The time has arrived to stop trying to explain the DETROIT TIGERS and just sit back and appreciate them. "People are always asking how the hell we do it," says manager Sparky Anderson. "We gave the Phillies and Dodgers their best players, we're picked fifth every year, and we still haven't gone away." Not only have the Tigers lost catcher Lance Parrish to Philadelphia and outfielder Kirk Gibson to Los Angeles, but also their ace, Jack Morris, was 7-9 with a 5.24 ERA through Sunday and sluggers Darrell Evans and Matt Nokes, who combined for 66 home runs in 1987, had hit only 23 at week's end. Yet guess who was in first by three games at the All-Star break?
Once again, Anderson has had to do a juggling act with his team. Except for Morris, the starters have been as consistent as last year, with second-year righthander Jeff Robinson (10-3) taking over the role of stopper and the venerable duo of Frank Tanana and Doyle Alexander combining for a 19-8 record. In typical fashion, Anderson has also gotten career seasons out of two players the Tigers found on the release heap: outfielder Pat Sheridan and all-purpose player Luis Salazar, who have 81 RBIs and 21 homers between them. There's one question still nagging at the Tigers, however: How serious is shortstop Alan Trammell's recent elbow injury? Will it keep him out for only 15 days or for longer?
Not long ago the American League East was the Superpower Division, but now that most of the teams have self-destructed, the only one that seems capable of beating Detroit is the NEW YORK YANKEES. LOU Piniella, who replaced Billy Martin as manager on June 23, has begun to restore order to a team racked with internal problems. Piniella should be able to field a potent lineup in the second half, but it's still doubtful that the pitching staff Martin left behind is healthy. Righthander Richard Dotson (7-3) is on the disabled list and closer Dave Righetti's elbow has been bothering him. The rock of consistency is starter Tommy John (7-2, 3.38 ERA), but he's 45. "We can win it," says Piniella, who, 10 days into his second Yankee reign, proved that he is managing for the pennant, not the moment at hand, by holding Righetti out of a close game against Chicago to give him a rest.
One thing you can count on in the second half: The CLEVELAND INDIANS won't win the division title. They got off to a 31-19 start in the first two months, but they went 9-17 in June against their rivals in the East. Still, they are no longer the laughingstock of the division. Starters Greg Swindel, John Farrell and Tom Candiotti are an acceptable front three (26-20), and the amazing Doug Jones has 20 saves in 23 opportunities. The team's primary weakness, surprisingly, is hitting. Give the Indians another year and some lefthanded power, and they may prove to be the real thing.
The MILWAUKEE BREWERS should have been breathing down the Tigers' necks by now. Their pitching staff had the league's lowest team ERA (3.31) at the break. Third baseman Paul Molitor and centerfielder Robin Yount were both hitting over .300. Furthermore, on June 10, San Francisco Giants outfielder Jeffrey Leonard joined the team. But as manager Tom Trebelhorn puts it, the Brewers, who have been hurt by injuries, have played "consistent second-division baseball."
The BOSTON RED SOX should be in contention, too, but, unlike the Brewers, they have no excuses, only turmoil. The Red Sox are getting yet another Cy Young year from Roger Clemens (12-5); Mike Greenwell and Ellis Burks have overcome injuries to join Dwight Evans in the league's best outfield; and third baseman Wade Boggs is, as usual, having a .350-plus season. But the Sox have gotten only five wins from starters other than Clemens, Bruce Hurst and Oil Can Boyd—and Hurst has an 8.59 ERA in his last five starts. Reliever Lee Smith was going to be the pennant, right? Wrong. Smith has had only 16 save opportunities and failed in five of them.
Toronto Blue Jays starter Dave Stieb, who was 19-9 with a 4.09 ERA last year, has come back to 10-5 and 2.93 this season. Third baseman Kelly Gruber has blossomed into a .300 hitter, and first baseman Fred McGriff was among the league leaders in homers (15) and slugging percentage (.531) at the All-Star break. So why aren't the Jays in first? "There's something very wrong with them," says an opposing player—and it's more than the arm injury to ace Jimmy Key. Key and starter Jeff Musselman will be back for the stretch, so the pitching should return to form. But that won't change nasty dispositions.
