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Anaheim Angels

You don’t need to look any further than the top of the Angels’ lineup to
find one of the main reasons for the team’s unexpectedly good start, as
Darin Erstad (.492/.548/.738) is reestablishing himself as one of
the toughest outs in the game. Less than a month ago, some pundits were
questioning his future, citing the possibility of permanent hamstring
damage caused by playing through injuries in previous seasons. While his
stolen base totals have dropped every year since 1997, of greater
importance is that he seems to have rediscovered his stroke at the plate.

Erstad is an intensely competitive player, and it’s quite possible that his
poor start last season and the team’s disappointing performance caused him
to press. The resulting downward spiral concluded with him landing with a
thud on top of Brian Hunter among the worst everyday players in the
league. A resurgent Erstad combined with the continuing development of
Troy Glaus should push the Angels toward offensive respectability.

The real shocker is that Mike Scioscia’s starting corps currently sports an
ERA among the leaders in the Junior Circuit. A string of good outings by
Kent Bottenfield, Scott Schoeneweis and Jason Dickson
has fueled the climb, but shouldn’t be expected to continue. With Ramon
Ortiz
toiling with a partially torn labrum, there isn’t a starter on
the staff whose fastball approaches the mid-90s, and Anaheim’s hurlers rank
last in the league in strikeouts per nine innings.

While Bottenfield seems to legitimately have a little post-30 craftiness
tucked away in his ample folds, Schoeneweis and Dickson are due to implode
before your neighbors defrock their Easter Egg trees. Neither can be
successful unless their location is spot on–which it has been thus far,
the two combining for only seven walks in 41 1/3 innings.

Oakland Athletics

As was the case last season, the A’s broke from the gate and quickly
plummeted to the depths of the league in team batting. And just like last
year, fans of the Green and Gold needn’t be concerned. Despite the second
lowest team batting average in the AL, the Athletics aren’t deviating from
their patient approach at the plate, ranking second in the league with 4.8
walks per game. It’s only a matter of time until Oakland’s heavy lumber
breaks loose and starts scoring as often as a male escort armed with Rohypnol.

After two and a half weeks of play, the Athletics are getting above-average
offense from only three positions: first base, second base and third base.
The keystone production is a bit of a surprise, as Frank Menechino
(827 OPS) has firmed up his roster spot with solid play while filling in
for the injured Randy Velarde.

Seattle Mariners

After nine games, Mariner moundsmen had the best ERA in the league at 2.73.
Six games later, it was a not so gaudy 5.09. Their real performance level
lies somewhere in between, and despite a recent outburst in which the
offense set team records for most runs over a four-game span, rest assured
that the 2000 Mariners will go only as far as their arms take them. As long
as Lou Piniella steers the ship, that’s not a reassuring thought. Piniella
has as poor a track record with pitchers as any manager in the game, which
makes "new" pitching coach Bryan Price a key figure in the
Mariners’ season.

As alluded to recently by ESPN’s Rob Neyer, Price isn’t as new as
advertised. He was the organization’s roving pitching instructor in 1999,
temporarily assuming the big-league coaching reins when Stan Williams had
knee surgery in August. When Williams returned, he was reduced to little
more than a figurehead, as Price’s roving consisted of following the
Mariners wherever they went. Price has a very good rapport with his
pitchers and was as instrumental as Safeco Field in helping the Mariners
log the best ERA in the AL over the second half of last season.

If the injury bug doesn’t bite, Alex Rodriguez may well post the
best offensive campaign by a shortstop in the history of the game.
Rodriguez spent a good portion of spring training in lengthy chat sessions
with Edgar Martinez and free-agent acquisition John Olerud
discussing the art of hitting. Early returns (.380/.500/.780) indicate that
it was time well spent. A-Rod’s new-found patience at the plate (12 walks
in 62 plate appearances) and the additions of Olerud, Mike Cameron
and Mark McLemore gives the Mariners six players who could rack up
more than 80 bases on balls this season.

Texas Rangers

Doug Melvin spent his off-season doing two things: collecting southpaws and
retooling the Rangers’ everyday lineup while trying to retain their
competitiveness and a semblance of fiscal sanity. Stockpiling left-handers
is the most recent tack teams are taking in an attempt to knock Joe Torre’s
three-time champs off the throne. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to be
working, as the Yankees are off to an 11-3 start, including five
consecutive pastings of the Rangers.

While "Project Yankee Killer" didn’t exactly pan out, there’s
still optimism for the revamped lineup. Unlike last year, the Rangers
aren’t going to wrap up the division by August. However, no other team in
the AL West wields a big enough scythe to lay waste to the division by
harvest season, either. If the Rangers can stay close for four months, that
may buy enough time for Ruben Mateo and Gabe Kapler to gain
the experience they need to push the team across the finish line by a nose.

John Wetteland was recently asked to pitch in four consecutive
games, something he hadn’t done since 1995. Wetteland proceeded to blow
ninth-inning leads in each of the last two contests. Managers shy away from
such overuse because the reliever generally becomes less effective with
each successive outing. Additionally, this is the final year of Wetteland’s
contract and Melvin has given no indication that the club intends to try
and re-sign him, what with Tim Crabtree, Jeff Zimmerman and
Francisco Cordero all younger, cheaper and fully capable of assuming
the closer role.

The third and fourth games of that stretch were an ideal opportunity for
manager Johnny Oates to give one or more of the trio additional on-the-job
training in pressure situations, as well as increasing the probability that
the Rangers might have won one or both of the games.

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