COULD THE INDIANS BE FOR REAL THIS TIME?
At first everybody thought they were a fluke. After all, the Cleveland Indians had jumped into first place in the American League East in April by beating up on the hapless Baltimore Orioles and some of the also-rans of the Western Division. But at week's end, the Indians were only two and a half games out of first, and now the resounding question is. Can Cleveland actually win the East?
"I understand why people have been so reluctant to think about us winning," says Indians manager Doc Edwards. "After the buildup last year, naturally there's skepticism. But I knew we were a lot better off this time around because we had Greg Swindell healthy."
To a certain degree, Cleveland's hopes depend on the New York Yankees pitching staffs falling apart and on the Detroit Tigers' continuing to struggle to score runs. However, as the Indians began a vital 26-game run against four of their division rivals (the Tigers, Toronto Blue Jays, Yankees and Boston Red Sox), they boasted several strengths:
•In Swindell, who was 10-2 with a 2.51 ERA at week's end, Cleveland has a stopper in the class of Roger Clemens and Frank Viola.
•Through Sunday the Indians' ERA (3.62) was nearly two runs better than at the same point in '87.
•With the acquisition of lefthander Bud Black from the Kansas City Royals. Edwards says, "We have put more pieces together on building a complete staff." Black and Scott Bailes can start or relieve, as can righthander Rich Yett. Closer Doug Jones was 12 for 14 in save opportunities as of Sunday, and Edwards thinks lefty Kevin Wickander, who has 13 saves and a 0.00 ERA for Williamsport, could be ready by August.
•The Indians have a potential MVP in centerfielder Joe Carter, who is among the league leaders in batting (.299), homers (11), RBIs (40) and steals (14).
•Cleveland doesn't score as many runs as the Yankees, who were first in the league with 297 through Sunday. But with outfielder Cory Snyder and third baseman Brook Jacoby,' the Indians hammer lefthanded pitching, and they were fourth in the division with 236 runs.
"This is a big month for us." says Edwards. "But we're in this to win. We're not afraid to say we think we can win, because we do."
THE FUTURE IS NOW
As expected, University of Michigan pitcher Jim Abbott, who has one hand, was chosen in the first round of the June draft. The California Angels made him the eighth pick. Some other notable selections were Pete Rose Jr., who was passed over by Cincinnati and picked in the 12th round by Baltimore, and Mickey Rivers's son, John Mickey, a centerfielder, who was a third-round pick by the Red Sox.
One of the top power hitters in the draft was lefthand-hitting Bob Hamelin, a 6'1", 225-pound first baseman who was chosen by the Kansas City Royals in the second round. The Orioles hope that Auburn righthander Gregg Olson, the fourth player picked, will skip the Olympics and be ready for the majors by September. No sooner had the Chicago Cubs selected Georgia Tech second baseman Ty Griffin than Cubs vice-president Gordon Goldsberry speculated that Ryne Sandberg would be moved to third in 1990.
WHY VINCE CAN'T
Vince Coleman, who led the National League with 109 stolen bases last year, has worked hard to turn himself into a solid hitter (he had a .322 average through Sunday) and a good leftfielder (10 assists). "But I'm not stealing any bases," he says. "Would you have bet that if I was hitting over .300 by now that I'd only have 25 stolen bases?" Coleman is having trouble with pitchers delivering to the plate with quick, shortened strides. "Everybody's doing it now," he says. "I'm going to have to go back to my books. I may even have to get a little faster."
SIGNS OF AGE
Both Baltimore's Eddie Murray, who had only 12 extra-base hits in 54 games at week's end, and Boston's Jim Rice, with four extra-base hits and not one ball off the Green Monster, have been getting a lot of heat this year for not producing. Now 41-year-old Darrell Evans, who is coming off a 34-homer season, has begun to get flak from Detroit fans because he had only three homers and a .197 batting average through the first week of June. Evans, who has been platooning at first base, has a ready explanation for his drop-off. "Sometimes you look like you've slowed up." he says, "but it's a matter of not getting enough consistent at bats to get any feel at the plate."
Says Cubs scout Charlie Fox, "When you start to see big hitters foul balls off in the opposite direction, that means their reflexes are going." But Tigers general manager Bill Lajoie is far from convinced that Evans is done. The sign Lajoie looks for is whether a hitter is diving after pitches.
THE RIGHTY STUFF
The injury-racked Reds, who had only two homers (both by rookie Lloyd McClendon) during a recent 10-game stretch, are trying to pry rightfielder Glenn Wilson away from Seattle for Nick Esasky, while the Twins, realizing that it will be difficult to re-sign second baseman Tommy Herr, may trade him to the Philadelphia Phillies or Blue Jays for the pitching they originally hoped to get for Tom Brunansky. Toronto has also expressed interest in the Twins" disgruntled pitcher, Bert Blyleven.
Minnesota jumped too fast in the Herr-Brunansky deal for one prominent reason: righthanded power is hard to find, and Brunansky not only has power but also is a good rightfielder. "There is precious little righthanded power in the draft or in the high minors," says New York Mets scouting director Roland Johnson. "It's an off cycle, but if you get a right-handed power hitter, you'd better hold on to him."
The Texas Rangers' deal to get outfielder Pete Incaviglia from the Montreal Expos in 1985 is looking better and better every day. At week's end Incaviglia had 31 RBIs and was tied for second in the American League with 13 homers....
With all the injuries to the Milwaukee Brewers pitching staff, Odell Jones, Tom Filer and Paul Mirabella, all of whom are castoffs from other teams, stepped into the breach and were 6-0 through Sunday with two saves. Tom Trebelhorn calls them "the SOB Squad," as in "they've saved our bacon."