The 0-21 losing streak is over, ace Mike Boddicker is 4-3 since mid-May, shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. is playing well and the BALTIMORE ORIOLES have settled down to reality. "We're only two outfielders and a few pitchers away from respectability," says manager Frank Robinson. The definition of few? Eight is enough.
Sure, It's great to be picked to win by everyone from SI to your manager, then run off an early 14-game winning streak to lead the division by 10 in May. "I'd rather have that than start off 10 games behind," says OAKLAND ATHLETICS starter Dave Stewart. But by midseason, Oakland's lead had shrunk to 5½ games, and chinks were apparent in the Athletics' armor.
Some things are still O.K. in Oakland: Rightfielder Jose Canseco, who was leading the league with 24 homers, is having an MVP year, and reliever Dennis Eckersley had 26 saves at the All-Star break. But Stewart is 4-7 since his 8-0 start, third baseman Carney Lansford, who was hitting better than .400 on June 6, went into a 7-for-75 slump and first baseman Mark McGwire has hit only five homers since May 17. The Athletics also have to figure out how to fill in for lefthanded-hitting slugger Dave Parker, who will be out until at least late August with a hand injury. Nevertheless, manager Tony La Russa does not seem worried. "If we get Stewart and Welch hot and the big guys healthy, we'll be all right," he says.
In early May, the MINNESOTA TWINS were 12 games out of first and not looking anything like world champions. But at the break they were only four games out in the loss column. "We're a better team than we were last year," says reliever Jeff Reardon, and the statistics bear him out. At midseason Reardon himself was 23 for 27 in save situations, and ace Frank Viola led the league in wins (14-2) and ERA (2.24). Similarly, the heart of the batting order—third baseman Gary Gaetti, centerfielder Kirby Puckett and first baseman Kent Hrbek—is having a big year, and Greg Gagne and Tim Laudner have given the Twins 17 homers at shortstop and catcher. "Don't count us out of being back in the Series," says Gaetti. Who knows? He might be right.
The way the KANSAS CITY ROYALS played in the first half qualified them for time on the shrink's couch—right next to the Red Sox and Blue Jays. How could a team win six in a row from the A's, then turn around and go 2-7 against the California Angels, Chicago White Sox and Seattle Mariners? As first baseman George Brett admits, "This is the most inconsistent team I've ever seen."
"You always have your eye on the Royals," says La Russa, "because of their tradition, their pitching, Brett and all those young players." Brett (.329, 61 RBIs) is having a good season, although teams still pitch around him sometimes in close games. The bullpen is a problem, now that Dan Quisenberry and Gene Garber have been released, but the Royals figure that they're capable of a binge in the second half, especially because lefthander Charlie Leibrandt (5-10) is showing signs of coming around. Says veteran Bill Buckner, "We just have to put it together—together."
When Bobby Valentine took over as manager of the TEXAS RANGERS in 1985, he immediately began clearing out veterans and calling up minor leaguers. Centerfielder Oddibe McDowell was supposed to be the Rangers' Kirby Puckett, Jerry Browne was the second baseman of the future, and Bobby Witt and Edwin Correa were the Texas aces. Now Browne is in Oklahoma City, McDowell and Witt have recently returned from a stint there and Correa's shoulder needs surgery. What has hurt the Rangers the most this year is that they have scored fewer runs than any team except the Orioles. But if the Rangers can find a strong replacement for designated hitter Larry Parrish, who was hitting .190 when he was released last week, they may have a good second half. Says Valentine, "We just haven't hit the way we can—yet."
It's hard to believe that the struggling CALIFORNIA ANGELS were one strike away from making the World Series two years ago. Now they are so weak that owner Gene Autry labeled the team "lousy" last month before leaving for a European vacation. There are some signs of hope, however. Ace Mike Witt is finally getting over his four-month slump, Kirk McCaskill is rebounding from elbow surgery and rookie pitcher Bryan Harvey throws 95 mph and has four wins and nine saves. But before you get too excited, remember that the Angels outfield has already made 29 errors. That's five more than it made all last season.
