NEXT YEAR IS HERE
It's time to ask if the four worst teams in baseball—the Orioles, Mariners, Phillies and Braves—are better off now than they were in April. And where will they be next year and the year after that?
•Baltimore: Make no mistake about it, the Orioles are going to be overwhelming favorites to finish last again in '89. But there is some autumn light for the first time in a couple of years. Third baseman Craig Worthington was the International League MVP this year, and he should team up with shortstop Cal Ripken and first baseman Eddie Murray to deliver at least 75 homers next year. Steve Finley, the International League Rookie of the Year, and Brady Anderson, who came over from Boston in the Mike Boddicker deal, should improve the Oriole outfield, but Baltimore still needs a righthanded-hitting outfielder with power, and a solid catcher. On the mound, youngsters Oswald Peraza, Jeff Ballard and Jose Bautista have been pitching well, and there are three outstanding righthanders in the wings: No. 1 pick Gregg Olson; Pete Harnisch, who got 17 strikeouts in his third start at Rochester; and Curt Schilling, who is 4-2 at Charlotte, N.C., after leaving Boston in the Boddicker trade.
•Seattle: Lucky Woody Woodward. In the last 10 months, the Mariners' general manager has worked for three of the toughest bosses in baseball—Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, Phillie president Bill Giles and now Mariners owner George Argyros. Though he will probably replace manager Jim Snyder before next season, Woodward, who came to Seattle in July, is convinced that the Mariners aren't as bad as their record. "With Mike Moore, Mark Langston, Scott Bankhead and a potentially deep bullpen, we have the makings of an outstanding pitching staff," he says. "The everyday lineup can be fine, especially with another lefthanded bat. Jay Buhner has shown the potential to be a good outfielder who hits 25, 30 homers. The key now is keeping Moore and convincing the players that this can be a winning franchise." Moore can become a free agent in October, and several teams are hot on his trail. Will Argyros shell out the money to sign him? "I think so," says Woodward.
•Philadelphia: The more things change here, the more they remain the same—confused. Lee Thomas, who replaced Woodward as general manager, is currently trying to trade several veterans—including catcher Lance Parrish, outfielder Phil Bradley and pitcher Don Carman—for younger players. The Tigers, Angels and Royals are interested in Parrish, but no team is going to give away the franchise to get him because he will be a free agent at the end of the season. Now that rookie first baseman Ricky Jordan appears to be the real thing, the Phillies might move Chris James to third and let 38-year-old third baseman Mike Schmidt walk away. Look for sweeping changes before next spring and a megadeal for a hitter of the caliber of Yankee slugger Jack Clark.
•Atlanta: General manager Bobby Cox has recruited a host of exceptional pitching prospects, but rebuilding the Braves is a five-year project, at the least. With pitchers Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Pete and Zane Smith, and three strong newcomers at Richmond, Cox should have the foundation for a decent staff in '89. The infield is productive, young and promising. "The key for us is what we can do these next few weeks," says Cox. He would like to move talented second baseman Ron Gant to third or leftfield and replace him with either Jeff Blauser or Mark Lemke, two minor league infielders with power. Cox is also considering deals to get outfielders, power and a catcher. Some possibilities include sending Blauser to the Expos for third baseman Tim Wallach or pitcher Rick Mahler to the Yankees for centerfielder Roberto Kelly and a young pitcher to the Cubs for catcher Jody Davis.
YANKING HIS CHAIN
After years of holding his tongue, Yankee first baseman Don Mattingly finally erupted last week. "You come here and you play, and you get no respect," he told reporters. "You get money and that's it. That's as far as it goes. They think money is respect. Money's not respect....
He [team owner George Steinbrenner] can tell you he wants to win all he wants to. They don't want to win here."
Steinbrenner offered his usual statement, rejecting any blame for the tattered state of the Yankees, who at week's end had fallen 5½ games out of first. According to Toronto general manager Pat Gillick, Steinbrenner has privately shopped Mattingly and seriously discussed a possible trade with two teams. "I think he's gone, from the tone of the conversations I've had with the Yankees," Gillick told the Toronto Sun. Yankee general manager Bob Quinn acknowledged that two teams had inquired about Mattingly, but he denied reports that the Yankees were actually considering a trade, saying, "There is no truth to any of this."
After Mattingly's outburst on Aug. 21, the Yanks did produce two ninth-inning rallies to beat the A's on Tuesday and Wednesday. But the pitching collapsed, and they lost their first four games of a vital road trip. Through Sunday, the Yankee starting rotation was 2-14 for the month of August. "When John Candelaria leads your staff in innings, you've got problems," said one AL general manager.
Tiger manager Sparky Anderson has tried to keep his starters rested by letting veterans Jack Morris and Frank Tanana skip turns this season. Morris has responded by going 4-1, with a 1.38 ERA in his last seven starts, but Tanana still has some shoulder stiffness. The loss of Tanana could kill any deal for a hitter, which the Tigers desperately need; utility man Luis Salazar and outfielder Pat Sheridan combined for 21 homers before the All-Star break—since then Salazar has hit two, Sheridan none....
