San Francisco manager Roger Craig guided the Giants into the World Series in 1989 by expertly juggling a pitching staff that had been decimated by injuries. This season San Francisco's injury list is even longer, but that hasn't lowered the expectations of many observers. "We won last year, so people are waiting for me to do some miracle," says Craig. "I've tried and tried and tried. But nothing has worked."
Although as of Sunday the Giants had won six of their last 10 games—thanks largely to the bats of Kevin Mitchell and Will Clark (page 74)—San Francisco was still 15-22 and 11½ games behind the National League West-leading Reds. Given the scarcity of pitching help in the Giants' farm system and their lack of expendable players to trade, it appears unlikely that they will contend for the division crown, much less win the pennant again.
At the start of last week, San Francisco had six players on the disabled list, including righthander Kelly Downs and reliever Jose Alvarez. Then on May 14 righthander Mike LaCoss, the Giants' most effective starter (3-1, 2.28 ERA), learned he would be out for at least three months because of a knee injury. Two days later righthander Don Robinson aggravated an arthritic hip in what was supposed to be his final start on a rehabilitation assignment. Says San Francisco catcher Terry Kennedy, "It's like the mound was built over some sacred burial ground. It's cursed. Go to the mound, something happens to your knee."
Giants general manager Al Rosen refuses to use injuries as an excuse. "We just haven't played well," he says. And he's not the only one who feels that way. "We're missing something," says one San Francisco player. "I don't know what it is. Right now, finishing second is an attainable goal."
The Giants may not get that high if Craig can't resurrect the rotation. As of Sunday, he had gone through eight starters, one more than the Angels used all of last season. On May 1, the Giants purchased the contract of veteran lefthander Bob Knepper (5.13 ERA last year) from Triple A Phoenix, and he beat the Mets twice in five days. But he's unlikely to be a savior.
Craig gave rookies Russ Swan and Eric Gunderson a shot earlier this year, but they weren't ready. Rookie John Burkett is in the rotation, but he probably should be pitching for Phoenix. "You just can't run minor league pitchers out there and win," says Craig. As for the criticism that he doesn't like working with young pitchers, he replies, "Bull. I don't care if a guy's 15 years old. If he can help, I'll use him."
It also hasn't helped that three San Francisco mainstays have gotten off to slow starts. Scott Garrelts, who last year became the first National League pitcher since John Candelaria in 1977 to lead the league in both ERA and winning percentage, was 1-3 with a 5.58 ERA at week's end. Rick Reuschel, who won 17 games in '89, was 2-4. Closer Steve Bedrosian (0-3, six saves, 5.51 ERA) was hit hard early in the season, shortly after he learned that his 2½-year-old son, Cody, has leukemia. The boy's condition has improved recently, and so has his father's pitching.
San Francisco has also missed reliever Craig Lefferts, who signed with the Padres as a free agent in the off-season. Through Sunday, the Giants bullpen was 3-8, and the staff as a whole ranked 11th in the league in ERA (4.65). According to Craig, the Giants have looked for pitching "in both leagues and Japan." But he added, "When people know you're desperate for pitching, they want to steal from you."
Rosen agrees. "There is no surplus of pitching out there," he says. "The Mets don't have a surplus. Neither do the Angels. The pitchers people offer us aren't impact players. I don't think there's one trade that can turn us around. That's why I'll be choosy."
Rosen could deal one of his shortstops, Jose Uribe or Ernest Riles, but he is hesitant to break up the rest of his everyday lineup, even though some of his players have slipped. Second baseman Robby Thompson, who batted .207 after the All-Star break last year, was hitting .208 at week's end. And as of Sunday, Mitchell had only 15 RBIs, despite his eight homers.
Still, Craig is optimistic. "I know we're going to score runs," he says. "I know we're going to catch the ball. I know there's a lot of time left."
Perhaps, but with a weak pitching staff and Cincinnati's lead, time is running out.
Mets rightfielder Darryl Strawberry may be less mercurial than he was before undergoing alcohol rehabilitation in the off-season, but he's off to a slow start (.228, four homers, 13 RBIs through Sunday), and that has made him—and many of his teammates—wonder if he has mellowed too much. "Because of the change in me, some of that killer in me is gone," says Strawberry. "I'm not the old vocal Darryl anymore, and it might be affecting the way I produce. I've got to get myself to be less humble and more nasty. The A.A. [Alcoholics Anonymous] meetings help me keep my sobriety, but they make me mellow. I'm going to start changing, get myself a mean attitude."
Phillies pitcher Dickie Noles says he knows what Strawberry is going through. He underwent rehabilitation for alcohol abuse in 1983 and attended A.A. meetings for a year thereafter. "Darryl is going to be better in the long run," says Noles, "but for the first few months after you come out, you're more concerned about your sobriety than your aggressiveness on the baseball field."
Noles is nowhere near as talented as Strawberry-through Sunday his 11-year career record was 36-53—yet few have played baseball more aggressively. "They said when I came out of rehab that I'd win 20 games because I was straight, but I got worse," says Noles. "My first year out, I put pressure on myself. When you do that, the slumps and struggles are magnified. But I got over it. Now guys will tell you that at 60 feet, six inches, I'm still the same guy. Darryl will be too. But I agree and disagree with him. I never thought he was a really aggressive player in the first place."
Defense at second base is as strong throughout the major leagues today as it ever has been. At the top is the Cubs' Ryne Sandberg, whose remarkable streak of errorless games ended at 123 with an errant throw last Friday. Going into the season, Sandberg had the highest lifetime fielding percentage (.9891) for second basemen with a minimum of 1,000 games. The next three players on the list are also active: the Phillies' Tom Herr (.9886), the Brewers' Jim Gantner (.9850) and the Royals' Frank White (.9842).