What can you say about the floundering CHICAGO WHITE SOX? General manager Larry Himes got Lance Johnson to play center and moved Kenny Williams to third. Oops. Johnson was a bust, and Williams is back in the outfield. By the break, the Chicago third base platoon had made 31 errors. Not only that, but with catcher Carlton Fisk out with a broken hand and rightfielder Ivan Calderon hitting .223, the White Sox were second to last in the division in runs scored. They were also second to last in pitching, despite strong performances by Dave LaPoint (7-9, 2.87) and Jerry Reuss (6-5, 3.21). The way things are going, the White Sox may regret their decision to stay in Chicago instead of moving to St. Petersburg. They're going to need someplace to hide.
The more things change for the stagnant SEATTLE MARINERS, the more they remain the same. Manager Dick Williams was fired in early June, and the Mariners still haven't found a permanent successor. Outfielder Glenn Wilson, who came over from Philadelphia with pitcher Mike Jackson for Phil Bradley, had 16 RBIs in the first half, and ex-Yankee pitcher Steve Trout walked five straight batters, threw two wild pitches and made two errors in his first start and was 4-4 with a 6.80 ERA at the break. "The funny thing is," says Yankee coach Jeff Torborg, "if you look at Mark Langston, Mike Moore, Billy Swift and Scott Bankhead as starters, Mike Schooler as the stopper with Bill Wilkinson and Mike Jackson, that could be a helluva pitching staff." Torborg is not the first to think that, nor will he be the last.
Two weeks ago the New York Mets were confronted with a game they felt they had to win, because the Pirates had just beaten Dwight Gooden in the opener of a three-game series in Pittsburgh to move within 3½ games of the division leaders. So what happened? The next day Mets starter Sid Fernandez blew the Pirates away with a three-hitter, and the day after that, infielder Howard Johnson saved a game, one strike away from defeat, by hitting a game-tying homer in the ninth inning. The Mets won in the 11th, 8-7. "They're good because of all that pitching," says Pirate manager Jim Leyland. "You beat a Gooden and you still lose the next two. They also seem to be able to turn it on when it counts."
The Mets are so deep that two managers in the division have predicted that David Cone will be out of the rotation and replaced by Rick Aguilera by Labor Day—and New York will still win. Cone is 9-2, Ron Darling is 10-5 and Gooden, who admits that his dominating days are over, is 11-5. Meanwhile, closer Randy Myers is the league's most overpowering reliever; together he and Roger McDowell are 9-2 with 21 saves.
Pitching and outfielder Darryl Strawberry are the reasons the Mets have the best record in the league (53-34). That's as expected. What's surprising is that the Mets have dropped this season from a league-leading 5.08 runs per game to 4.44. Strawberry's 21 homers and 55 RBIs are remarkable when you consider that he has been walked 17 times with runners in scoring position. But catcher Gary Carter has gone 158 at bats without a homer, and first baseman Keith Hernandez has missed 29 games with injuries.
It seems that the Mets play hard only when motivated, and this year's motivation is coming not from the traditional powers, but from the team of the '90s, the PITTSBURGH PIRATES. In the season's first half, the Pirates made it clear that their closing 27-11 burst in '87 was no fluke. Pitcher John Smiley (9-4) has become the league's most prized young lefthander, and journeyman Bob Walk, who is 16-5 since last year's All-Star break, is formidable. There's also centerfielder Andy Van Slyke, who reached double figures in homers, triples, doubles and stolen bases before the entire Athletics team did. If the Pirates can get a shortstop, a rightfielder and some experience for pitchers Mike Dunne and Doug Drabek, they will be able to provide the Mets with all the motivation they'll ever need.
The CHICAGO CUBS will be right there too. Everyone laughed when general manager Jim Frey named his high school friend Don Zimmer as manager, but Frey knew the Cubs were loaded with young talent and Zimmer was the guy to develop it. Has he ever. Zimmer's project, shortstop Shawon Dunston, has finally begun to realize his potential (check out his 42 RBIs). First baseman Mark Grace and leftfielder Rafael Palmeiro are hitters in the Don Mattingly cast. Vance Law was signed as a free agent to provide defense at third—and he has knocked in 41 runs.
