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May 23, 2000
The Daily Prospectus
Around the AL
Yesterday's light slate of games gives me a chance to step back and see what's interesting around the AL. NL fans, take heart: I'll cover your turf Wednesday.
When baseball realigned in 1994, one of the major objections that was raised was the possibility of an under-.500 team winning one of the four-team divisions. In fact, had the '94 season been played to its conclusion, it's probable that the AL West would have been won by a team with fewer than 81 wins. Since then, however, the situation hasn't arisen.
What never really came up was the possibility that all the teams in a division could finish at or above .500. Maybe because it happened before, in the American League West in 1991, when the California Angels finished last at 81-81.
The AL West looks like it wants to try again. The Oakland A's are in last place at 22-23, and frankly, three of these four teams are very capable of winning 88 games or so. And the team that looked like the division doormat before the season, , the Angels, have proven to have a better offense than expected, thanks to the development of Troy Glaus and the addition of DH Scott Spiezio.
It's not probable that all four of these teams will finish above .500, but they do benefit from a balanced schedule that gives them a lot of games against the Tigers, Orioles and Devil Rays, and interleague play increases the chance of the odd occurrence. Regardless of whether three or four teams reach the 81-win mark, this looks like it will be as good a race as the current format can give us.
The collapse of the Baltimore Orioles has caused less consternation this year than it did in 1999. As much as I'd like to believe that's because people are catching on to the problems with building around age, I fear it has more to do with the fact that it's already happened once.
The current AL East Notebook points out just how bad the Oriole bullpen has been, but it would be wrong to point the blame solely at them. The Orioles have the highest ERA in the American League, and a large part of the blame has to go to their defense. Despite a home park that has been the hardest in the league in which to hit doubles and triples, the Orioles are seventh in the league in doubles allowed and lead the AL in triples allowed. Until the Orioles develop, trade for or kidnap a real center fielder, that's not going to change, and it's going to make a mediocre pitching staff look even worse.
In other news:
James Baldwin has been a great story, but while his strikeout rate and K/BB ratio are improved, they don't match a 2.51 ERA. Look for him to slip a bit from here on out.
With the addition of Rickey Henderson, the apparent health of Jay Buhner and the new and improved Alex Rodriguez, the Mariners have a fantastic top six lineup spots. The lineup breaks down at the bottom, though, where David Bell and Dan Wilson sport .300 OBPs. More playing time for Tom Lampkin (.274/.318/.500) will help, but the third base problem is here to stay.
Jeff Bower likes the idea of making a run at one of two Triple-A third basemen who are getting no respect from their organizations, the Devil Rays' Aubrey Huff or the Pirates' Aramis Ramirez. The Huff idea has merit: Tampa Bay could use some of the extra pitching the Ms have, and with Vinny Castilla signed through 2001, Huff is going to struggle to get playing time.
Speaking of the Devil Rays: no one with more than two at-bats has an OBP of .380. The aformentioned Castilla is hitting .204/.253/.331.
Joe Sheehan can be reached at email@example.com.