Yankees manager Joe Torre has a knack for playing the right player at the right spot at the right time, but he stumbled upon one lineup revision that more teams should emulate: Put your best hitters at the top of the order. To energize his sluggish team, Torre put captain and catalyst Derek Jeter (right) in the leadoff spot. "Once I did that, it just kind of fell that Alex [Rodriguez] would be second," Torre said.
The Yankees immediately went 6--1, with Jeter hitting .433 and Rodriguez .323 during the stretch. Said Rodriguez, "I love hitting second. I used to be guessing when pitchers were pitching to get me out or pitching around me. With Gary [ Sheffield] behind me, you know they have to come at me. The other thing is, you get that fifth at bat in a game more often."
Too often teams try to shoehorn traditional table-setters into the one and two spots, moving better hitters down in the order and costing them scores of plate appearances over a full season. The Giants are the worst offenders. They should bat Barry Bonds second or third instead of fourth.
STRUGGLING WITH STARDOM
The World Series MVP Award has not been a springboard to stardom for Marlins righthander Josh Beckett (left). Through Sunday the 24year-old Beckett was 7--8 with a 3.78 ERA and had a career record of 24--25--or 30 fewer wins than Indians lefthander C.C. Sabathia, who is two months younger. In the 21 times starting pitchers won the Series MVP before Beckett, only three times did the winner have a losing record the following season: Bob Turley (8--11 in 1959), Bret Saberhagen (7--12 in '86) and Livan Hernandez (10--12 in '98). Beckett, however, has pitched well lately, prompting one scout to say, "It just goes to show you how talented he is. It's as if he just wanted to act like a star most of the season, then all of a sudden he says, 'Hey, we're still in a pennant race. I better step up.' And he does."
ONE BASE AT A TIME
Is Ichiro Suzuki's quest to break George Sisler's single-season hit record a singular pursuit? The Mariners' rightfielder may be a magician with the bat, but his lack of extra-base hits for such a fleet and gifted hitter is odd. At week's end Ichiro (right) had only 35 extra-base hits--fewer than Tigers second baseman Omar Infante. Ichiro is a ground-ball machine (only the Marlins' Juan Pierre has grounded out more often) whose 22 doubles indicate he rarely drives the ball even to gaps. He stands to become the first player in history with more than 240 hits but fewer than 30 doubles. Only 14% of his hits have gone for extra bases, well under half the combined percentage of the six players in history to get 250 hits.
Worse, Ichiro raised eyebrows last week by twice attempting to bunt for a hit with a runner at second base in the early innings (once with his team trailing by two and both times with two outs). The poor decisions suggested that the hit record takes precedence over conventional team play.