...After years of silence, pitcher Steve Carlton finally granted a lengthy interview to Frank Dolson of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Carlton revealed that one of the best managers he ever played for was the Twins' Tom Kelly, because of his "uncanny knack" for sensing an approaching problem. As for the media: "They didn't go to college and train just to write down quotes. What I did, I think, brought a little more creativity out of the writers."
...Kirk Gibson's absence from the Detroit lineup hurts the Tigers, especially with Matt Nokes struggling. At last year's All-Star break, Nokes was hitting .319 with 20 homers in 254 at bats, but is only .237 with 19 homers in 333 at bats since....
Before the All-Star break, the Orioles plan to sit down with Cal Ripken Jr., whose contract is up at the end of the year, and try to work out a two-year extension. The O's need Ripken signed in order to trade him, because no team is going to give up a handful of young players for Ripken and then watch him become a free agent in November. Ripken, however, is expected to demand a no-trade provision from the Orioles, figuring that if he's not going to be in Baltimore, he might as well reap the free agent market dollars....
The Seattle Mariners may have their problems, but Mickey Brantley is blossoming into a solid player, with a .289 average and 10 homers at week's end....
The Blue Jays released .293-hitting Juan Beniquez, claiming that he had been a negative influence on some of their young players. Beniquez charged that the Toronto front office had messed up a talented team, and said "there's only one negative influence—Jimy Williams." General manager Pat Gil-lick's response to Beniquez? "I'll let his track record speak for itself," said Gillick. "He hasn't missed too many clubs in this league." Indeed. Beniquez has played for more teams in one league—eight—than any other player in history. Beniquez has hit .300 or better in four of the last five years....
Tom Lasorda has finished first five times in 11 seasons as manager of the Dodgers, but the horse named after him has lost all 12 of his races.
BETWEEN THE LINES
WALLY PIPP REVISITED?
Cubs pitcher Al Nipper has 114 major league starts without ever pitching a shutout, 14 shy of Roy Mahaffey's record of 128. So what happened when Nipper went on the disabled list last week? Rookie Jeff Pico started in his place on May 31 and shut out the Reds 4-0 to become the first Cubs pitcher to throw a shutout in his major league debut since King Cole in 1909. Pico is luckier than Nipper, too. Bricks from a collapsing building fell on Pico's car as he was driving to his last start for the Triple A Iowa Cubs. The car was totaled, but he escaped unhurt.
THE SWELL OF SUCCESS
The Athletics came close to moving to another city in the last decade because of poor attendance. But now the turnstiles are singing. During their last home stand, which was nine games, the A's drew 288,722 fans, or just 18,041 fewer than for the entire 1979 season.
WHAT WAS THAT AGAIN?
Houston Astros pitcher Joaquin Andujar was ejected from the May 31 game against the Cardinals after St. Louis catcher Tony Pena swung and missed one of his inside pitches, and then yelled at Andujar to throw the ball over the plate. Obviously misinterpreting what Pena said, Andujar threw down his glove and stalked toward the plate. Afterward Andujar, who is not known for being especially discreet, said, "Sometimes Tony Pena speaks before he thinks."
HOLD THE BALONEY
One Saturday night in New York, San Diego Padres reliever Mark Davis went into a deli that featured a Gary Carter Sandwich, which came with cheese, salami and tongue. "You had to figure that with Carter, there had to be a lot of tongue," said Davis. "There was no way I could bring myself to eat it."
BASEBALL IS IN HIS BLOOD
Lee MacPhail IV is working as a public relations assistant for the Orioles. His great-grandfather Larry was a legendary executive with the Dodgers, his grandfather Lee was president of the American League and his uncle Andy is general manager of the Twins.
•Through Sunday the Yankees were 23-9 in games in which the opposition started a righthanded pitcher.
•The Cardinals were 18-10 in May, despite getting no homers from first baseman Bob Horner, no wins from Danny Cox, Joe Magrane and Randy O'Neal and only one win apiece from Greg Matthews and John Tudor.
•The punchless Red Sox had no more than one extra-base hit in 17 of their first 51 games.
•White Sox leadoff hitters were batting .205 at week's end, their second-place hitters .198.
•Only 9 of the 68 American League pitchers who had 40 or more innings through Sunday had not committed a balk.
•Frank Viola was 17-0 in his last 23 starts in the Metro-dome, including postseason games. The Twins' domefield advantage is so great that when the Athletics, who held a nine-game lead over Minnesota, arrived on June 3, the betting line for the first game was even, despite the fact that Oakland was starting ace pitcher Dave Stewart against Les Straker. The A's won 8-5.
•Last May, Baltimore's Eddie Murray, Terry Kennedy, Larry Sheets and Jim Dwyer had a total of 33 homers. This May they had three.
•Rick Mahler's seven-game winning streak for the Atlanta Braves included two wins in relief—one over Jose Oquendo—and two crafty 11-hitters.
•At week's end Ozzie Smith had 14 career regular-season homers, all righthanded. He has one in the postseason. It was lefthanded.
•Doug DeCinces is batting .171 as of June 5 in Japan.
MOVING FROM LEFT TO RIGHT
Dave Winfield, Yankees
Kirby Puckett, Twins
Rickey Henderson, Yankees
Kevin Bass, Astros
Vance Law, Cubs
Carney Lansford, Athletics
Wade Boggs, Red Sox
Andres Galarraga, Expos
Gerald Perry, Braves
Don Mattingly, Yankees
SOURCE: STATS, INC.