good years in the eight and nine holes. This year, Posada isn't hitting (.467 OPS) and Brosius went on the DL with a sore ankle and a .490 OPS, leaving Clay Bellinger and Luis Sojo to play third base. Not good.

So with the left fielders not hitting, New York is left with a six-man lineup. This counts Tino Martinez and his .680 OPS. Don Zimmer hasn't helped any of the candidates--only twice have any of them had back-to-back starts--but if the Yankees are going to win, they're going to need to get production from one, two or all of the three- headed monster.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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