May 20, 2000
AL West Notebook
News & Notes
Running with the Pack
For better or worse, "parity" has been a buzzword in the NFL for
the last decade or so. It's the result of league rules that reward poor
performance with a creampuff schedule that enables perennial sad sacks to
sign Arena League quarterbacks and win the Super Bowl.
Baseball's economic disparities and relatively neutral scheduling means
that the NFL's level of parity probably won't find its way into baseball
anytime soon. However, at the quarter pole of the 2000 season, that's
exactly what we have in the AL West, with all four teams bunched within
two-and-a-half games of each other.
The clubs entered the recent ten-game stretch of intradivisional contests
with only four games separating the engine (Seattle) from the caboose
(Texas). The ten-day stretch was an opportunity for any of the top three
teams to catch fire and break from the pack, but the only things broken
were the sleep patterns of the division's pitching coaches, as the clubs
combined for an 265 runs on an 874 OPS. The A's and Rangers collected the
majority of those runs, each averaging at least eight runs a game while
going 6-4. The Mariners and Angels lurched to 4-6 records, and the brief
soiree concluded with the division tighter than when it began.
Lone Star Seismic Tremors
As the Pacific Northwest reminisces about the eruption of Mt. St. Helens'
20 years ago, baseball seismographs detected activity emanating from The
Ballpark in Arlington on May 9. Signs indicated that all the pieces were in
place for another upheaval from Mt. Piniella.
The rumblings from Lou Piniella about his pitching staff were becoming
louder and more frequent after a few ineffective outings by the bullpen. In
need of a fifth starter, Piniella opted to move Paul Abbott into the
starting rotation, leaving half a dozen suspects for late-inning work. Of
the remaining relievers, Piniella is afraid to mete out meaningful innings
to anybody answering to the name Jose or rookie southpaw Robert
Ramsay. With Kaz Sasaki's fastball laying on an operating table
in Japan, Frankie Rodriguez his usual unpredictable self and
Arthur Rhodes very effective but overworked, a short outing by
Abbott could have triggered a violent explosion from the Mariners' unstable
Disaster was averted when Seattle's offense plated ten runs in the first
five innings while Abbott tossed shutout ball. Northwest residents
shouldn't let their stockpiles of toilet paper and potable water dwindle,
though; there'll be more tremors this summer.
- Though Oakland scored 80 runs in the ten games of divisional play, they
wouldn't have emerged with even six victories if not for Gil
Heredia. While the rest of the beleaguered pitching staff coughed up 67
runs, Heredia surrendered only three in 12 2/3 innings and was rewarded
with two Ws. His efforts continue to go largely unnoticed, but his 2.52 ERA
trails only Pedro Martinez in the American League.
The right-handed Heredia's pitching style mirrors that of Mariners'
left-hander Jamie Moyer: outstanding location, relies on changing
speeds and working both sides of the plate, keeps the defense on its toes.
Also like Moyer, things didn't really gel for Heredia until age 33. If
their careers continue to parallel, Heredia should be an effective starter
for the White Elephants into the middle of the decade.
- History shows that very seldom will a team in last place at the end of
April go on to win the division. However, after an 8-15 start, the Texas
Rangers reached the .500 mark this week, despite having the second-toughest
schedule in the Junior Circuit the first six weeks of the season.
The Rangers have made up the ground by simply pounding their opposition.
While their team ERA ranks seventh in the league, that seemingly decent
performance is tainted by a league-worst 30 unearned runs. Texas has been
able to mask their miscues by hammering anything chucked towards home
plate, with Ruben Mateo doing much of the damage.
During the first three weeks of the season, Mateo did little to make
people forget his disappointing 1999 debut, although he did stay healthy.
But Rusty Greer's ankle injury and Johnny Oates's patience kept
Mateo in the lineup, and since April 28 he has posted a 953 OPS, despite
drawing only two bases on balls in 83 plate appearances. The lack of
discipline may be catching up to him, though; he hasn't reached base in
last 11 at-bats.
- Remember when some questionable voting shafted Alex Rodriguez out
of a MVP award in 1996? One of the blunders was that the two writers from
Seattle cast their lot with Ken Griffey Jr. because A-Rod was modest
enough to state that he wasn't even the MVP of his own team. More
preposterous was the voter who put Ivan Rodriguez at the top of his
ballot, despite an EqA of only .264 (versus A-Rod's .339). While I've never
heard that the writer 'fessed up to it, I have to believe that he got the
two players confused.
He need not worry about making that mistake this year. A quarter of the way
through the season, A-Rod and I-Rod are the two leading candidates for this
year's MVP, both on pace for campaigns that will rank among the all-time
best at their position.
Jeff Bower can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.