Posted: Wednesday June 25, 2003 11:40 AM
Updated: Friday June 27, 2003 1:14 AM
SI.com's Ryan Hunt takes a poke at answering a few baseball questions.
Can the Blue Jays really win the AL East?
Roy Halladay didn't win his first game of the season until May 1, but leads the AL with 11 victories.
They've got arguably the most feared lineup in baseball. Their ace has won 11 consecutive starts. And their GM has said this team is two years ahead of schedule.
Think there aren't some nervous people in New York and Boston?
The Blue Jays are the Rangers with some pitching. But perhaps a comparison to another AL West team is more appropriate.
Toronto could very well be the Anaheim Angels of 2003. After all, they got both off to bad starts only to catch serious fire. Anaheim began 6-14 in its 99-win season. Toronto was 10-18 in April, and is 34-15 since. In the same span, New York is 24-24 and Boston is 25-23.
Now sitting a mere two games behind the Yankees in the AL East, the Jays have legitimate postseason dreams. All with a $51 million payroll -- nearly one-third of the Yankees'. And all this for a club that was supposed to be a seller at the upcoming trading deadline.
But instead of dealing off potential free agents such as Kelvim Escobar, Cory Lidle and Shannon Stewart, Toronto could only be a couple of pieces away from a serious run: perhaps one starter and some bullpen help.
We all know the Jays can rake, but the pitching isn't far behind what the Angels won a title with. Roy Halladay, he of the 11-game win streak, has turned into a Cy Young candidate, while former closer Escobar has been phenomenal since joining the rotation. And even Lidle has won 10 games. One more quality starter and the Jays appear set. In the bullpen, where Cliff Politte has become the de facto stopper, the Jays' troubles don't even match those of Boston.
Two years away? J.P. Ricciardi's club could be as little as two trades away.
Is Barry Bonds' latest accomplishment getting underplayed?
Maybe only because this one didn't go 500 feet. But Bonds may be the first and last member of the 500 homers-500 steals club.
He already was the only one to reach 400-400. And only three other players (Willie Mays, Bobby Bonds and Andre Dawson) made it to 300-300. So will we ever see another player challenge 500-500? Not likely.
You need to have the freedom to run, something few sluggers have these days, and to have a long, healthy career.
Vladimir Guerrero, Alex Rodriguez and Alfonso Soriano may be the only active candidates. Coming off a near 40-40 season, Guerrero may be the best bet. The 27-year-old Expos star (who, coincidentally, is injured for the first time in his career) has 217 homers and 119 steals. A-Rod has 316 homers and 167 steals, but he'll likely never repeat his 46-steal season of 1998
It's easy to forget, though, how good of a base stealer Bonds has been. He's stolen more than 25 bases in a season 12 times in his career. He has a career 78.1 stealing percentage. Only recently has Bonds swiped bags only when his team needed them most.
And in true Bonds' style, Bonds' 500th stolen base directly led to the game-winning run against the Dodgers.
Which pitchers should start the All-Star Game?
So New York Post columnist Joel Sherman says Roger Clemens deserves the start in the All-Star Game. What, is this the NBA, where Michael Jordan was gifted the courtesy start in his final All-Star appearance?
Not even Halladay deserves the start. Right now, Esteban Loaiza should get the nod to start the game in his home park on July 15. And if that happens, would he be the most surprising All-Star starter since Jack Armstrong in 1990? After all, was 9-10 with a 5.21 ERA for Toronto last season (and wouldn't the Jays love to have him back right now).
In the NL, it could be a surprise for a completely different reason. After battling injuries for almost the past two seasons, Kevin Brown has returned to dominance in the first half (10-2, 2.22).
Who has the toughest job in baseball?
If Omar Minaya can get the Expos to the playoffs, he should be named Executive of the Millennium. Somehow Montreal has survived a 25-day road trip and injuries to Guerrero and pitcher Tony Armas.
Yet, the Expos are only 1 ½ games out of the wild-card chase. Bulk up the playoff race? Sure, but don't add five cents to payroll. And even when he can find deals that work out financially -- Juan Gonzalez from the Rangers -- a no-trade clause shot it down.
Minaya proved he wasn't shy about making the big deal last year, picking up Bartolo Colon and Cliff Floyd in deals that ravaged the farm system. Finding similar deals this season with what's left won't be easy.