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No, I’m not predicting anything, just taking a look at some of the things
to watch for around baseball this weekend.

The race is on to see which bullpen will actually spontaneously combust
first, that of the Orioles or the Cubs. The Cubs have been victimized by
their relief core for the entire season, and their woes have been
well-covered. The Os collapse has come of late:

Oriole relievers, 5/12-5/18: 11 2/3 IP, 16.97 ERA, 9/11 K/BB

Oriole relievers were scored upon in nine of 15 appearances in that span,
giving up leads in three of the team’s five losses. They blew the lead
tonight in Texas, and three more games in the AL’s best hitters’ park
aren’t going to help the situation.

If there’s an upside, it’s only that this kind of slump could push the team
into the rebuilding mode it so desperately needs to go through. It’s time
to start over, even if it means trading veterans for ten cents on the dollar.

Speaking of bad relief, let’s hope that Tony LaRussa finally cuts bait on
Mike Mohler this weekend. Mohler, LaRussa’s left-handed specialist
and old Oakland A’s crony, hasn’t done anything right so far. The league is
pasting him for a 9.00 ERA and a 920 OPS, with left-handed hitters putting
up a line of .323/.488/.484. This isn’t a fluke: this is pretty much what
to expect from someone with no fastball, so-so breaking stuff and no
intimidation factor against left-handed hitters.

The most interesting series of the weekend takes place in Cleveland, where
the AL’s two longest-running shows try and get their struggling acts
together. The hook this time, though, isn’t "Playoff Preview."
The Indians and Yankees are both suffering from injuries, Cleveland putting
40% of its starting rotation–Charles Nagy and Jaret
–on the DL Thursday and New York missing its best player,
Derek Jeter.

These teams look a bit more vulnerable with each passing day as age and
depth problems take their toll. Complicating these problems is that the
competition–especially the Indians’s competition–has improved
significantly. The Red Sox and Blue Jays are 90-win teams, and the White
Sox have that kind of upside. The teams that perfected the "regular
season as playoff preparation" strategy are going to be forced to play
162 games for real in 2000.

Mark McGwire in 2000: .333/.508/.925. He spotted everyone ten games
and is still the major-league leader in home runs with 17. His third home
run Thursday was hit on a one-handed swing at a pitch down and away, and went
400-odd feet.

I’ve been skeptical about McGwire’s chance of catching Hank Aaron for the
all-time home run title, but I get less so with each day. I now have to
concede there’s an excellent chance he’ll get to 756 career home runs.

By Labor Day.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at

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