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Two months is a brief piece of a baseball season to be basing sweeping
pronouncements on, yet I’ll step in front of the gale and do it.

One of the strangest things I noted in setting this up, looking for the ten
best teams, is how exactly ten teams have seperated themselves from the general
crowd. These ten teams, on June 4, all had an established pace of 93 or more
wins, eight of them between 93 and 99. A drop of six, to 87, picks up one more
team, and you have to fall five more slots, to 82, to get to twelfth.

Top Ten Teams

1. Atlanta Braves: I know the Yankees have a better record, but Atlanta is
doing a pretty good job themselves. I’m not sure that an offense with Galarraga
and Weiss will continue to run so hot – and boy, do the statheads of the world
have egg on their faces for those two – but the pitching staff continues to be
the best in history.

2. New York Yankees: The best offense in baseball. The players you thought
would be good have been, and their question marks (LF, 3B, C) have been solidly
answered. The starters (other than Irabu) haven’t been stellar, but Rivera is
flashing the unhittable form of ’96.

3. Houston Astros: Kile? Who? The Astros rotation has been more than solid all
year, with only the fifth spot giving any trouble at all (though I don’t know
how Bergman is doing it.) Meanwhile, the better-than-expected Alou and Bell
have made up for the worse-than-expected Bagwell and Ausmus.

4. San Diego Padres: Old, perhaps, but good, especially since Greg Vaughn is
back in shape. The pitching is only average, although the key spots (Brown and
Ashby, with Hoffman closing) matches up with anybody.

5. Texas Rangers: The Ranger bullpen has been unbelieveably good, but I don’t
know if they can keep at it with Witt/Oliver/Burkett getting toasted with
regularity. The hitting has been downright scary, and it stretches credibility
to expect it to continue.

6. San Francisco Giants: Barry is hitting, even if no one except Buck Showalter
notices, and he’s not alone: Mueller and Aurilia add up to a dynamite left
side. They need to relocate the pod that played for J.T. Snow last year, and
for the starters to step it up: the pen’s been outstanding (2.15 ERA), but
they’ve logged a lot of innings.

7. Cleveland Indians: It seems strange to say that Charles Nagy has been the
weak link in the rotation, especially since he’s 7-2, but that’s how I see it.
The Indians may have the best pitching overall in the AL, to go with an offense
that has been severely disappointing. Given that they have no competition for
their division, I don’t know how motivated they’ll be to kick it into gear.

8. New York Mets: Starting pitching bails out an offense rendered anemic by the
absence of Hundley and presence of Ordonez. Al Leiter has been especially
noteworthy, but Yoshii and Reed have done their part as well.

9. Boston Red Sox: My pre-season wild card pick is right on track. The biggest
question coming in for them was, “Can Pedro keep pitching like he did last
year?”, and so far that answer is yes. The offense has been a little slower
than expected, but should pick up.

10. Chicago Cubs. I don’t think they’re really this good, but it seems somehow
satisfying to write “Cubs” into the top 10. We knew Wood was a potential ace if
he could maintain his control, and he has. Trachsel has been terriffic. And a
host of hitters (Sosa, Grace, Morandini, and Brown) are hitting way over their
heads. I don’t expect them to stay here, especially if the Cardinals’ rotation
comes home, but enjoy the ride in Wrigleyville while it lasts.

Most disappointing teams:

1. St. Louis Cardinals: Its rude to point to a team that’s down, but pitching
injuries are so far wasting some incredible batting performances.

2. Seattle Mariners: Once again, while we knew coming in that the bullpen was
bad, the absolute depths of mediocrity which Piniella’s Pen is plumbing are
revealing things the world has rarely, if ever, seen before. And its not as if
the starters were setting the world on fire, either. Again, an absolute waste
of great hitters.

3. Arizona Diamondbacks: Even more than the Orioles, in my opinion, they
demonstrate that throwing money at a team won’t help it if you are stupid.
Linus will have to come to Phoenix this year to find the Great Pumpkin: pick
one of Matt Williams, Jorge Fabregas, Jay Bell, Willie Blair, Andy Benes.
Premium prices for average work.

MVP

National League

1. Mark McGwire. Currently flirting with a .400 EqA, which hasn’t been done
since 1957. And some meaningless home run record, as if anyone cares about
that.

2. Chipper Jones. Arguably a better overall season than McGwire, since he’s
hitting right well himself and plays a more important position. And plays for a
winner. I get the feeling that if Mark fails to hit 61, the disappointment will
be such that he won’t win MVP.

3. Craig Biggio. Top-notch production from second base and a leader of the
league’s second-best team.

4. Barry Bonds. Easy to forget him, since its a typical Bonds year, but
deserving nontheless.

5. Moises Alou. A tough choice over Sosa and pick-a-Padre, especially since I
already named Biggio. But he deserves it.

American League

1. Ivan Rodriguez. Reminds me of a fierce argument two years ago. For a
catcher to lead the league in batting average is a rare thing; for him to lead
in equivalent average is rarer still. And to be a _good_ catcher on top of
that…so far, an historic season.

2. Alex Rodriguez. 1996 redux.

3. Bernie Williams. The best hitter on a team full of good ones…imagine
what an MVP would do for his negotiating position.

4. Juan Gonzalez. Even I can’t ignore those RBIs completely, even if his
teammates deserve a lot of credit. He is getting the opportunities by the
ton, and banking them.

5. Jim Thome. Lost in the Indians’ lackluster offense, but it isn’t his
fault they’re lackluster.

Cy Young Award

National League

1. Greg Maddux. An ERA of 1.39, except for two games with the Rockies.

2. Al Leiter. Hasn’t given up more than three runs in a game yet.

3. Frankie Cordova. He’s become one of my favorite pitchers. Extremely
consistent from one game to the next, which is why he gets the nod over
Kevin Brown.

American League

1. Pedro Martinez. Keeping Boston in contention, but has been hit hard in
his last couple of games.

2. Chuck Finley. Strong so far, but I’m a little concerned about his recent
workload (122-136 pitches in 4 of the last 5 starts).

3. Brad Radke. The ace of a surprisingly good Twin staff.

Rookie of the Year

National League

1. Kerry Wood, for the moment. His pitch counts and walks are climbing,
though.

2. Masato Yoshii. A non-traditional rookie at age 33, the bottom line is
results: and he has them.

3. Brian Meadows. A solid job for the expans^H^H^H^H^H^H Marlins; I like his
results a little more than any of the hitters in the league.

American League

1. Ben Grieve. Everything advertised.

2. Rolando Arrojo. A big part of why the D-Rays are better than the D-backs.

3. David Ortiz. Currently out with a wrist injury, but was a rare source of
strength in the Minnesota lineup.

Managers of the Year

National League

1. Larry Dierker

2. Dusty Baker

3. Bobby Valentine

American League

1. Joe Torre

2. Johnny Oates

3. Terry Collins

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