Will Barry Bonds make history again?
Signs point to yes. This time Ted Williams's season record for on-base percentage, .553 in 1941, is in peril. At week's end Bonds had an on-base percentage of .571; he was hitting .345 and had drawn 103 bases on balls, also putting him on pace for the first 200-walk season in history. (He set the major league record, 177, last year when he finished with a .515 OBP.) The combination of pitchers' reluctance to challenge him, Bonds's discerning eye and his locked-in stroke make it a good bet that the Giants slugger can stay ahead of Williams's mark all season. Otherwise, thanks to a resurgence in pitching—at week's end scoring had dropped from 9.7 runs per game last year to 9.2, and hits were down from 18.2 per game to 17.6—no other major batting records are expected to be broken.
Are the Expos going to fight to the death?
Most likely. Still on the short list of teams Bud Selig wants to eliminate as part of contraction at the end of the season, Montreal stocked up for a playoff run last week by acquiring Indians ace Bartolo Colon for first baseman Lee Stevens and three prospects. Through Sunday the Expos were 42-38 and 8J6 games behind the Braves in the NL East and six games in back of the Diamondbacks for the wild card. Whether Montreal makes the playoffs or not, Frank Robinson deserves to be Manager of the Year.
Will there be many other trades before the July 31 deadline?
Outlook not so good. With the possibility of a work stoppage, the normally booming midseason trade talk could be a murmur this summer. Among the teams looking to make deals are the Indians, who want to unload outfielder Ellis Burks, lefthander Chuck Finley and first baseman Jim Thome (Burks and Thome would have to waive no-trade clauses); the Phillies, who will entertain offers for third baseman Scott Rolen; the Tigers, who will give up righthander Jeff Weaver for the right price; and the Yankees, who are trying to pry rightfielder Cliff Floyd from the Marlins.
By season's end will there be any managers left named Manuel?
My sources say no. The likely firing of Charlie Manuel by Cleveland and Jerry Manuel by the White Sox would complete one of the bloodiest seasons ever for skippers. Detroit, Milwaukee, Colorado, Kansas City and Toronto had axed their managers by the first week of June. The White Sox (40-42) have been one of the majors' biggest under-achievers. The payroll-slashing Indians are on the way to their first sub-.500 finish since 1993, and new general manager Mark Shapiro is almost certain to bring in another skipper to oversee the rebuilding project.
Will the best division battles be out West?
As I see it, yes. Think the World Cup wreaked havoc on your circadian rhythms? The tightest races this year will play out while most of the country is falling asleep. The Mariners, Athletics and Angels will fight it out in the AL West, and the schedule should make for a stirring finish. Two of those three teams will play one another on each of the last 20 days of the season.
Another three-team race looms in the NL West, but if starring pitching becomes the deciding factor, the Giants may not be able to keep up with the Diamondbacks and the Dodgers.
Will Bonds win his fifth National League MVP?
My reply is no. All those walks will keep his RBI total (50 this season, compared with a career-high 137 last year) down. By the end of the season streaky Dodgers rightfielder Shawn Green (.281, 25 homers, 63 RBIs) will be remembered for more than his four-homer game and four dingers in four at bats over two games earlier in the season. He'll carry the Los Angeles offense down the stretch and will earn his first MVP award.
Could Alfonso Soriano win the AL MVP award?
Without a doubt. Ichiro has the speed and bat skills. A-Rod has the power. The Yankees' Soriano has it all, and he's a strong candidate to become the first second baseman to win the American League's top honor since Nellie Fox of the White Sox in 1959. In his second full season Soriano, 24, was all over the league leader board through Sunday: first in steals (23) and total bases (202), second in hits (111), tied for third in runs (60), fourth in batting (.324) and tied for sixth in home runs (19).
Will the Braves' bullpen turn out to be legit?
Hazy, try again. Gryboski, Hammond and Spooneybarger sound like partners in a small-time law firm. Actually, middle relievers Kevin Gryboski, Chris Hammond and Tim Spooneybarger—with a combined four major league appearances over the last three seasons-all have ERAs under 3-33 and are key to the majors' best relief corps. Mix them in with veterans Mike Remlinger (5-0, 1.56), a career setup man, and closer John Smoltz (27 saves), and you have a bullpen with a 2.34 ERA and 19 wins, both tops in the National League.