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May 19, 2000

The Daily Prospectus

Looking Ahead

by Joe Sheehan

No, I'm not predicting anything, just taking a look at some of the things to watch for around baseball this weekend.

The race is on to see which bullpen will actually spontaneously combust first, that of the Orioles or the Cubs. The Cubs have been victimized by their relief core for the entire season, and their woes have been well-covered. The Os collapse has come of late:

Oriole relievers, 5/12-5/18: 11 2/3 IP, 16.97 ERA, 9/11 K/BB

Oriole relievers were scored upon in nine of 15 appearances in that span, giving up leads in three of the team's five losses. They blew the lead tonight in Texas, and three more games in the AL's best hitters' park aren't going to help the situation.

If there's an upside, it's only that this kind of slump could push the team into the rebuilding mode it so desperately needs to go through. It's time to start over, even if it means trading veterans for ten cents on the dollar.

Speaking of bad relief, let's hope that Tony LaRussa finally cuts bait on Mike Mohler this weekend. Mohler, LaRussa's left-handed specialist and old Oakland A's crony, hasn't done anything right so far. The league is pasting him for a 9.00 ERA and a 920 OPS, with left-handed hitters putting up a line of .323/.488/.484. This isn't a fluke: this is pretty much what to expect from someone with no fastball, so-so breaking stuff and no intimidation factor against left-handed hitters.

The most interesting series of the weekend takes place in Cleveland, where the AL's two longest-running shows try and get their struggling acts together. The hook this time, though, isn't "Playoff Preview." The Indians and Yankees are both suffering from injuries, Cleveland putting 40% of its starting rotation--Charles Nagy and Jaret Wright--on the DL Thursday and New York missing its best player, Derek Jeter.

These teams look a bit more vulnerable with each passing day as age and depth problems take their toll. Complicating these problems is that the competition--especially the Indians's competition--has improved significantly. The Red Sox and Blue Jays are 90-win teams, and the White Sox have that kind of upside. The teams that perfected the "regular season as playoff preparation" strategy are going to be forced to play 162 games for real in 2000.

Mark McGwire in 2000: .333/.508/.925. He spotted everyone ten games and is still the major-league leader in home runs with 17. His third home run Thursday was hit on a one-handed swing at a pitch down and away, and went 400-odd feet.

I've been skeptical about McGwire's chance of catching Hank Aaron for the all-time home run title, but I get less so with each day. I now have to concede there's an excellent chance he'll get to 756 career home runs.

By Labor Day.

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

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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