Sandberg's streak ended when he barehanded a ground ball hit by the Astros' Eric Anthony that had deflected off first baseman Mark Grace's glove. Sandberg made an off-balance throw that skipped between Grace and pitcher Mike Harkey, who was running toward the bag. "It's a shame it had to end on such a weak error," says Grace. "A lot of guys would have stopped and not tried to make the play, but not Ryno."
WHAT A KRUK!
The Phillies, who finished last in the National League East last year with a 67-95 record, are off to a surprisingly good start (20-16 at week's end). They're not surprised, however. "You people wrote how——we were all winter, and we had to read it," said outfielder John Kruk, referring to the press, "but we have 25 guys who think we can win. We've got everyone together now. By the time we got to know each other last year [during which the Phils made four trades involving 14 players], the season was over."
...The struggling Rangers, who are desperate for middle relief help, have listened to offers for starting pitcher Bobby Witt. Although Witt has tremendous potential, you begin to wonder if he will ever realize his promise. At week's end he was 1-5 with a 6.08 ERA, and his career record was 40-47....
The Indians have a chance to contend in the American League East, but only if ace lefthander Greg Swindell bounces back. As of Sunday he was 2-6 with a 6.03 ERA in 14 starts since coming off the disabled list in August 1989. No one is sure what's wrong with him....
The remarkable recovery of pitcher Scott Bankhead has the Mariners excited. Bankhead, who was 14-6 in '89, was supposed to be sidelined for three months with a shoulder injury, but doctors reexamined his arm last week and decided he could pitch immediately....
It's time to face the fact that Kansas City outfielder Bo Jackson is still very raw. Although at week's end he was batting .268, 22 points above his career average, he had only four homers and was still botching plays in the outfield. "Bo could be a great player, but he'll only be a good player until he gives up football," says one scout. "By playing football, he can't even think baseball at any time other than the baseball season. I wish he'd quit football so we could see how great he can be."
BETWEEN THE LINES
LAST PICTURE SHOW
On May 15, Phillies pitchers Don Carman and Terry Mulholland missed a pre-game meeting in San Diego because they were at the movies. Phils manager Nick Leyva fined them each $50, and their teammates dubbed them Siskel and Ebert. Carman and Mulholland also got hit up for $49 apiece by the club's kangaroo court, and their fellow pitchers had them pay $10 each for "embarrassing" the staff. The movie? Tequila Sunrise. "You can watch that one free on TV," said Leyva, laughing. "You made it the most expensive matinee in history." Carman could only smile. "Wow, $109—that's a lot for a movie," he said. "Plus, we both had popcorn. That's $110. But the movie only cost 99 cents."
THE HOUSE THAT DON BUILT
Last Tuesday, Don Mattingly became the 11th player to hit 100 homers at Yankee Stadium. By Sunday he had 102, 60% of his 168 career total. The alltime Yankee percentage leader is Bill Dickey, who hit 67% of his 202 career homers in the Stadium. Babe Ruth got 39% of his 659 Yankee homers there, Joe DiMaggio 41% of his 361 and Mickey Mantle 50% of his 536. Among active players, the Braves' Dale Murphy has the most homers in one park: 201 of his 359 in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. The record, though, is held by Giants Hall of Famer Mel Ott, who hit 323 of his 511 homers at the Polo Grounds.
FREAK INJURIES OF THE WEEK
•On May 14, Rangers outfielder Ruben Sierra sprained his left ankle on an escalator in a shopping mall. The injury ended his streak of 325 consecutive games. He returned to action three days later.
•Pirate lefty John Smiley broke his pitching hand in Atlanta on May 19, when he slammed a taxi door on it. He will miss at least a month.
•Last Saturday, Mets catcher Mackey Sasser accidentally set a chair down on Dwight Gooden's left foot, then sat on it, injuring the pitcher's middle toe. As of Sunday, the Mets had yet to decide whether Gooden would miss any turns.
KING FOR A DAY
The Mariners' backup shortstop, Brian Giles, knocked in seven runs last Thursday in a 14-6 victory over the Blue Jays. Not bad considering that in his previous 88 major league at bats, over three seasons, Giles had had only four RBIs. At the time, Giles's seven-RBI spree was the best of any in the American League this season. "I don't know if it will stand up all year, but it's something I'll cherish for the rest of my life," said Giles. As of Sunday, it was standing up—sort of. Last Saturday, Tom Brunansky of the Red Sox drove in seven runs.
BY THE NUMBERS
•Mike Greenwell of the Red Sox was hitless in his first 29 at bats with runners in scoring position. That's surprising because going into the season Greenwell was averaging 20.6 RBIs per 100 at bats in his career, the highest percentage among active players.
•As of Sunday, the Yankees' Wayne Tolleson (0 for 5) and the Blue Jays' Tom Lawless (0 for 9) were the only two nonpitchers who had spent the entire season on an active roster without getting a hit. Lawless is a two-time winner of the last-to-get-a-hit competition, in 1987 and '88. In the former season he went hitless all the way to Aug. 12.
•The Royals' Rey Palacios broke out of the no-hit club in style. His first hit of the year was an extra-inning grand slam off Red Sox pitcher Jeff Reardon on May 14.
•The Expos were 3-6 on their most recent road trip despite outscoring opponents 41-35.
QUICK OFF THE LINE
Through May 19