The key to the AL West race will be pitching—the three contenders have the three best staff ERAs in the league—and that could keep the Royals in the thick of things. "[ Kansas City's Bret] Saberhagen may be the best in baseball right now," says Toronto coach John McLaren. As of Sunday, Saberhagen had won nine of his last 11 starts and was 16-5 for the season. Saberhagen, Mark Gubicza and amazing rookie Tom Gordon—6-3 since becoming a starter, 16-5 for the season—give the Royals a formidable 1-2-3 starting staff.
Another saving grace for K.C. has been reliever Jeff Montgomery. His ERA from April 14 through Sunday was 1.06, he had succeeded in 13 of his last 14 save opportunities, and he had walked only one batter in more than five weeks. "Now we have to get Bo Jackson [who has been hampered with a twisted knee and pulled quadriceps muscle] completely healthy," says K.C. manager John Wathan. "I want to see him in a pennant race."
Welcome back to Missouri baseball.
NEW SPARK PLUGS
Most of the top young minor league players who could affect the pennant races—e.g., Montreal's Marquis Grissom and Todd Zeile of St. Louis—have already been called up. But with rosters expanding to 40 players on Sept. 1, a number of minor leaguers could still have a significant impact on contending teams:
1) Righthander Curt Schilling, whom Baltimore acquired last season from Boston for pitcher Mike Boddicker, could step in when the O's need a fifth starter. Also, Baltimore's middle relievers have left something to be desired, so adding Jose Bautista and Ben McDonald to the bullpen could help.
2) " Syracuse [ Toronto's Triple A club] has more pitching prospects than the rest of the International League combined," says Atlanta scout Paul Ricciarini. Into the Blue Jay bullpen will go prized Syracuse lefthander Bob MacDonald and righthanders Tom Gilles, Alex Sanchez and Willie Blair.
Offensively, the Blue Jays could get added sock against lefthanders from outfielder Glenallen Hill, who at week's end was hitting .318 with 21 homers for Syracuse. "He bails out against righties," says Ricciarini, "but he hits lefties, and he's got awesome power."
But the player arousing the most curiosity is lefthanded-hitting first baseman John Olerud, who was signed by Toronto last Saturday and will be activated on Sept. 1. Olerud was a gamble as a third-round draft choice this spring for two reasons: He had wanted to play his upcoming senior season at Washington State, and in February he underwent surgery for a brain aneurysm. Olerud has been given a clean bill of health, and his performance in the Alaska summer league was so spectacular that one Toronto scout saw him play nine games before seeing him swing and miss.
3) Remember the name Darryl Kile. While Astro pitchers Jim Clancy and Rick Rhoden have failed to replace Nolan Ryan, Kile could use his 94-mph fastball in September to great advantage in the Dome. Kile, who's in his first full pro season, has won a total of 13 games for Double A Columbus (Ga.) and Triple A Tucson.