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Life in the West

Baseball's best races, toughest games, are on the left side

Posted: Monday July 15, 2002 12:17 PM
Updated: Tuesday July 16, 2002 1:07 PM

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 • Heroes and Bums
 • Rookie Spotlight
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 • Mad About Vlad
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By John Donovan,

The best race in baseball right now is in the West. Whether it's the American League or the National League, well, that one's up for some debate.

It's hard to overlook the Wests, though. Three teams are within 2 1/2 games in the NL West as the week opens. Over in the AL West, three teams are within five games.

OK, OK. There may be better two-teams races. New York and Boston in the AL East. St. Louis and Cincinnati -- maybe -- in the NL Central.

And we know it's still early, too. The Wests could blow up and become like the NL East, where the Braves lead Montreal by 9 1/2 games. Or the AL Central, where the Twins are up by 9 games over the Chicago White Sox. It could happen.

But given the first half, given the fights already going on in the West, given the balance of the teams, it doesn't look likely.

"The National League West is much better than the NL East," says Odalis Perez, the ex-Braves starter who now toils for the Dodgers. The Dodgers just lost three of four games to the Diamondbacks by a total score -- in four games! -- of 15-12. "Look at the Braves over there. They have, what, a 10-game lead [well, close]? There are three teams, at least, that can win the West. And you look at a team like the Colorado Rockies. They have the best-hitting team in baseball."

Here's a quick look at each of the top three teams in the NL West, their in-division records and how they've fared against each other:

Los Angeles (22-17): 6-7 vs. Arizona, 2-4 vs. SF (and 10-3 vs. Colorado).

Arizona (20-16): 7-6 vs. L.A., 5-5 vs. SF (and 6-1 vs. Colorado).

San Francisco (25-17): 4-2 vs. L.A., 5-5 vs. Arizona (and 10-3 vs. San Diego).

And here's a look at the AL West and how the three top teams in that division are doing against each other:

Seattle (20-7): 6-1 vs. Anaheim, 8-5 vs. Oakland (and 6-1 vs. Texas).

Anaheim (11-16): 1-6 vs. Seattle, 2-5 vs. Oakland (and 8-5 vs. Texas).

Oakland (14-13): 5-2 vs. Anaheim, 5-8 vs. Seattle (and 4-3 vs. Texas).

It might be interesting to note that, among the teams above, the only contending team with a losing record in its division is the Anaheim Angels. The Angels, remember, got off to that terrible 11-14 April. They played 18 games against the West that month, going 6-12.

It's also interesting to note that the only team among the contenders above that has a winning record against everyone in its division is Seattle.

It's easy to say that the teams in the West are beating up on each other, and that's true enough. But each of the above teams is beating up on some poor out-of-division unfortunates, too, which is another reason they're all so bunched up in the West.

Arizona has a winning record against each division it's played and an 11-7 mark in interleague play. The Dodgers have cleaned up against Colorado and are 14-8 vs. the NL Central. San Francisco has beaten up San Diego and is 19-12 against NL teams outside the West.

In the AL, Seattle went 11-7 in interleague play, Oakland was 16-2 during interleague and Anaheim is 22-11 vs. the AL Central.

It's the oldest winning formula in sports: Beat the teams you're supposed to beat and hang close with the others. In the Wests, it's making for a couple of races that may not be decided until the last week of the season.

More labor pains
Blah blah blah blah revenue sharing blah blah blah Bud blah blah blah blah work stoppage blah blah blah players union blah blah blah Fehr blah blah blah $2 million a year blah blah blah contraction blah blah blah luxury tax blah blah blah competitive imbalance blah blah blah blah strike. Blecch.
Small-market movers
So, when did Monty Hall (decades-old TV reference probably lost on younger generation) take over in Montreal? And what about some of these other recent trades? Really, the Expos and Florida and Cincinnati? At least two of those teams weren't in it for simple flat-out salary dumps. Just goes to show you that, if you're willing to play, there's always someone else willing to give you what's behind Door No. 2 (enough!).
Open season on Manuels
First, Charlie gets popped in Cleveland, a place that is admittedly packing it in for the season anyway. All he wanted was a little assurance that he might be around for the rebuilding. The Indians weren't willing to look that far ahead. So ... KA-POW! Next, Jerry gets the dreaded vote of confidence from the White Sox, an underachieving bunch that can't rustle up enough gumption to mount a challenge in the weak American League Central. Jerry's still around, but the Sox better take off soon or he'll become just another head mounted on the wall at the GM Club.

  7   Intentional walks Barry Bonds needs to break the single-season record, set in 1969 by Willie McCovey, with 45.
  9   Teams that have come back from a 10-game hole (or more) at the All-Star break to make the postseason.
  114   Strikeouts for Milwaukee's Jose Hernandez in his first 92 games. That's well over the pace he needs to break Bobby Bonds' single-season mark of 189 (1970).

