Believe it. The next night the White Sox beat the Royals again, and the Rangers dropped another decision to the Indians, quite possibly sending Chicago on the way to its first division title since 1983.
TOP TO BOTTOM
In the last few seasons a handful of teams suddenly have made going from last place to first in one year look easy. The Twins and the Braves, both of whom went from the basement in 1990 to the penthouse in '91, were the first teams in this century to do it. And the Phillies appear to be a lock to do it this year, with the Red Sox also having a shot at the worst-to-first trip.
But it's the reverse route—going from first place to last in one year—that is unique. The only team to do it was the 1915 Philadelphia Athletics, who dropped from 99-53 in 1914 to 43-109 the next year. Owner Connie Mack had to sell most of his high-priced veteran players after the '14 season to relieve financial pressures on the team. The A's wound up finishing last for seven straight years, and it wasn't until 1929 that they were able to finish first again.
The Oakland A's have a chance to duplicate their forefathers' dubious feat. The A's went 96-66 and won the American League West last season, but as of Sunday they occupied the division cellar with a 47-68 record and trailed the sixth-place Twins by five games. But unlike Mack's A's, this team's immediate future isn't so bleak.
To be sure, the A's have been victimized by their horrendous play, but they also have been weakened by injuries, the most significant being the bruised left heel that has sidelined first baseman Mark McGwire since early May. Before he was hurt McGwire was hitting .337, with nine homers and 24 RBIs in 25 games. In the team's 90 games since, Oakland first basemen had batted only .237, hit 10 home runs and driven in 31 runs.
General manager Sandy Alderson saw fit to trade leftfielder Rickey Henderson to the Blue Jays for two minor leaguers on July 31, partly out of fear of losing Henderson to free agency after this season. A's fans didn't think Alderson got enough for Henderson and seemed fearful the team was being dismantled. "Some people are saying we're San Diego North," says Alderson, referring to the purging of the Padres. "That's absolutely ridiculous. They must be overlooking the $70 million we spent in December."
That money was used to re-sign McGwire, outfielder Ruben Sierra and catcher Terry Steinbach, all of them free agents, in order to stabilize a lineup that even without Henderson is respectable when healthy. "Now we're looking to stabilize our pitching," says Alderson. That's a bigger job, because at week's end Oakland's starting pitchers had a combined ERA of 5.37—worst in the league.
The rebuilding of the staff should be boosted by righthander Steve Karsay, one of the players acquired from Toronto and one of the game's top prospects. With the development of Karsay, rookie Todd Van Poppel (3-3, 5.01, but 3-0, 2.70 in his last three starts) and minor leaguer Miguel Jiminez, Alderson says, "we can reestablish our pitching fairly quickly."