Last year the Cubs' starters had the worst ERA in the league, but this season they not only have the third-best ERA, but at one point last week they had as many quality starts as the Mets. Righthander Greg Maddux—1-7, 8.86 in the second half last year—leads the majors in victories, with 15. With hard-throwing Mike Harkey on the horizon in Iowa, the right two-for-one trade for veteran Rick Sutcliffe could put Cub pitching over the top.
The good news for MONTREAL EXPOS fans is first baseman Andres Galarraga, whom Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog has already touted for Cooperstown. The bad news is starter Floyd Youmans's return to drug rehabilitation and the Expos' lack of offensive production at second and short. The worst news is the failure of three of the Expos' top hitters: Third baseman Tim Wallach and outfielder Mitch Webster have combined for only 50 RBIs, while outfielder Tim Raines was hitting .277 and is on the disabled list for the first time in his major league career.
It's hard to get a good reading on the ST. LOUIS CARDINALS this year. They have had 14 players on the disabled list, including pitchers John Tudor, Danny Cox, Joe Magrane and Ken Dayley. The Cards' delicate balance of speed and a power hitter was disrupted when first baseman Jack Clark left for the Yankees and was replaced by Bob Horner, who has yet to hit a homer in Busch Stadium. Trading second baseman Tom Herr to the Twins for rightfielder Tom Brunansky sparked a 28-15 streak, and Tudor has returned with a 2.13 ERA, but this is still going to be a long season in St. Louis.
Repeat after me: We will not be fooled by the PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES ever again. Last year the question was, How could a team that included Juan Samuel, Lance Parrish, Mike Schmidt and Von Hayes finish last in the division in runs scored? So the Phillies added Phil Bradley, who hit .297 with the Mariners in '87, and at the break they were last again. Owner Bill Giles couldn't explain the team's collapse, so he fired general manager Woody Woodward. Woodward's replacement, Lee Thomas, extended manager Lee Elia's contract for another season and will be getting rid of some of those overrated players before next spring.
The Los Angeles Dodgers first felt the impact of their new teammate, outfielder Kirk Gibson, in spring training when he stomped off the field in a rage because another new Dodger, reliever Jesse Orosco, had put eye black on the lining of his cap as a prank. By now, Gibson, hitting .299 at midseason with 15 homers and 46 RBIs, has had more effect on the Dodgers than any player has had on any other team. "The difference in the Dodgers," says San Francisco Giants manager Roger Craig, "is Gibson, period."
The Dodgers finished last in runs in the majors last season, but this year they are one of only two teams in the league to increase production, from 3.92 runs a game to 4.39. And they have accomplished it with just one homer and 11 RBIs from $987,500-a-year free agent Mike Davis, three homers from disabled third baseman Pedro Guerrero, and a .167 average from injured shortstop Alfredo Griffin. Rightfielder Mike Marshall and second baseman Steve Sax are having big years, and Dave Anderson and Jeff Hamilton have filled in well at shortstop and third base. If only the Dodgers had held on to Bob Welch....
But can the Dodgers hold on to the lead? That may depend on the SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS. At the All-Star break last year, the Giants were 44-44, three games out of first place. This year they were 46-39 and 2½ games back. But there is a difference. "I don't think the Giants can score enough runs," says one manager. The Giants have been shut out more times (9) in the first half of 1988 than in all of '87 (8), and at their current pace they will drop from 205 homers to 124, even though Will Clark is tied for second with 20.
None of this, however, has made the Dodgers sleep any easier at night. L.A.'s first worry is the Giants' Al Rosen, who in one scout's opinion "is the best general manager in the league and can make a table-turning deal at any time." Their second concern is that if Giants pitchers Dave Dravecky and Mike Krukow can come off the disabled list healthy, San Francisco will have the pitching to give the Dodgers a good chase.