More in By the Numbers

Hero: Gary Sheffield, Braves
Sunday, he broke the team record by reaching base in his 39th straight game. Since the break, he is 7-for-15 (.467) with two homers and six RBIs.
Bum: Juan Uribe, Rockies
In his last six games, the Colorado shortstop is 0-for-23. He might as well ask for a do-over for July. He's 4-for-36 (.111).
Hero: Aaron Boone, Reds
Cincinnati's third baseman came out of the break swinging, going 9-for-18 with three homers and five RBIs in his first four games.
Bum: Nomar Garciaparra, Red Sox
A 1-for-5 weekend (he sat out Sunday other than a pinch-hit appearance) just added to his slow second-half start -- 2-for-13 (.154) with a pair of RBIs.

Brad Wilkerson, OF, Expos
The Expos' left fielder (he's played some center) has proven to be a solid, if not yet superstar-caliber, addition to the Montreal outfield. Since the break, he's hitting .267 with but one home run, but for the season, a solid .287 with 10 homers and 28 RBIs for the surprising Expos.

      Our tribute to the banter of baseball
"I don't think we're in that big of a hole. It seems easy to make a big run at it. We have our best baseball ahead of us."

-- Mets manager Bobby Valentine after the Mets won Sunday, putting them 12 1/2 games behind the Braves in the NL East.

This is what makes Vladimir Guerrero of the Expos Our Man Vlad. He helped the Expos gain a split with the Braves by going 4-for-11 (.364) with four homers and five RBIs. The Braves also walked him six times in four games, and Vlad scored six runs. For the season: .323 with 23 homers and 65 RBIs.

Thursday-Sunday, Yankee Stadium, New York
It's a bit of a choppy week -- a lot of two-game series -- until the weekend, when the Mariners head to Anaheim, the Giants roll into Los Angeles and we get this one, the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. The Red Sox enter the week three games behind New York, but the New Englanders have acquitted themselves well so far this season. Boston is 7-4 against New York, 2-1 in Yankee Stadium, and the Boston hitters are knocking Yankee pitching at a .274 clip. New York's Roger Clemens probably won't make the series, with his bad groin, but the Red Sox need to watch out for Mike Mussina, who is 3-0 with a 4.12 ERA against them this year. The Yanks traded for Raul Mondesi and Jeff Weaver to keep Boston at bay. This is when those trades have to pay off.

Last time we did this, we asked you what you thought of baseball's All-Star Game and where it stood among pro sports' all-star showcases.

That was before that mess in Milwaukee.

We've gathered some of your thoughts on the All-Star Game, after the fact. We've added in some comments about what might happen next to embarrass baseball. But before you read them, we have another topic for you:

MVPs. We're talking baseball, not baseball blunders. Which player is helmet-high above the rest? He doesn't have to be on a winning team, although we all know how rare an MVP from a losing team is.

Who are your AL and NL MVPs this season? Why?

Click here to give us your nominations. Do it quickly, too. We don't know how long the season will last. (And don't forget to include your name and hometown. People always forget that.)

Now on to your general thoughts about The All-Star Game Tie and other things shameful to the game ...

What's wrong with the bloated, ill-conceived and badly placed MLB losing a few franchises? Call it what you want (bankruptcy, contraction, folding, etc.), but maybe baseball can stand to lose a few teams -- and maybe that will wake up the players union!
-- Michael Berson, NY

Could you imagine MLB being on strike during the anniversary of 9/11? How ludicrous their squabbles will seem in light of the events of that day? I lost friends in the Trade Center collapse, and the best way to honor their memory is to go on with our regular lives and not let terrorism stop us from doing what we love to do. Without baseball this fall, MLB will have taken away an integral part of many Americans' regular lives. Please, please, please, someone stop the madness before it's too late.
-- Rhodri J. Murphy, New York, NY

So will the president's new get-tough strategy with corporations work with baseball team owners?? Can we see if they've "cooked the books?"
-- Jim Heintz

Here's an idea: Instead of the players getting even more ridiculously rich because baseball is doing well, why don't they grow a heart and donate the extra billion dollars they would all get to charities or at least give back to the fans and lower ticket prices and forego their fourth Ferrari. Just a thought.
-- Glenn Holzmacher

The [All-Star Game] game is about seeing great players do what they do - but it also is a game. Games have winners and losers. The point of a game is to try to win. The goal was never simply about giving everyone a chance to play -- this isn't T-ball. Fans have tuned in for ages to root for the American League or the National League. There used to be a rivalry. Players didn't want to come out. Yogi Berra caught the entire game. Ted Williams played the entire game. It was a complete shame to end the game without a winner. Here is the problem: Once again the focus is on the players and what they want and not on the fan. Players want to make sure that no one's feelings get hurt (poor millionaires!) Players don't want to pitch more than a few pitches. Fans want to see a game!
-- John Yancey

