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Early Birds
Albert Chen
June 21, 2004
Six teams that lost 90-plus games in 2003 got a jump on the favorites
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June 21, 2004

Early Birds

Six teams that lost 90-plus games in 2003 got a jump on the favorites

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TEAM (record)


1. Padres (33-29)


2. Reds (34-28)


3 Rangers(34-26)


4. Mets (29-33)


5 Brewers (31-29)


6 Tigers (29-33)


When the Padres rolled into Boston for a three-game inter-league series last week, Red Sox centerfielder Johnny Damon, ambling around the clubhouse before the opener, had a question: "Does anyone know who plays for San Diego this year?"

Damon wasn't trying to be disrespectful, but it was a fair question considering the Padres, who lost 98 games last year, entered the series six games over .500 and tied for first in the National League West San Diego is one of six teams that lost more than 90 games in 2003 but jumped out to promising starts this season.

Though they lost two of three to the Red Sox and then two of three to the Yankees in a weekend series, the Padres were still tied for first place in their division and figured to be in the middle of a three-team race with the Dodgers and the Giants.

Here's how the six teams who had surprise starts stack up for the last 100 games of the season.


After finishing 36� games behind the Giants last year, San Diego is the NL West's most complete team. The rotation-including righthander Brian Lawrence (8-3, 3.79 ERA through Sunday), who lost 15 games in 2003—ranked fifth in the league with a 3.96 ERA, and an outstanding bullpen was led by Akinori Otsuka and Trevor Hoffman, who had a combined 1.71 ERA. On offense 23-year-old third baseman Sean Burroughs was hitting .310.

Forget Sean Casey's .368 average, Danny Graves's 26 saves and Ken Griffey Jr.'s 18 homers. The most impressive stats belonged to 31-year-old journeyman starter Paul Wilson (7-0, 3.18 ERA), who never won more than eight games in any of his five previous seasons. If they can stay healthy, the Reds, whose hitters were fifth in the league in runs and homers, have a shot at winning the NL Central. But it's the majors' most competitive division with five teams above 500 and separated by 3� games.


Buck Showalter's young bombers were second in the majors in slugging percentage (.468) and third in runs per game (5.4). But for Texas to keep up with Oakland and Anaheim, the Rangers will need their improved rotation (4-94 ERA, down from 6.24 at the end of last season) to maintain the pace.

Splendid starting pitching from veteran lefties Tom Glavine and Al Leiter (2.04 ERA in 24 combined starts) has kept them afloat, but the offense (.246 average) needs help. The Mets have the prospects and payroll to pull off a big trade, but just as significant would be the return of in-fielder Jose Reyes, who's been out all year with injuries.

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