Will Barry Bonds make history again?
Signs point to yes. This time Ted Williams's season record for
on-base percentage, .553 in 1941, is in peril. At week's end
Bonds had an on-base percentage of .571; he was hitting .345 and
had drawn 103 bases on balls, also putting him on pace for the
first 200-walk season in history. (He set the major league
record, 177, last year when he finished with a .515 OBP.) The
combination of pitchers' reluctance to challenge him, Bonds's
discerning eye and his locked-in stroke make it a good bet that
the Giants slugger can stay ahead of Williams's mark all season.
Otherwise, thanks to a resurgence in pitching--at week's end
scoring had dropped from 9.7 runs per game last year to 9.2, and
hits were down from 18.2 per game to 17.6--no other major
batting records are expected to be broken.
Are the Expos going to fight to the death?
Most likely. Still on the short list of teams Bud Selig wants to
eliminate as part of contraction at the end of the season,
Montreal stocked up for a playoff run last week by acquiring
Indians ace Bartolo Colon for first baseman Lee Stevens and
three prospects. Through Sunday the Expos were 42-38 and 8 1/2
games behind the Braves in the NL East and six games in back of
the Diamondbacks for the wild card. Whether Montreal makes the
playoffs or not, Frank Robinson deserves to be Manager of the
Will there be many other trades before the July 31 deadline?
Outlook not so good. With the possibility of a work stoppage,
the normally booming midseason trade talk could be a murmur this
summer. Among the teams looking to make deals are the Indians,
who want to unload outfielder Ellis Burks, lefthander Chuck
Finley and first baseman Jim Thome (Burks and Thome would have
to waive no-trade clauses); the Phillies, who will entertain
offers for third baseman Scott Rolen; the Tigers, who will give
up righthander Jeff Weaver for the right price; and the Yankees,
who are trying to pry rightfielder Cliff Floyd from the Marlins.
By season's end will there be any managers left named Manuel?
My sources say no. The likely firing of Charlie Manuel by
Cleveland and Jerry Manuel by the White Sox would complete one
of the bloodiest seasons ever for skippers. Detroit, Milwaukee,
Colorado, Kansas City and Toronto had axed their managers by the
first week of June. The White Sox (40-42) have been one of the
majors' biggest underachievers. The payroll-slashing Indians are
on the way to their first sub-.500 finish since 1993, and new
general manager Mark Shapiro is almost certain to bring in
another skipper to oversee the rebuilding project.
Will the best division battles be out West?
As I see it, yes. Think the World Cup wreaked havoc on your
circadian rhythms? The tightest races this year will play out
while most of the country is falling asleep. The Mariners,
Athletics and Angels will fight it out in the AL West, and the
schedule should make for a stirring finish. Two of those three
teams will play one another on each of the last 20 days of the
Another three-team race looms in the NL West, but if starting
pitching becomes the deciding factor, the Giants may not be able
to keep up with the Diamondbacks and the Dodgers.
Will Bonds win his fifth National League MVP?
My reply is no. All those walks will keep his RBI total (50 this
season, compared with a career-high 137 last year) down. By the
end of the season streaky Dodgers rightfielder Shawn Green
(.281, 25 homers, 63 RBIs) will be remembered for more than his
four-homer game and four dingers in four at bats over two games
earlier in the season. He'll carry the Los Angeles offense down
the stretch and will earn his first MVP award.
Could Alfonso Soriano win the AL MVP award?
Without a doubt. Ichiro has the speed and bat skills. A-Rod has
the power. The Yankees' Soriano has it all, and he's a strong
candidate to become the first second baseman to win the American
League's top honor since Nellie Fox of the White Sox in 1959. In
his second full season Soriano, 24, was all over the league
leader board through Sunday: first in steals (23) and total
bases (202), second in hits (111), tied for third in runs (60),
fourth in batting (.324) and tied for sixth in home runs (19).
Will the Braves' bullpen turn out to be legit?
Hazy, try again. Gryboski, Hammond and Spooneybarger sound like
partners in a small-time law firm. Actually, middle relievers
Kevin Gryboski, Chris Hammond and Tim Spooneybarger--with a
combined four major league appearances over the last three
seasons--all have ERAs under 3.33 and are key to the majors'
best relief corps. Mix them in with veterans Mike Remlinger
(5-0, 1.56), a career setup man, and closer John Smoltz (27
saves), and you have a bullpen with a 2.34 ERA and 19 wins, both
tops in the National League.
Then will Atlanta win its 11th straight division title?
It is decidedly so. With the Mets and the Phillies out of the
picture, the slow-starting Braves will wind up cruising in the
NL East. In addition to that bullpen, they have a potent offense
led by the recharged Gary Sheffield (seven homers, 21 RBIs in
June) and Rafael Furcal (.343 June average). Filling out the NL
playoff field, the Cardinals will rebound from the loss of
Darryl Kile and win the Central, and (sorry, Expos) the Dodgers
will finish just behind the Diamondbacks in the West and take
the wild card.
Can the Red Sox dethrone the Yankees in the AL East?
Very doubtful. A healthy New York rotation is too tough to
overcome. Boston couldn't break away while righthander Orlando
Hernandez and lefty Andy Pettitte were hurt, and now both are
back. The Red Sox finish the season with 21 of their final 24
games against lightweights Toronto, Tampa Bay, Baltimore and
Cleveland, which will enable them to claim the wild card for the
third time in five years. Rounding out the AL postseason grid,
the Twins, with two injured starters expected back in the
rotation by the end of July, will win the Central, and the
Mariners will outlast the A's in the West.
Will there be a strike?
Cannot predict now. The expiration of each of the eight previous
basic agreements has resulted in a work stoppage. Sporadic talks
in recent weeks have done little to bring the two sides together
on major issues, including revenue sharing, a payroll tax,
contraction and drug testing. "It looks like it's heading in one
direction, and that's confrontation," says Atlanta's Mike
Remlinger, the team's assistant player rep. "I'd love to see it
end up amicably for both sides, but unfortunately I don't think
that appears to be an option right now."
For more analysis from Stephen Cannella, read his Touching Base
column every Thursday at cnnsi.com/baseball.
COLOR PHOTO: BRAD MANGIN
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID N. BERKWITZ John Smoltz
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Alfonso Soriano
COLOR PHOTO: BRAD MANGIN Shawn Green
COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER Barry Bonds