THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

A little more than a month into the season, concern about contracts and drug scandals has given way to news about baseball. We are learning that Eric Davis may be even better than his buildup, that Mike Scott was no fluke in '86 and that the three top teams in the National League West may have the best talent in baseball and will run the tightest divisional race. Baseball is gloriously alive again in Milwaukee. The Indians and Rangers are discovering it's a lot harder to jump from .500 to .580 than they (and we) thought, and the Mets have stopped crowing long enough to realize they didn't win a permanent claim on the world championship trophy last fall. The Expos, Pirates and Mariners aren't as bad as folks expected, and the Athletics and Phillies aren't as bad as they've looked. But by now even the wildest optimist must recognize that the prospects for three teams with bright pasts are looking mighty dim:

•Baltimore. One reason the Oriole mystique is now a myth is that the organization has lost more than a dozen superb scouts in the last decade. The only quality starting player under 30 is Cal Ripken Jr. The Birds' farm system has only three or four legitimate prospects. Other than Mike Boddicker, the pitching staff has deteriorated. The starters may have been together too long, and the bullpen is a mess now that Don Aase's shoulder is worn out.

G.M. Hank Peters blew up last week, threatening wholesale changes. He railed at Eddie Murray, who batted below .200 the last 17 days of April and whose failure to slide into third when trying to stretch a double on Wednesday was symptomatic of more than a year's worth of uneven performance. Peters eventually wants to bring up minor league pitchers Jeff Ballard and John Habyan, and is trying to deal Mike Flanagan, who still throws well but has trouble winning.

But the Orioles' problems run even deeper. By weighing down the roster with well-paid veterans like Fred Lynn, Lee Lacy, Terry Kennedy and Ray Knight, the Orioles have actually hastened the decay of the organization. With two first-round picks in next month's draft, the club has a chance to begin rebuilding from the basement up. And don't be surprised if Edward Bennett Williams does some remodeling in the executive suites as well.

•Atlanta. Ted Turner realizes that the five-year mandate he gave G.M. Bobby Cox before last season may not be enough. The Braves have fallen badly, and winning the 1982 NL West title probably hurt them in the long run by giving them a false sense of security. Cox has made some decent trades, but there isn't much left to deal. Rafael Ramirez won't get him a Don Mattingly. The previous administration gave away Ken Dayley, Brian Fisher, Donnie Moore, Brett Butler and Brook Jacoby for what now adds up to Ken Oberkfell. And thanks to one terrible scouting decision after another, the club has only one first-round draft pick on its roster—Dale Murphy, 1974. For a team that finished last in '86 and has no rookies, the Braves have alarmingly few prospects within one season of reaching Atlanta. Now the club may have to consider trading away the franchise, Murphy, to a team that can afford to give up three legitimate prospects.

•Chicago White Sox. G.M. Larry Himes, who has been known for his scouting acumen with the Angels, must reverse the team's tendency to trade away its best prospects. Except for the injured Harold Baines, the homegrown White Sox are a mediocre bunch. Meanwhile, Himes and manager Jim Fregosi are on a collision course and, for all the energy that owners Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn expend, there is no quick fix here. The White Sox are no better off now than when Bill Veeck ran them on $1.72 a week. Maybe worse.

APRIL SHOWERS

The Sir Laurence Olivier Award goes to Phillies owner Bill Giles for his performance in a recent clubhouse meeting. Giles vowed to stick with his team despite its 7-13 record, then grabbed a Phillies calendar and, with a grand dramatic gesture, ripped out the month of April, crumpled the page and tossed it aside.

NL president Bart Giamatti called George Argyros "the James Watt of baseball" after the loose-tongued Mariners owner said he would like to have Steve Garvey in the front office after he completes his deal to buy the Padres. A week earlier commissioner Peter Ueberroth fined Argyros $10,000 for making a congratulatory phone call to manager Larry Bowa after a Padres victory. (Some baseball people believe that once Argyros sells the Mariners, the National League owners will reject his purchase of the Padres, effectively booting him out of baseball altogether.)...Giamatti also pricked the Astros by instructing umpires around the league to check balls for scuff marks, an order he happened to issue just before Mike Scott's start on Wednesday against the Mets. "I don't think cheating has a place in the game," said Giamatti. Houston manager Hal Lanier was furious. "Why wait until his sixth start?" asked Lanier, implying that Giamatti's action had something to do with Scott's appearance in New York. No scuffs were found, which may or may not have had anything to do with Scott's first loss, 2-1, after three wins.

