Welcome to the age of unpredictability in baseball, when a career .266 hitter is chasing a Triple Crown, a team in Washington is in first place, and the New York Yankees, baseball's $208 million version of Gigli, can't win a series at home against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, whose owners have been accused by their own manager of not trying. What, you're surprised? Well, the second half of this season promises to be as head-scratching as the first. While the eventual answers may not be obvious, these are the 10 most pressing questions for the next three months.
Will the three biggest surprise teams--the White Sox, Orioles and Nationals--all make the playoffs?
Highly unlikely. Chicago has the best shot because of its pitching--its starters have lost a major- league-low 14 times in 74 games--and its 91/2-game division lead at week's end. The Sox could play .500 ball over their last 88 games and still win 94. Of the 44 teams to win that many games in the wild-card era, 43 made the postseason and the other, the 1999 Reds, lost a one-game playoff.
Baltimore has wobbled recently, going 12--14 in a soft portion of its schedule (Tigers, Red Sox, Pirates, Reds, Astros, Rockies, Blue Jays). The Orioles play 13 of their final 19 games against the American League's three highest-scoring teams, the Rangers, Red Sox and Yankees.
Washington, which has been outscored by its opponents (316--310), will be in trouble if it doesn't add offense. Among NL teams only the Astros have scored fewer runs. But the Nats play 25 of their final 38 games at RFK Stadium, where they have the best home record in the majors (26--10).
Can Derrek Lee win the Triple Crown--or bat .400?
Forget .400. Since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941 only four players have hit even .377 in a full season, and all of them were career .300 hitters at the time: Williams (.388 in 1957), Rod Carew (.388 in '77), George Brett (.390 in '80) and Larry Walker (.379 in '99). Lee, 29, entered this year a .266 lifetime hitter, so he's bound to cool off. The Triple Crown is almost as unattainable-- Carl Yastrzemski was the last to do it, in '67. Lee had a 51-point lead in the batting race at week's end, but he'll have to contend with the Cardinals' Albert Pujols and the Brewers' Carlos Lee for the RBI title and the Braves' Andruw Jones and the Reds' Adam Dunn for the home run crown.