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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 jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.