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May 29, 2000

The Daily Prospectus

The Showdowns

by Joe Sheehan

The American League held an early-season barnburner over the weekend as the teams battling for the leads in the East and Central divisions went head-to-head.

The series in New York got most of the attention, thanks in part to two of the games showing up on national television. The Red Sox took two of three from the Yankees, riding the arms of the Brothers Martinez to their wins, and now have a one-game lead in the division. The Yankees scored just one run in their two losses, and while they now have their middle infield back, it doesn't appear that the problems they have scoring runs are going to go away anytime soon.

I like the Sox more every fifth day. Pedro Martinez has reached a level of greatness that borders on the absurd. His shutout Sunday lowered his ERA by a whopping...0.14? That's just silly. And while he was stretched out tonight, tossing a season-high 128 pitches, that type of workload is an exception, not a rule. Additionally, Jimy Williams keeps him on a five-game, rather than five-day, cycle, which will give Martinez an extra day of rest before his next start.

Winning two of three over the weekend has no great significance. These two teams have similar strengths and weaknesses, and the difference right now is the Sox have the game's best pitcher. This Yankee/Red Sox race could yet be decided by which team can add the best hitter between now and July 31.

In Chicago, the White Sox passed the first real test of their season by winning two of three against the Indians. Unlike the AL East showdown, in which the games were fairly close, the Pale Hose and Tribe traded blowouts on Saturday and Sunday, with the difference-maker Chicago's wet 5-3 win in the opener Friday.

You could win a fair number of bar bets by knowing that the team with the second-most runs scored and third-fewest runs allowed in the AL is the Chicago White Sox. While it's hard to believe the team is really this good--James Baldwin and Cal Eldred aren't likely to continue to pitch as well as they have--the Sox do have a strong bullpen and an offense to support it. They also have a low payroll that should allow them the flexibility of adding a starting pitcher or left-handed power hitter if they can stay in the race through the All-Star break.

Just like the Yankees, the Indians have had their lack of depth exposed by injuries. Their bullpen in front of Steve Karsay and Paul Shuey has been a disappointment, and only Chuck Finley is giving the Tribe more than six innings per start. Rushing Jaret Wright back for Saturday's start--in which he allowed seven runs in less than two innings--is a sign that they might be panicking.

While we all thought 2001 would be the year the cracks showed through, the aging, infirm Indians may push that timetable up a year.

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

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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