Posted: Thursday July 21, 2005 1:11PM; Updated: Thursday July 21, 2005 9:00PM
Catcher Javy Lopez, soon to come off the disabled list, will improve the Orioles' offense when he gets back. And Baltimore figures to get a little more out of right fielder Sammy Sosa, who has been a huge disappointment.
Other than that, center field (where Luis Matos now prowls again) is about the only place where the Orioles can reasonably expect more production. The O's, after all, trail only the Rangers in home runs and are in the AL's top three in batting average and slugging percentage.
Center fielders are available (Winn, Byrnes and the Reds' Ken Griffey Jr. are three names). If the long-rumored trade of Florida's Burnett (packaged with third baseman Mike Lowell) goes through, the Orioles could move third baseman Melvin Mora back to center to make room for Lowell. That'd help, especially if the change of address shook Lowell out of his slump.
If a trade doesn't happen, the O's will have to be content with the boost that they hope to get from Lopez's return.
Nobody needs pitching worse than the Rangers, who rank 12th in the AL in ERA (4.88). That puts a lot of pressure on an offense that already is among the league's best. Texas leads the AL in homers and has the best slugging percentage in the league.
Considering the Rangers have an All-Star infield that can bang (Mark Teixeira, Alfonso Soriano, Michael Young and Hank Blalock), a good designated hitter (David Dellucci, with 17 homers and a .919 OPS), a pair of very solid outfielders (Kevin Mench and Richard Hidalgo) and a hitter-friendly home park, it will be hard for them to get any better with the bats.
But another outfielder -- especially one who could play center (where Laynce Nix and Gary Matthews Jr. have split time) or spell right-fielder Hidalgo (who has 15 homers but is hitting only .215) -- would help. Tampa Bay's Aubrey Huff, Cincinnati's Dunn, maybe the Mets' Mike Cameron or Florida's Juan Encarnacion -- would make an already impressive lineup even scarier. Griffey would do the trick, too, though Texas clearly has learned its lesson about taking on big contracts.
A lame offensive team in first place despite giving up more runs than they've scored this season, the Nationals need lots of help. First baseman Nick Johnson, out with a sore heel, has to get well (he was hitting .320, but he hasn't played since late June). Second baseman Jose Vidro, a lifetime .304 hitter injured for most of the year, has to get back into his groove.
That's just the start for the Nats, who are last in homers in the National League and next-to-last in slugging percentage and OPS. A weak-hitting shortstop (Cristian Guzman) and disappointing years from third baseman Vinny Castilla and outfielder Brad Wilkerson have crippled them. General manager Jim Bowden brought in Preston Wilson from the Rockies to add some power, and now the GM is trying to convince former Reds All-Star Barry Larkin to come out of retirement to play shortstop.
The problem is, even with more pitching, even if the Nationals take care of some of the holes in that lineup, it still might not be enough for them to hold on to their slim lead in the NL East. They're 7-10 in July and sliding.