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May 20, 2000

AL West Notebook

News & Notes

by Jeff Bower

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 baseball god.

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.

Notes

  • 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 jbower@baseballprospectus.com.

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