The Yankees, Mariners, Cubs and Giants all had their closer on the disabled list at week's end—and all four of those teams were in first place. And the two other first-place teams, the Royals and the Expos, are using closers who had one career save between them entering this season.
Every club would love to have John Smoltz, who was unscored upon at week's end while throwing unhittable 97-mph darts. Since last June 3, the Braves are 60-0 when Smoltz pitches. But most closers are replaceable in the short term, with any Borowski (Joe of the Cubs).Biddle (Rocky of the Expos) or MacDougal (Mike of the Royals) needing only a chance to benefit from the heavy lifting of starters and setup men.
Investing heavily in closers is folly. Last year, for instance, the Mariners broke team policy against midseason extensions and made Kazuhiro Sasaki their highest-paid player ($17 million over two years). On April 23 the 35-year-old went on the DL with back trouble after regularly hanging splitters, failing to crack 90 mph with his fastball and losing the confidence of his teammates with four blown saves. "He won't be the closer anymore," said one Mariner, though manager Bob Melvin, using Jeff Nelson and Arthur Rhodes for now, said he intends to return Sasaki to the job when healthy.
After missing 2� seasons with shoulder problems that required two surgeries, Meche, 24, is throwing like a No. 1 starter out of the fifth spot in the Mariners' rotation. The righty throws four quality pitches, including a 94 mph fastball and a changeup that's so good, he threw it four straight times to whiff Cleveland's Travis Hafner in a 4-0 win on April 23. "I never threw four straight changeups before," said Meche, whose win made him 2-0 with a 1.40 ERA since a wobbly opening start. "That," said teammate Jamie Moyer, "was the best I've ever seen him throw."
Rangers outfielder Rusty Greer is the Michael Jordan of baseball, at least by numerical standards. (Like MJ, Greer may also be headed toward retirement, because of various injuries sidelining him this season.) Here are their career numbers in their respective sports.
Rival G.M.'s are watching to see if the Mets' Steve Phillips, in the last year of his contract, will trade top prospects such as righthander Aaron Heilman and catcher Justin Huber in an attempt to patch up the club and save his job. "What good is the future to him right now?" said one AL executive. "They have some guys we like."...