Baseball '99: Midseason Update
CNNSI's midseason baseball reports are designed to update you in a flash. Find out what you missed in the first half of the season, what to look for down the stretch and who the top prospects are for each team. Select a division from the menus below and get in the game.
New York Yankees
Fast Forward: The Rocket's bloated ERA may not be the biggest concern of the Yankees pitching staff -- that honor belongs to the 5-7 Pettitte. David Cone, on the other hand (literally), has been a fine anchor. As far as the standings go, New York just can't seem to shake the Red Sox, and fans of the rivalry have six more meetings to look forward to (7/30-8/1 in Boston and 9/10-9/12 in 'da Bronx). If it comes down to the last few weeks: the Yanks finish the season with 13 games against the White Sox, Devil Rays and Orioles, while the Boston will play 10 of its last 13 against possible wild-card contenders Baltimore and Toronto. Bernie Williams , who was moved up to the two-hole June 18 to shake up the lineup (though Torre has been using him at cleanup since July 2), takes one of the hottest bats in the league into the second half.
You Oughta Know: Despite blowing a July 6 save opportunity, his first blown chance since late April, Mariano Rivera is still one of the closest things to automatic in the AL. Rivera ended up winning his July 6 outing and, with his 2-1 record, 21 saves and 1.93 ERA in 32 2/3 innings, is one of the reasons the Yankees have won a major-league leading 124 consecutive games.
Boston Red Sox
Fast Forward: Pitching continues to be the story in Boston. Cy Young candidate Pedro Martinez 's older brother, Ramon , should be available shortly after the break, and the Red Sox have been interested in, if not reasonably successful with, reclamation projects. The glaring problem facing the pitching staff, though, is the bullpen. Closer Tom Gordon , whose nasty stuff, competitive makeup and ninth-inning credentials are sorely missed, is on the DL with a sore right elbow and may be out until August with elbow soreness. If the Red Sox are to contend for the division -- or what is shaping up to be a dogfight for the AL wild card -- they need a closer and really shouldn't have to depend on knuckleballer Tim Wakefield at a time when they need their pitcher to throw strikes.
You Oughta Know: Pedro Martinez is the best starting pitcher in the American League, and the race ain't even close. More of what Red Sox fans would like to see: Trot Nixon , who didn't see the Mendoza line until mid-May, has raised his average to .257.
Toronto Blue Jays
Fast Forward: Finding a hot bat outside the .400 Flirt, Tony Fernandez (who cannot continue at this pace much longer); Shawn Green and Shannon Stewart would be nice. One gaping hole in the lineup is at designated hitter, formerly filled by the quietest 46-homer season in history. The DH hole (and we do mean hole) -- thanks to Dave Hollins (.211 average, which is 21 points under his playing weight, by the way, in 23 games DH-ing and he's now a free agent after clearing waivers), Willie Greene (who's batting .226 in 20 games as a DH) and Geronimo Berroa (.212 as a DH in 17 games) -- now appears to be Craig Grebeck 's to lose. Even though his first DH work this season came on June 24, Grebeck is batting .522 after six games as the designated hitter.
Essentially, in order to even hope for the wild card, Toronto needs production from its DH (whomever that may be), its young arms healthy, Wells to pitch more consistently, and, oh yeah, the Blue Jays also have to strike out less (Toronto lead the majors after striking out 555 times). The good news: Tony Batista 's addition, and by the the first week of July, Toronto reeled off a 22-game record of 16-6 -- including three come-from-behind wins.
You Oughta Know: The three Blue Jays with the most innings (Wells, Pat Hentgen and Escobar) average a 5.65 ERA. Carlos Delgado is on pace to match most of the offensive career-highs he put up last season, but his batting average after 81 games (.246) was 46 points below his season average from 1998 (.292). Delgado's on-base (.353) and slugging percentages (.492) are down significantly as well.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Fast Forward: Just because this team won't make the playoffs, don't think it's not worth checking out Devil Rays box scores occasionally, especially now that they've inched ahead of Baltimore in the AL East. Rookie Ryan Rupe finished the month of June 3-1 (he allowed only six runs in his final three starts of the month) and was nominated as the AL player of the week at the end of June. Plus, see below.
You Oughta Know: In case you haven't heard, Jose Canseco became the first player in history to hit 30 home runs for four different teams. Fred McGriff , who's hit 19, could become the second later in the year. One more career milestone alert: Wade Boggs is chasing career hit No. 3000. As of July 7 he had 2,975.
Fast Forward: The good news is that Albert Belle seems to thrive in the second half of meaningless seasons. If the Orioles continue to fall behind the likes of New York, Boston and Toronto, look for Belle to make a run at Roger Maris 's, ahh, mark. Baltimore's pitching staff, with the exception of 10-4 Mike Mussina , has been a source of frustration. The combined record of Sidney Ponson , Juan Guzman and Scott Erickson is 14-19 and Erickson's ERA on June 30 was most appropriate ... 6.66. Then, after the sixth inning, the Orioles bring out the gasoline. The team's ERA beyond the sixth inning hovers just below 6.00, second-worst in the AL. Mike Timlin had blown seven saves by July 1 and the team converted only 14 saves through July 7.
You Oughta Know: The Orioles are killing themselves within their own division, losing 23 of their first 29 games against AL East foes.
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