With U.S. troops fighting terrorism, is the question of whether baseball players are paid enough really relevant? Your average soldier in the field makes roughly 2 percent of the lowest paid player's salary. So why do we care what baseball players get paid? I certainly don't care. It amazes me what this country cares about.
-- Tom Dike, Seattle

At the end [of the All-Star Game], when Cap'n Bud and the coaches were discussing what to do, there were 50,000 fans right behind them telling them the answer, and the fans were completely ignored. If that's not a microcosm of baseball's problems, I can't tell you one.
-- Brian McNichols

Have each league select 2-3 pitchers only from the Future's Game on Sunday to stick around during the actual game and be able to pitch in the event of an extra-inning game. It would be great for the fans because they actually get to see the end of the game along with a clear-cut MVP. The prospect players, guys possibly like Brett Myers, would love it as well because they get to hang with the big boys in the dugout during the game and participate. The players would like it, knowing they aren't in harm's way. And certainly the commish would love it because he would no longer have to be the scapegoat!
-- Keanan Lamb, Tualatin, Ore.

Why is a cap such a bad thing for the entertainment industry? These guys don't seem to know what to do with that kind of money anyway. $2.38 million? Come on. With Uncle Sam in my pocket, I'll be lucky if I ever gross 2 million in my LIFETIME ... not one year ... now they want to strike again?
-- Dan Saad, Littleton, Colo.

I grew up in the '60s and '70s when the All-Star Game meant something. You think Pete Rose cared who won? Ask Ray Fosse. I saw a 15-inning All-Star game. Catfish Hunter pitched five innings in that one. Two starters, Garcia and Padilla, couldn't pitch more than two innings. Wimps!! Now we're so politically correct we can't hurt anybody's feelings. Every team has to have a player and all of them have to play. I blame Brenly and Torre just as much as Bud. Barry Zito throws three pitches and is taken out, but yet we run out of pitchers. The fans' ticket money should be refunded. No verdict, no pay. Hold your breath waiting on tightwad Bud to do that. I would pay for a detailed video of Bud getting booed in his own park.
-- John Clark, Bladenboro, NC

The problem with baseball is that nobody cares. That's why attendance has not grown, that's why the popularity of the sport has been replaced by football, basketball and soccer, that's why little if any coverage is on a broadcast network, nobody cares. Nobody cares about whining millionaire, hormone-enhanced players whining about additional compensation from whining owners who would trade their mothers for a future draft pick. The inmates are running the asylum. Nobody is looking out for what is best for the game. Let's move on to the next subject ... Tour De France.
-- John Bongiovanni, Tyler, Texas

To abuse a couple clichιs, this horrid All Star Game is just the latest fly in the ointment, but it may also be the straw that breaks the camel's back. God, I can't wait for football season.
-- Todd Kincannon

Had the managers been playing to win, given the enormous amount of talent present, I dare say, it would have been impossible to exhaust the benches or bullpen before the game was decided. As it is now, the All Star Game is nothing more than another marketing opportunity for the MLB, owners, players and talking heads. Some writers have said that to play competitive baseball at the All-Star Game, and ignore the desire for every player to get some playing time, would mean that some players would go home disappointed or angry. Who cares? The fans are the ones who pay $175 for tickets, not the players. The All Star Game isn't about winning -- but it should be. Until it is about winning, the game will be no better than the Academy Awards: a show by the industry for the industry. Another narcissistic exercise where all the participants pat themselves on the backs and admire how talented they all are. Until it is about winning, the fans will continue to get the short end of this stick.
-- Bill Andrew, Atlanta

This game was a travesty from start to finish. The selection of players was a joke, the playing of "all" players was idiotic and the ending sent the message that baseball cares nothing for its traditions. Baseball lost quite a few fans tonight and I'm one of them.
-- Gerald J. Huffman

It's a show. You want winners and losers? Wait until the World Series.
-- Chris Munson, Seattle, Wash.

The managers should be worried more about the fans in this game than the players. After all, it's played for us. We're the one's paying their salaries. Even the "seriousness" of the regular season can't be considered that serious in the grand scheme of things. It's a game, for Christ's sake. You're baseball players, for Christ's sake. Stop referring to it as a "job" and "work" and maybe these players will stop thinking of it as such. I laugh when I hear such things as "Cal Ripken came to work 2,000+ times without a day off." Screw that!! Baseball isn't work, it's play, and maybe in the future, if baseballers (including management) begin to think that way, we'll have a "midsummer classic" that doesn't get called on account of stupid planning and laziness. I'd be willing to bet anything that if the fans were eligible for their money back, we'd have an ending to that game.
-- Andrew Connors, New York, NY

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