Toronto continues its search for a frontline starting pitcher. Reliever Mark Eichhorn finished April fourth on the staff. The Blue Jays haven't won back-to-back complete games since the last week of the 1983 season. Richard Dotson has been mentioned as someone the Jays might trade for because the White Sox are wanting offensively....

One scout says Texas slugger Pete Incaviglia "has become one of the league's great quality hitters." Incaviglia had 10 homers and 22 RBIs through Sunday. But he is also becoming one of the league's most disliked players, for showing up the opposition after he hits a dinger....

The Rangers are one of several teams bidding for 6'4", 200-pound, 16-year-old Puerto Rican free-agent pitcher Ramser Correa. But they may decide against signing him. Both Ramser and his brother Edwin, a current Ranger pitcher, are Seventh-Day Adventists who will not pitch from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday. Having them in the same rotation would seem to be impossible.

The Cubs are trying to find a taker for 36-year-old Gary Matthews, but before any American League team accepts him as a DH, Chicago will have to agree to pay a sizable portion of his sizable contract. Matthews did hit 21 homers in 370 at bats last season....

The Red Sox' postpennant blues continued into May. Jim Rice's elbow was seriously swollen after being hit by pitches twice in three games; Wade Boggs's shoulder throbbed after he was involved in a brawl with the Mariners; Marty Barrett was hindered by a wrist injury; Oil Can Boyd was still disabled with tendinitis in his shoulder; Dave Henderson was benched on his return to Anaheim Stadium in favor of rookie Ellis Burks. Manager John McNamara vows that the Sox are in the early stages of a rebuilding program that will ultimately have Burks and fellow speedy outfielders Brady Anderson, Scott Wade and Carlos Quintana radically changing Boston's playing style.

To keep George Bell and Lloyd Moseby fresh for September the Jays brought up highly touted rookie outfielder Rob Ducey, a crowd favorite from nearby Cambridge, Ont. Manager Jimy Williams's idea is to implement a four-man outfield rotation. But the first night Williams penciled Bell in as DH, Bell refused and Williams put him back in left....

If Billy Hatcher and Kevin Bass played in New York instead of Houston, we would be tired by now of hearing superlatives about one of the two (along with Cincinnati's Eric Davis and Dave Parker) best centerfield-rightfield combinations in the National League....

Because the Royals seem either to lose by shutout (they suffered a club-record six in April and lost 2-0 on May 1) or to win with brilliant pitching, the bullpen had only two save opportunities in the team's first 20 games, both for Bud Black. It got so bad that a friend called Black and asked, "Are you on the disabled list?"

One more reason to love the Brewers' Tom Trebelhorn, the people's manager: Not only is he one of the four skippers who are at the bottom of the big league salary list, but his $100,000 for this season is being paid out over three years.

PHOTOJERRY WACHTERMurray's recent woes in the field and at bat typify the Orioles' decline. PHOTOJOHN BIEVERIncaviglia is hot to do his HR trot. PHOTOJOHN D. HANLONScott was 3-0 until the Mets scuffed him up. PHOTO©TOPPS CHEWING GUM INC.The ex-Newark haberdasher is 67. PHOTOCHUCK SOLOMONMattingly's not going anywhere, but Bill Buckner holds him on just in case.

BETWEEN THE LINES

REAP WHAT YOU SOW

Because winning 12 games is considered only a decent season for a starting pitcher, it's surprising to note that only five starters have done that well in each of the last five seasons: Los Angeles's Fernando Valenzuela, Detroit's Jack Morris, Cincinnati's Bill Gullickson, St. Louis's John Tudor and Texas's Charlie Hough. Nine of the 95 active pitchers who have ever won 12 games as a starter came up through the Dodger organization. Four are still pitching for Los Angeles (Valenzuela, Bob Welch, Alejandro Pena and Orel Hershiser), while Hough, Don Sutton, Sid Fernandez, Rick Rhoden and Rick Sutcliffe are toiling for other clubs. Boston developed seven 12-game winners (including four of its starters), as did California (two are still Angels). The Mets groomed six; interestingly, three New York starters—Fernandez, Ron Darling and Bob Ojeda—came in trades.

