Sixty home runs is headed to the endangered list of magic
numbers, right next to the four-minute mile, the 1,000-yard
season and One Hour Martinizing. That's the conclusion that can
be drawn from the relative quiet that has accompanied Sammy Sosa
and his 32 home runs at the All-Star break. After all, last year
the country went gaga when the Chicago Cubs' outfielder hit the
break with the eye-popping total of...uh, 33, four behind Mark
McGwire. Even Tampa Bay Devil Rays designated hitter Jose
Canseco, whose career high is 46 bombs, barely raised eyebrows
by getting halfway to 60 midway through the '99 schedule.
Admit it. In the year after the Great Home Run Race, you need a
reason to get jacked for the second half of the season. You
haven't stayed up late for updates on what ought to be dubbed
the Year of the Middle Reliever, what with the New York Mets'
Dennis Cook, the Cleveland Indians' Steve Karsay, the Anaheim
Angels' Mark Petkovsek, the Boston Red Sox' John Wasdin, the
Cincinnati Reds' Scott Williamson and the Texas Rangers' Jeff
Zimmerman combining for a 44-12 record. You don't talk at the
watercooler about whether Indians outfielder Manny Ramirez can
eclipse Hack Wilson's RBI record, though you occasionally ponder
how Wilson, dead 51 years, has ended up with more RBIs this
season than injured Houston Astros outfielder Moises Alou. You
don't expect any blockbuster trades, not when Oakland A's
lefthander Kenny Rogers has replaced the Arizona Diamondbacks'
Randy Johnson as the most sought-after pitcher in baseball. You
tend to keep to yourself the perverse pleasure of seeing the
Baltimore Orioles and the Los Angeles Dodgers go bust after
running up combined payrolls of nearly $160 million, the same
way you snicker when you see the guy in the fancy Italian suit
on the side of the highway with the hood up on his Mercedes.
Therefore, as a public service to beat the been-there, done-that
blues, we offer a look at what's ahead for the rest of the
season. Think of it as gazing into a cushioned cork-center
crystal ball, the sort of ball that batters have evidently
consulted all year before facing the Philadelphia Phillies' Chad
Ogea or the Seattle Mariners' Jeff Fassero. Both will challenge
but not quite reach Bert Blyleven's 1986 record of serving up 50
homers in a season.
The best place to begin our soothsaying is with Sosa and his
encore performance. "I'm the type who won't really look at the
numbers until the year is over," Sammy says. Well, look here:
The crystal ball says Sosa will accumulate 400 total bases for a
second straight season. Only Chuck Klein (1929-30), Lou Gehrig
(1930-31) and Jimmie Foxx (1932-33) have ever done that. As for
Sammy's home run tally, he'll succeed at putting up back-to-back
60-somethings, numbers previously unique to the PGA Tour and CBS
prime-time stars. He'll benefit from the schedule--after the
break the Cubs play 47 of 78 games in friendly Wrigley Field.
With home runs up 10% from last season, it seems everybody and
his grandfather has a shot at 40 dingers. Harold Baines, 40,
isn't grandparent material just yet, but the Baltimore DH was
aiming to give new meaning to the term 40-40 player. Even though
he won't become the oldest player to match his age in homers,
Baines still will break the record for most homers by a player
in his 40s, set by 40-year-old Darrell Evans with 34 in 1987.
The most significant batting records will be chased by Ramirez
and Houston's Craig Biggio, whose 38 doubles give him a shot at
Earl Webb's record of 67 two-baggers--set in 1931, the year
after Wilson put up his 191 RBIs (a total thought to be 190
until a recent review of old box scores and news accounts upped
his total by one). Neither will get there, though Ramirez's
Indians will become the greatest scoring machine in American
League history, surpassing the 1,067 runs of the 1931 Yankees.
Oddly enough, pitchers (remember them?) will steal the
spotlight. Boston ace Pedro Martinez (15-3, 2.10 ERA at the
break) will come close to becoming the first in 31 years to win
30 games. Alas, his worst career month is September (7-11).
However, Martinez will still finish with an ERA far lower than
his league's ERA and eclipse the record differential of 2.65 set
by Greg Maddux in 1994.
Johnson won't set any ERA records, but he'll surpass Nolan
Ryan's 1973 record of 383 strikeouts in a season. The Big Unit
reached the break with 211. The crystal ball says he'll finish
What baseball needs most is a great pennant race. We can offer
little encouragement here. In the four years after the major
leagues were split into six divisions, 20 of the 24 teams in
first place at the All-Star break also finished there. This is
good news for the New York Yankees, the Indians and the Rangers,
who will easily stay atop the American League East, Central and
West, respectively. Texas will open up its lead thanks to a
favorable schedule. The Rangers play 45 of their remaining 75
games at home and have only seven games left on the road against
teams with winning records. The Seattle Mariners are willing to
trade just about anyone, including hot pitching prospect Ryan
Anderson, in hopes not only of catching the Rangers but also of
persuading Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez that they should
stick around Seattle beyond next year.
Cleveland will trade for a lefthander--Rogers, the Angels' Chuck
Finley and the Toronto Blue Jays' David Wells top their wish
list--specifically to help them get by the Yankees in October.
New York was only 7-7 when it faced a lefthanded starter, its
karma has been askew all season, and it doesn't have the
pitching depth to hold down the Indians' offense. Cleveland will
get a bigger scare out of Martinez and his wild-card Red Sox.
In the National League, East-leading Atlanta, with starters Tom
Glavine and Maddux back on track, will remain the class of the
field while other contenders scramble for pitching.
Bullpen-challenged Arizona strengthened itself last Friday by
adding closer Matt Mantei in a trade with the Florida Marlins,
but the San Francisco Giants' bullpen depth will give them an
edge in the West.
In the Central, Houston will be a much stronger second-half team
with the return from injuries of leftfielder Alou and third
baseman Ken Caminiti. That will leave the Reds to battle the
Diamondbacks, Mets and Phillies for the wild card. Philadelphia
will end a streak of five-straight losing seasons since winning
the pennant, a skid exceeded only by the 1919 to '33 Red Sox and
the 1915 to '24 Philadelphia Athletics. The Mets, who must play
their nemesis, Atlanta, six times in their final 12 games, will
find for a third straight year that 88 wins aren't enough. The
wild card will fall to the team with the best starting pitching,
which will be Arizona, once Todd Stottlemyre returns from a
Our crystal ball has been known to get opaque at times, making
forecasting as difficult as figuring out what One Hour
Martinizing actually is. Picking against pitching, though, is a
clear mistake. In the World Series, the Braves are armed well
enough to shut down even the mighty Indians in seven games.