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May 3, 2000

The Daily Prospectus

Notes on a Monitor

by Joe Sheehan

Helped by another performance by Jose Lima's Traveling Home Run Circus, the Cubs' Kerry Wood made a successful return last night. He threw 95 pitches in six innings, allowing a run on three hits and four walks, striking out four and mixing in a two-run bomb to boot, as the Cubs won 11-1. It was unquestionably a great night, and while I disagree with sending him out to pitch the sixth inning with a 10-0 lead, that's a minor quibble.

Tuesday was just the next step on the road back for Wood, who now has to see how his arm responds the day after a major-league start, and subsequently how it handles the steady work he'll get from here on out. And we're all waiting to see if the conservative handling of Wood will continue. But for one night, Kerry Wood was the center of the baseball world again.

Of course, he has some competition for that spot. About three hours after Wood's night ended, the Atlanta Braves put the finishing touches on their 15th win in a row--including the first five games of their West Coast trip--beating the Dodgers 5-3.

As you would expect, the Braves' rotation has been phenomenal during the streak--the Braves haven't allowed more than four runs in a game during it--but to me, the real key is the offense. The three players the Braves are using in the top two lineup spots, Quilvio Veras, Andruw Jones and Rafael Furcal, all have OBPs of .390 or better. That's an immeasurable gain over last year's Gerald Williams/Bret Boone combination.

Even with that, the Braves are just 13th in the National League in runs scored, thanks to a bad start by Brian Jordan and the kidnapping of Reggie Sanders. Sanders' playing time has been given to a platoon of comedian D.L. Hughley and bon vivant Bobby Bonilla. While Bonilla has played reasonably well, Hughley has posted a woeful 404 OPS and caused the Braves to step up efforts to find Sanders.

From June 1 through the end of the season, this team will have one of the two or three best offenses in the league, and it's all because they finally solved the OBP problem at the top of the lineup. John Schuerholz deserves a lot of credit for recognizing and addressing the problem.

In Kansas City, the Royals won yet another game in their final at-bat, this time on a Carlos Febles single. From memory, this is either the sixth or seventh time they've won like this so far, meaning they're 7-14 or so when they don't leave 20,000 or so people all atwitter. The Royals were due to get lucky in close games this year, after last year's disaster, and I suppose it's better to be mediocre and entertaining than to be mediocre and heartbreaking.

"Mediocre and entertaining"...I guess that makes the Royals the Britney Spears of the American League.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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