The most intriguing team to watch over the next six weeks will be the White Sox. "If they continue to slide," one AL G.M. says, "you have to expect Bartolo Colon will be on the market." Nothing blows the trade winds like a No. 1 pitcher made available in midseason. (See David Cone in 1995; Randy Johnson in '98; Curt Schilling in 2000; and Colon last season, when he was dealt by the Indians in late June.)
What are the chances that the White Sox can make the playoffs after finishing May at 25-29? About 5%. Here's a history lesson in the seven full seasons of the wild-card format.
?Only three of the 56 postseason teams began June with a losing record: the 1996 Cardinals (24-29), the '97 Astros (26-28) and the 2002 Athletics (25-28).
?Of the 43 teams that led their division at the start of June (including one tie), 29 ended the season in first place.
?Only two teams led by four or more games at the start of June and didn't make the playoffs: the 2000 Diamondbacks (four) and the 'Ol Phillies (eight).
Those numbers suggest the Braves (four-game lead) and Mariners (five) should feel secure. They also hint, however, that the White Sox and defending world champion Angels (26-27 through May) are more pretenders than contenders.
On May 26 the Orioles finally convinced their 2002 first-round pick, 19-year-old lefthanded pitcher Adam Loewen, to sign—only eight days before this year's draft. It took a major league contract that will pay him $4 million over five years and stipulates that Loewen must be in the big leagues by 2007 or be put on waivers.
On the day after that deal the Rangers released righthander Todd Van Poppel, one of Oakland's first-round picks in 1990 who, at 18, was given a deal similar to Loewen's. As a result, Van Poppel went 7-10 with a 6.09 ERA with the A's in '94 when he should have been honing his skills in the minors. He never did develop into a polished pro and, at 31, is trying to hook up with his eighth organization.