There's a correlation here. If you're looking for reasons why the Indians and Athletics are having problems getting out of the gate, consider this: Oakland's only homegrown starter and 12-game winner is Curt Young. Cleveland developed only one of its five starters (Greg Swindell) and only three active 12-game winners (Dennis Eckersley, Tommy John and Neal Heaton), none of whom is still with the team.

AWESOME DAWSON
Andre Dawson not only went 5 for 5 and hit for the cycle against the Giants on April 29, but he also fielded pitcher Roger Mason's apparent line-drive single to right and threw him out at first.

A SICKENING START
Before Len Matuszek went on the disabled list on Friday, the Dodger reserve was 1 for 15, and his son gave the chicken pox to Alejandro Pena, who missed two starts.

THE POLLYANNA QUOTE OF THE WEEK
•After the Braves lost three times to the Giants and grounded into a major-league record 15 double plays in four games, Atlanta manager Chuck Tanner said, "If you don't like the way the Braves are playing, you don't like baseball."

MISCELLANEOUS

In the first month of the season:

•The only pitchers who had quality starts in every outing (at least six innings, no more than three earned runs) were the Astros' Mike Scott, the Royals' Bret Saberhagen and Valenzuela. The seven pitchers without a single quality start in four or more appearances were Milwaukee's Mike Birkbeck, Baltimore's Ken Dixon, Texas's Mike Mason, Minnesota's Mark Portugal, Seattle's Mike Trujillo, Philadelphia's Joe Cowley and the Cubs' Greg Maddux.

•The amazing Brewers didn't lose a game started by Birkbeck, Teddy Higuera or Juan Nieves (for whom they scored 26 runs in 24 innings). The Royals lost all five games Danny Jackson started.

•Baltimore was 5-0 in Mike Boddicker starts but 2-11 in starts by Dixon, Mike Flanagan and Scott McGregor.

•Toronto leadoff man Tony Fernandez scored three runs.

•While Rich Gedman remained unsigned, Boston's catchers went 12 for 71 and drove in runs in only six games.

•Cubs shortstop Shawon Dunston had 77 at bats, 0 RBIs, 2 walks and 13 strikeouts.

•Steve Carlton had a win, loss or save in every one of Phil Niekro's four starts.

•San Francisco never trailed in any of Mark Davis's four starts.

•The Yankees' Dave Righetti allowed 28 batters to reach base and yielded nine runs in 15 innings, blowing three leads.

Mets rookie third baseman Dave Magadan, who hit four homers in 1,530 minor league at bats and claims he never had an extra-base hit against a southpaw, cracked two homers in two weeks off lefthanders.

BALLPARK FIGURES

The Giants' Harry Spilman had never stolen a base in nine seasons and 660 big league at bats until April 30, when he singled and swiped second against the Cubs' reliever Lee Smith. This took Spilman out of the running to break Russ Nixon's major league mark of 12 years without a stolen base. As Spilman dusted himself off at second, he noticed Randy Kutcher running toward him from the dugout. Manager Roger Craig was sending in a pinch runner.

Here are 10 players with more than 500 at bats ranked by fewest number of steals per at bat:

AB

S

1. Sal Butera, Cin.

627

0

2. Steve Balboni, K.C.

1813

1

3. Terry Kennedy, Balt.

3459

3

4. Tim Laudner, Minn.

1151

1

5. Rafael Santana, Mets

1150

1

6. Chris Bando, Cle.

1031

1

7. Ozzie Virgil, Atl.

1550

2

8. Don Mattingly, Yanks

2318

3

9. Rich Gedman, Bos.

2133

3

10. Rick Cerone, Yanks

2815

4

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)