Catch This The incomparable Pudge Rodriguez leads a youthful cast of midseason all-stars, but in a game of 20 questions about what lies ahead this year, his Rangers don't figure

July 16, 2000

The American League East has been the Boardwalk-Park Place corner
of the baseball world ever since the first wild cards were handed
out, in 1995. The Orioles (one), the Yankees (two) and the Red
Sox (two) have grabbed all five American League wild cards. The
Yankees, rich Uncle Pennybags themselves, have just about
monopolized the World Series in that time, winning three of the
past four and spending a record $103 million (so far) this year
trying to win another.

Likewise, no team other than the Indians has won the AL Central
or the Braves the NL East since '95. The Yankees-Indians-Braves
bloc has seized eight of the 10 World Series slots since the
six-division format began. Only one team in that time--the Astros,
in 1997 and '98--even made the playoffs without carrying one of
the top 10 payrolls in baseball.

This season, to the probable chagrin of commissioner and
competitive-imbalance expert Bud Selig, the game has changed. The
Rockies (11th in payroll), the Mariners (15th), the Angels
(16th), the Giants (18th), the Blue Jays (20th), the Athletics
(25th) and the White Sox (26th) are all firmly positioned to make
a run for the playoffs without throwing around Monopoly money.
With some welcome uncertainty in the air for the second half of
the 2000 season, it's become a game of 20 questions. We have the
answers.

1. Who will be the MVPs?

Seattle shortstop Alex Rodriguez has the stick of Willie Mays,
the glove of Luis Aparicio and the charm of Ricky Martin. Now
he'll get his first, but not his last, MVP trophy as long as he
doesn't have any lingering effects from a concussion he suffered
in a collision at second base last Friday. The same can be said
for Mets catcher Mike Piazza, who should recover from his beaning
by Roger Clemens a night later to win the NL award.

2. Randy Johnson or Pedro Martinez?

Arizona's Johnson over 33 starts. Boston's Martinez in October.

3. David Wells or gravity?

The Blue Jays' Wells. He went 5-1 in the last month of '99, loves
pitching in big games and, at 37, smells his first 20-win season.

4. Would that make him the oldest pitcher to win 20 games for the
first time?

Yes.

5. Will that kid in centerfield for the Reds ever hit?

Since the last All-Star break, Ken Griffey Jr. has hit .247 in
576 at bats with fewer doubles than Denny Hocking, but he's
become a pure home run hitter who will push Mark McGwire to the
end.

6. Why do we care about every start by Jose Lima?

We like rubbernecking. The Astros righthander could become the
first 20-game loser since Brian Kingman in 1980, and he could
break Bert Blyleven's '86 record of throwing 50 gopher balls.
He's bound to have a change in luck--like getting the chicken pox,
which would keep him out for a month.

7. Is there one good reason to watch the Brewers?

No, unless you'd like to watch their pitchers challenge the major
league record of 827 walks, set by the 1915 Athletics, in which
case you really need to get out of the house more.

8. Will the Rockies become the eighth NL team to score 1,000
runs?

No. They won't see the playoffs, either, without finding a way to
win on the road.

9. What's the most overlooked challenge to a major record this
year?

Darin Erstad's march toward 257 hits, the record set by George
Sisler 80 years ago. Anaheim's Erstad, with 144 at the break,
will come up just short.

10. Who will be the biggest name traded this month?

The Dodgers' Todd Hollandsworth, whose name is so long the first
and last H's on the back of his uniform often get lost under his
armpits. Otherwise, it could be the Indians' Manny Ramirez.

11. Why would Cleveland trade him?

The Indians won't catch the White Sox, so rather than keep their
fingers crossed for a wild-card berth, they can retool for next
year. Oakland (McGwire), Toronto (Roger Clemens, Shawn Green),
the White Sox (Roberto Hernandez, Albert Belle) and Seattle
(Griffey) all became better teams in a short time by shedding
star players. Texas (Juan Gonzalez) also tried but stumbled.

12. Who else will be traded?

Phillies righthander Andy Ashby and first baseman Rico Brogna,
Rangers first baseman David Segui, Orioles catcher Charles
Johnson, Pirates righthanded starter Jose Silva and Rangers
righthanded closer John Wetteland.

13. Why not Sammy Sosa?

The Cubs missed their opportunity in June talks with the Yankees.
Now Sosa is less attractive to teams, who'd rather wait to sign
premier free agents without giving up players.

14. Who will succeed Griffey as the AL home run champion?

Toronto first baseman Carlos Delgado, who will cruise at 55.

