Sixty home runs is headed to the endangered list of magic numbers, right next to the four-minute mile, the 1,000-yard season and One Hour Martinizing. That's the conclusion that can be drawn from the relative quiet that has accompanied Sammy Sosa and his 32 home runs at the All-Star break. After all, last year the country went gaga when the Chicago Cubs' outfielder hit the break with the eye-popping total of...uh, 33, four behind Mark McGwire. Even Tampa Bay Devil Rays designated hitter Jose Canseco, whose career high is 46 bombs, barely raised eyebrows by getting halfway to 60 midway through the '99 schedule.
Admit it. In the year after the Great Home Run Race, you need a reason to get jacked for the second half of the season. You haven't stayed up late for updates on what ought to be dubbed the Year of the Middle Reliever, what with the New York Mets' Dennis Cook, the Cleveland Indians' Steve Karsay, the Anaheim Angels' Mark Petkovsek, the Boston Red Sox' John Wasdin, the Cincinnati Reds' Scott Williamson and the Texas Rangers' Jeff Zimmerman combining for a 44-12 record. You don't talk at the watercooler about whether Indians outfielder Manny Ramirez can eclipse Hack Wilson's RBI record, though you occasionally ponder how Wilson, dead 51 years, has ended up with more RBIs this season than injured Houston Astros outfielder Moises Alou. You don't expect any blockbuster trades, not when Oakland As lefthander Kenny Rogers has replaced the Arizona Diamondbacks' Randy Johnson as the most sought-after pitcher in baseball. You tend to keep to yourself the perverse pleasure of seeing the Baltimore Orioles and the Los Angeles Dodgers go bust after running up combined payrolls of nearly $160 million, the same way you snicker when you see the guy in the fancy Italian suit on the side of the highway with the hood up on his Mercedes.
Therefore, as a public service to beat the been-there, done-that blues, we offer a look at what's ahead for the rest of the season. Think of it as gazing into a cushioned cork-center crystal ball, the sort of ball that batters have evidently consulted all year before facing the Philadelphia Phillies' Chad Ogea or the Seattle Mariners' Jeff Fassero. Both will challenge but not quite reach Bert Blyleven's 1986 record of serving up 50 homers in a season.
The best place to begin our soothsaying is with Sosa and his encore performance. "I'm the type who won't really look at the numbers until the year is over," Sammy says. Well, look here: The crystal ball says Sosa will accumulate 400 total bases for a second straight season. Only Chuck Klein (1929-30), Lou Gehrig (1930-31) and Jimmie Foxx (1932-33) have ever done that. As for Sammy's home run tally, he'll succeed at putting up back-to-back 60-somethings, numbers previously unique to the PGA Tour and CBS prime-time stars. He'll benefit from the schedule—after the break the Cubs play 47 of 78 games in friendly Wrigley Field.
With home runs up 10% from last season, it seems everybody and his grandfather has a shot at 40 dingers. Harold Baines, 40, isn't grandparent material just yet, but the Baltimore DH was aiming to give new meaning to the term 40-40 player. Even though he won't become the oldest player to match his age in homers, Baines still will break the record for most homers by a player in his 40s, set by 40-year-old Darrell Evans with 34 in 1987.
The most significant batting records will be chased by Ramirez and Houston's Craig Biggio, whose 38 doubles give him a shot at Earl Webb's record of 67 two-baggers—set in 1931, the year after Wilson put up his 191 RBIs (a total thought to be 190 until a recent review of old box scores and news accounts upped his total by one). Neither will get there, though Ramirez's Indians will become the greatest scoring machine in American League history, surpassing the 1,067 runs of the 1931 Yankees.
Oddly enough, pitchers (remember them?) will steal the spotlight. Boston ace Pedro Martinez (15-3, 2.10 ERA at the break) will come close to becoming the first in 31 years to win 30 games. Alas, his worst career month is September (7-11). However, Martinez will still finish with an ERA far lower than his league's ERA and eclipse the record differential of 2.65 set by Greg Maddux in 1994.
Johnson won't set any ERA records, but he'll surpass Nolan Ryan's 1973 record of 383 strikeouts in a season. The Big Unit reached the break with 211. The crystal ball says he'll finish with 384.
What baseball needs most is a great pennant race. We can offer little encouragement here. In the four years after the major leagues were split into six divisions, 20 of the 24 teams in first place at the All-Star break also finished there. This is good news for the New York Yankees, the Indians and the Rangers, who will easily stay atop the American League East, Central and West, respectively. Texas will open up its lead thanks to a favorable schedule. The Rangers play 45 of their remaining 75 games at home and have only seven games left on the road against teams with winning records. The Seattle Mariners are willing to trade just about anyone, including hot pitching prospect Ryan Anderson, in hopes not only of catching the Rangers but also of persuading Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez that they should stick around Seattle beyond next year.
Cleveland will trade for a lefthander—Rogers, the Angels' Chuck Finley and the Toronto Blue Jays' David Wells top their wish list-specifically to help them get by the Yankees in October. New York was only 7-7 when it faced a lefthanded starter, its karma has been askew all season, and it doesn't have the pitching depth to hold down the Indians' offense. Cleveland will get a bigger scare out of Martinez and his wild-card Red Sox.