Posted: Wednesday July 09, 2003 12:10 PM
Updated: Thursday July 10, 2003 1:25 AM
SI.com's Ryan Hunt takes a poke at answering a few baseball questions.
Has anyone been eliminated from the NL playoff race yet?
Dontrelle Willis has allowed only six runs in his past 62 2/3 innings and is unbeaten on U.S. soil.
This about sums up how crazy the National League race is: The Pirates are closer to a playoff spot than the defending champion Angels.
Entering Wednesday's games, less than a week before the All-Star break, only the Mets, Brewers and Padres were more than six games out of the NL playoff race. That's it. Meanwhile, the Angels are 6 1/2 out of the AL wild-card race. In the NL Central, Pittsburgh -- which is eight games under .500 -- is only 5 1/2 out of first.
So in a NL wild-card race in which nine teams are separated by 5 1/2 games, who are the teams to watch? Beware of the Diamondbacks and keep a close eye on the Marlins.
To fully understand how volatile the NL race really is, just spin back one week. Last week, it was the Phillies who were on fire, trimming the Braves' NL East lead to 4 1/2 games. Five days and a four-game Philly losing streak later, it's back to 8 1/2. And the Phils have been passed by the D'backs for the wild-card lead.
And Arizona has done that without Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling taking the mound in more than a month. The D'backs have played .735 baseball since June 1 despite having to rely on as many as 10 rookies. The emergence of rookie hurler Brandon Webb will give Arizona a nice third starter -- something it hasn't really had in the past couple of seasons -- when its two aces return from injury shortly after the break.
The NL Central has become so mediocre that even the Pirates are as close as they've been since April. The Cubs are one game out of first ... and they're only one game over .500. With the Cards, Astros, the now-Corey Patterson-less Cubs and to a lesser extent the Reds all beating each other up down the stretch, the Central looks assured to get only one team in the playoffs.
So the true wild card (no pun intended) is the Marlins. All of a sudden, Florida is only four games out of the wild-card race. Since rookie phenom Dontrelle Willis was promoted to the big leagues on May 9, the Fish are 32-23. In the same span, NL East-leading Atlanta is 34-20. And the Marlins now say they won't trade Mike Lowell, long thought of as a big prize at the trading deadline.
And that is the catch with the non-waiver deadline just three weeks away. With as many as 20 teams still believing they have real postseason chances, the sellers will be few and far between. For now.
Is the AL's pitching staff the least imposing ever assembled at an All-Star Game?
This time it counts? Sure thing, Bud. The pitchers who are not going to the game are for the most part better than ones who are. Granted, it's not like Mike Williams and his 6.62 ERA are representing the AL. And to their credit, Donnelly and Hasegawa have ERAs under 1.00.
But the All-Star Game needs to decide what it wants to be.
Is it a meaningful competition for home-field advantage? If so, what manager in his right mind would want Hasegawa -- 0.81 ERA or not -- instead of Pedro? Is it an exhibition? If so, the 32 best players from each league should be there. Carter isn't even the most deserving player on his own team.
The All-Star Game in its current format accomplished neither.
The solution can be simple, even with keeping the rule that every team must be represented: Pick the 30 most deserving players and if there is a Tiger, Devil Ray or Met not on the list, add them at the end. Usually there is at least one player worthy (Brian Giles, Aubrey Huff) from even the most horrible teams. But when you're restricting your selection list to Devil Rays pitchers, you're asking for trouble. And an All-Star roster that isn't what it should be.
Did Dusty Baker do Kerry Wood a disservice?
To make matters worse for the AL, Blue Jays manager Carlos Tosca is asking that his ace, Roy Halladay, not be used in the All-Star Game, even though he'd be one of the front-runners for the starting nod.
Having said that, is it at all curious that Cubs manager Dusty Baker picked Kerry Wood for the final spot on the NL staff? And not because rookie phenom Willis and his amazing numbers were passed over.
The extra rest for Wood, one of the NL's most overworked starting pitchers, certainly would do both him and the Cubs some good.
Have Dodgers fans lost their patience with Shawn Green?
It takes a lot to get Dodger fans to show emotion. Especially when the Giants aren't in town. So the fact that Shawn Green is getting booed in his home stadium by a fraction of Dodgers fans shows how frustrated L.A. has become with its star right fielder.
And it may have come to a head when Green failed to dive on a softly hit fly ball to right field in the eighth inning of Saturday's game against Arizona -- with an Odalis Perez no-hitter on the line. But it was also a 2-0 game at the time, and Green made the smart play after he didn't get the best jump on Shea Hillenbrand's blooper. If that ball gets past Green, Hillenbrand is on third with the tying run coming to the plate. But don't tell that to Perez or the Dodgers faithful.
Hillenbrand was stranded, and Los Angeles held on to win 2-0. It's one of just two Dodgers victories in the past 14 games.
In reality, that one play is simply a microcosm of Green's season. He's hitting just .248 with 10 homers, after back-to-back 40-homer seasons, as the Dodgers' offense struggles to score more than three runs a night.
The problem, in the eyes of Dodgers fans, is that Green rarely looks like he's hustling (think Ben Grieve with more talent), a trait exemplified by the reaction to the blooper on Saturday. Just don't let Lou Piniella hear Green say, "It doesn't matter."
In past years, it's come so easy to Green. In 2003, for whatever, it just hasn't. And the Dodgers are struggling mightily because of it.
Is it really Lima Time again?
Well, believe it or not, Jose Lima is 4-0 with a 3.08 ERA in his first five starts for the equally surprising Royals. Yes, the same Lima who had a 7.77 ERA for the Tigers last season while pitching in the largest ballpark in the majors. And just to get a chance at redemption in Kansas City, he had to survive a stint with the Newark Bears of the independent Atlantic League.
It seems to have worked, at least for now. He's allowed two earned runs or fewer in each of his past four starts, winning all four. And the league is hitting just .193 off Renaissance Lima, despite the fact that he's walked more batters (13) than he's struck out (12).
If that pattern follows, Lima's success certainly won't last. Then again, everyone has been saying the same thing about Kansas City all season. And with Lima, you always get to enjoy the ride.