Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez (left), signed as insurance against the continued decline of Jason Giambi, was so thrilled to rejoin New York last winter that he was willing to play any role. Given his scalding bat, that includes the role of Babe Ruth. Martinez was tied for the major league lead with 12 home runs after smacking 10 homers in a 37 at bat span. The Yankees rode his hot hitting to an eight-game winning streak that brought them to .500 (19-19) at week's end.
Martinez's production means Giambi can only get at bats as a DH--and only if he shows signs of life. Giambi is a lumpy $20 million-a-year eighth-place-hitting DH who can't run, field, throw or hit. If he doesn't begin to produce soon, he'll have to take his broken-down body to the bench. Since the 2003 All-Star break, when he ended years of steroid use, according to his grand-jury testimony in the BALCO case, Giambi has hit .214 in 570 at bats.
Without their slugger (Barry Bonds), closer (Armando Benitez) and now their ace (Jason Schmidt, right), the Giants have done well to tread water (18-19), which is good enough to keep hope alive in the NL West. Says one NL G.M., "All the teams are pretty mediocre. It looks like a year in which you can hang around .500 most of the season, and the one team that gets hot in August or September will steal [the division]. It may depend on when Bonds gets back. They're a .500 team without him."
COMING ALIVE AT NUMBER 5
Rangers second baseman Alfonso Soriano (left) has always been a tough hitter to figure because of his amalgam of skills (power, speed) and flaws (impatience, lack of contact). He has heated up since moving to the number 5 spot (.322, seven homers in 59 at bats) when manager Buck Showalter replaced him as the leadoff hitter with walk machine David Dellucci. Soriano is the rare hitter who doesn't get on base often but helps create runs with his extra-base power and speed. He's on pace to score 128 runs with a .319 on-base percentage. Since 1900 only one player has scored 110 runs with an OBP worse than .320: Jumpin' Joe Dugan of the 1923 Yankees.
1. What the devil is up with Tampa Bay's lineup? Its cleanup hitters have no home runs, but its number 9 hitters have 10.
2. Outfielder Michael Restovich, pick up a white courtesy phone. Claimed on waivers twice and traded once, he was the property of four teams in 42 days and ended up with the Pirates--for now.
3. How does White Sox righthander Jon Garland (7-0) do it? With only 23 strikeouts this year Garland could be on his way to the first 20-win season with fewer than 100 strikeouts since Bill Gullickson of the 1991 Tigers.
JOHN IACONO (MARTINEZ)
BRAD MANGIN (SCHMIDT)
LARRY GOREN/ICON SMI (SORIANO)