To protect themselves for the playoffs, the Athletics put third catcher Matt Sinatro on the disabled list on Aug. 21. That means they can add him to their postseason roster if one of the front-line catchers—Terry Steinbach or Ron Hassey—gets injured before the playoffs....
One bit of deception often perpetrated at this time of year is the minor league won-lost record. "The idea is to develop players, not win at every level," says Boston farm director Ed Kenney, whose club has developed more current major leaguers than any other American League team. But that's not how the Dodgers see it. They signed 16 released players or minor league free agents from other organizations to make their farm clubs look better....
After almost a year of weak production, Toronto outfielder Jesse Barfield has begun to look like the hitter who led the league in homers two years ago with 40. Does this mean the wrist injury that has bothered him since before the 1987 All-Star break has finally healed? "That's part of it," says Barfield. "But, to be honest with myself, it took me four months to look in the mirror and realize that I had failed to make some adjustments. Pitchers were busting the ball inside on me, and I refused to make the necessary adjustments."
...Describing newly acquired first baseman Pedro Guerrero's physique, Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog said, "He's got an upper body like Charles Atlas and lower body like Lana Turner."
BETWEEN THE LINES
TIME FOR A SWITCH?
At week's end, Braves reserve infielder Jim Morrison was batting .143, but he had pitched 3‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® scoreless innings as an emergency reliever. "I'm hitting like a pitcher," says Morrison, "so I might as well throw like one."
BLACK HORSE POWER
After Boston's Dennis (Oil Can) Boyd, who had been on the disabled list because of a blood clot in his right shoulder, lasted only 2⅖ innings against the Athletics on Aug. 20, his mother, Sweetie, sent him ajar of Black Horse liniment to rub on his shoulder. "Mama normally speaks only in spirits," the Can told reporters. "She says, 'The Lord will take care of it, and if He can't, maybe Black Horse can.' " In his next start, against the Mariners on Aug. 26. Boyd pitched six innings, allowing only two hits and one run, and the Red Sox won 5-3.
THE COUNTDOWN BEGINS
It's interesting to note that since divisional play began in 1969, 59 of the 72 eventual division winners—excluding the strike year, 1981—were in first place on Labor Day. And of 13 Labor Day leaders that failed to win their divisions, only two were out in front by more than 2½ games: the '69 Cubs, who led by four and lost out to the Mets, and the '78 Red Sox, who led by five and lost to the Yankees in a playoff.
When Cardinals righthander Scott Terry beat the Reds 7-1 and 4-2 on Aug. 21 and Aug. 26, he settled an old score with the Cincinnati front office. In 1982, Terry was the regular rightfielder for Cincinnati's Class A club in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, along with current Reds outfielders Eric Davis and Paul O'Neill. Terry batted .254 that year and had four more homers than O'Neill, but the Reds decided to take advantage of Terry's strong arm and convert him into a relief pitcher. Then they traded him to the Cards last year for pitcher Pat Perry.
WHAT HAPPENED TO AMERICA'S TEAM?
Even club owner Ted Turner's WTBS superstation doesn't give the Braves any respect. On Aug. 25 the Braves were scheduled to play the Cubs at 5:40 p.m., even though they had returned from a road trip at two o'clock that morning. Why not a standard 7:40 p.m. start? Because WTBS wanted to use the prime-time slot to broadcast a colorized version of the 1941 movie Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
•Cub fans were worried when infielders Leon Durham and Keith Moreland, who had a combined 54 homers in '87, were traded. This year they have seven between them.
•On Aug. 24, Milwaukee leftfielder Jeffrey Leonard became the first player this season to strike out five times in a game. He went down swinging each time.
•While Brewers centerfielder Robin Yount and Pirate centerfielder Andy Van Slyke were the first players in their respective leagues to reach double figures in homers, triples, doubles and stolen bases. White Sox shortstop Ozzie Guillen and Braves first baseman Gerald Perry became the first to hit double figures in three quite different categories: caught stealing, errors and grounding into double plays.
•Cub outfielder Andre Dawson had nine stolen bases through Sunday. If he gets one more this year, he will break Bobby Bonds's record and become the first player to reach double figures in homers and steals in 12 consecutive seasons.
•On Aug. 24 in New York, the Yankees were trailing the A's 6-5 in the ninth inning, with third baseman Mike Pagliarulo up and rightfielder Dave Winfield on first. When the count dropped to 0 and 2, Yankee manager Lou Piniella surprised everybody by pulling Pags out and putting in weak-hitting outfielder Gary Ward as a pinch hitter. Ward singled, Winfield eventually scored the tying run, and the Yankees marched on to a 7-6 victory.
•The Padres are 7-0 playing before paying crowds of 30,000 or more at Jack Murphy Stadium.
•The only player the Angels have added from outside their organization this year is reserve outfielder and pianist Thad Bosley, who is more talented at the keyboard than at the plate.