The HOUSTON ASTROS have been slowly going to pieces this season. At one stretch before the break, they lost 11 of 14 games to fall 10 behind Los Angeles in the loss column. Pitcher Mike Scott, catcher Alan Ashby and third baseman Denny Walling are disabled. Second baseman Bill Doran has been hobbled by a pulled hamstring for two months. Slugger Glenn Davis has a bad hand, outfielder Gerald Young has a bad knee and pitcher Nolan Ryan has been struggling for six weeks. When the starters were healthy, they had quality starts in 21 of their first 22 games, and if the Astros are going to get back into the race, it will be Scott, Ryan and Bob Knepper who put them there. Still, it might be too late.
Manager Pete Rose is tired of making excuses for the sorry CINCINNATI REDS, who were three games under .500 at the break. After all, not everything that happened to the team in the first half was bad. The acquisition of Danny Jackson and Jose Rijo gave them two young starters with a combined 19-8 record. Shortstop Barry Larkin has blossomed into a .300 hitter, and third baseman Chris Sabo is on a Rookie of the Year pace. Yet, like the Astros and the Brewers, the Reds have been stymied by injuries. Case in point: The celebrated outfield of Kal Daniels, Eric Davis and Tracy Jones started only 25 games together in the first half.
The SAN DIEGO PADRES have gone 22-19 since manager Larry Bowa was fired on May 28. "Our goal was to be .500, and we might still make it," says his replacement, Jack McKeon, who has lost 36 pounds since taking over. Says one scout for a rival team: "If [rightfielder] Tony Gwynn, [first baseman] John Kruk and [catcher] Benito Santiago were hitting what they normally hit, the Padres would be right behind the Dodgers."
O.K., star outfielder Dale Murphy is hitting .218 with only 13 homers. How many strikes does he see a week? Two? Four? The ATLANTA BRAVES have been struggling since the beginning, when they lost their first 10 games, but they finished the first half 3½ games ahead of the hapless Orioles. Two positive signs in Atlanta: Reliever Bruce Sutter has come back with 12 saves and an occasional 90-mph fastball, and first baseman Gerald Perry is second in the league in batting with a .337 average. In the meantime, general manager Bobby Cox is busily trying to rebuild the Braves' bankrupt farm system. "We have a long way to go," he says, "but we'll get there the right way so when we are there, we'll stay."
The Cubs' Maddux has become one of this season's most stunning success stories.
FOCUS ON SPORTS
Our man's midseason picks
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
CY YOUNG AWARD
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
MANAGER OF THE YEAR
COMEBACK OF THE YEAR
MEMORABLE FACES AT THE BREAK
The first half of '88 produced some players to remember (No. 1 on each list appears in photo)
1. Andres Galarraga, Expos
2. Bobby Bonilla, Pirates
3. Mike Greenwell, Red Sox
4. Shawon Dunston, Cubs
5. Barry Larkin, Reds
FUTURE HOUSE HUNTERS
1. Rickey Henderson, Yankees
2. John McNamara, Red Sox
3. Rick Sutcliffe, Cubs
4. Kevin Bass, Astros
5. Larry Himes, White Sox
1. Bob Welch (Athletics) obtained in three-way deal with Mets and Dodgers
2. Kirk Gibson (Dodgers) free agent
3. Jack Clark (Yankees) free agent
4. Jose Rijo (Reds), along with Tim Birtsas, in trade with Athletics for Dave Parker
5. Luis Salazar (Tigers) free agent
1. Fernando Valenzuela, Dodgers
2. Mike Schmidt, Phillies
3. Larry Parrish, Rangers (released)
4. Gary Carter, Mets
5. Jesse Barfield, Blue Jays
BACK FROM THE DEAD
1. Jim Rice, Red Sox
2. Mike Boddicker, Orioles
3. Guillermo Hernandez, Tigers
1. Phil Bradley (Phillies) in trade with Mariners for Glenn Wilson and Mike Jackson
2. Mike Davis (Dodgers) free agent
3. Bob Horner (Cardinals) free agent
4. Lance Johnson (White Sox), along with Ricky Horton, in trade with Cardinals for Jose DeLeon
5. Tom Herr (Twins) in trade with Cardinals for Tom Brunansky