15. What's so great about Scott Sauerbeck, and does it go well
with brats?

Sauerbeck is a Pittsburgh lefthander who has pitched 40 1/3
innings this year without allowing a home run--the most in the
majors this season.

16. Can Todd Helton or Nomar Garciaparra hit .400?

Not Colorado's Helton--the first batting title is always the
toughest--but Boston's Garciaparra, whose taut muscles seem to
twang like guitar strings (and might be similarly prone to
occasional snapping), can do it if he does what George Brett did
when Brett hit .390 in 1980: miss 45 games. If that happens,
though, no postseason chowdah for the Bosox.

17. Does anybody get fewer key hits than Luis (four RBIs)
Castillo of the Marlins?

Not even watchpaintdry.com.

18. Which league is superior?

The National, where the Braves, Cardinals, Diamondbacks and Mets
are capable of winning it all. Atlanta will get back to the World
Series, unless Arizona swings a deal for a big righthanded stick
such as Ramirez.

19. Will the Yankees win it all again?

Nope. An aging pitching staff and a lack of patient, clutch
hitting will doom them.

20. So this means the White Sox will win their first World Series
since 1917?

Uh, no. Yankees manager Joe Torre couldn't identify a picture of
James Baldwin earlier this season. ("An old Yankee?" Torre
guessed.) Neither Baldwin, bless his anonymous mug, nor anyone
else is about to outduel the great Martinez in October.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBERT BECK COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS

Roaring 20s

If Abbie Hoffman was right about people older then 30, then this
is a highly trustworthy SI Midseason All-Star Team. Only four of
the 11 players have passed their 30th birthday. The other seven
are between 21 and 28, which means you can trust that this won't
be the last time you'll be seeing them here.

POS PLAYER, AGE, TEAM

C Ivan Rodriguez, 28, Rangers
SKINNY
Pudge gets the slightest edge over Mike Piazza because of
superior defense and more extra-base hits. Rodriguez could join
Johnny Bench (1974) as the only catchers ever to lead their
league in total bases.

1B Todd Helton, 26, Rockies
[SKINNY]
It's not easy to beat out another potentially historic season by
Mark McGwire, but the National League leader in batting average
and runs also has 47 more hits, 43 more total bases and 25 more
runs than Big Mac.

2B Jeff Kent, 32, Giants
[SKINNY]
With 85 RBIs, the perennially underappreciated Kent is well on
his way to topping 120 for the third time in the last four years.
No other second baseman has knocked in 120 runs even once in the
past 50 years.

SS Alex Rodriguez, 24, Mariners
[SKINNY]
He keeps getting better, showing career-best patience at the
plate (56 walks) and career-best play afield (only three
errors). With 24 homers, he's on pace to top his career high
(42) and threaten Ernie Banks's mark for shortstops (47).

3B Chipper Jones, 28, Braves
[SKINNY]
At the break the ever-consistent Jones (above) led all third
basemen in on-base percentage (.423) and slugging percentage
(.621), was second in batting average (.325), RBIs (64) and
walks (50), and was third in home runs (21).

LF Gary Sheffield, 31, Dodgers
[SKINNY]
Darin Erstad, down the freeway in Anaheim, is a hit machine, yet
Sheffield still has a higher on-base percentage and has scored
more runs while putting up the biggest power numbers of his
career.

CF Jim Edmonds, 30, Cardinals
[SKINNY]
His phenomenal on-base (.452) and slugging (.655) percentages,
plus his usual terrific glovework, give him the edge in a deep
field that includes Bernie Williams, Andruw Jones, Steve Finley,
Carl Everett and Brian Giles.

RF Vladimir Guerrero, 24, Expos
[SKINNY]
He is the game's most dangerous hitter because he can hit for
power (49 extra-base hits, including 23 homers) and average
while putting good wood on any pitch--no matter how far out of
the strike zone it may be.

RHP Pedro Martinez, 28, Red Sox
[SKINNY]
The ERA of all American League pitchers is 4.99. Martinez's is
less than one third of that, at 1.44. One of the game's fiercest
competitors has allowed only four hits in 63 at bats with
runners in scoring position.

LHP Randy Johnson, 36, Diamondbacks
[SKINNY]
The Big Unit turns 37 in September, but he's as good as ever,
averaging more than 12 strikeouts per nine innings. Over the
past three-plus seasons he has more wins than does Martinez (70
to 68) and has been more durable.

Reliever Byung-Hyun Kim, 21, Diamondbacks
[SKINNY]
The worst All-Star Game snub of them all. Hitters have whiffed
in almost half their at bats against the Korean righthander (71
of 148), and he has permitted only 23 hits in 42 2/3 innings.

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)