If Arizona misses the playoffs, Showalter could be shown the door
Even after losing two of three games to the Braves last weekend,
the Diamondbacks boasted the 10th-best record in baseball and,
with 15 games to play, had a shot at winning at least 90 games in
back-to-back seasons, something only eight organizations did in
the past decade. As one Arizona veteran says, "How many clubs
would love to be in that position?"
Most, but, as owner Jerry Colangelo has made clear, the
Diamondbacks are not most clubs. Most clubs don't win 100 games
and a division title in their second year, as Arizona did last
season. Most don't jack up their payroll as the Diamondbacks
have--from $30 million at the start of 1998 to $81 million this
season--despite a 16% drop in attendance. Finally, most clubs
don't trot out the likes of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling two
out of every five games. "We created our own expectations with
the year we had last year and the players we have," says Arizona
third baseman Matt Williams. "We know we don't have as many wins
as we should."
The failure to meet those expectations--the Diamondbacks, 9 1/2
games behind the Giants through Sunday, were essentially out of
the National League West race and trailed the Mets by five in the
wild-card race--and sluggish play down the stretch (23-23 since
acquiring Schilling on July 26) may well cost manager Buck
Showalter his job. Speculation continues in Phoenix that
Showalter, who has two years left on his contract, will be canned
if Arizona misses the playoffs, and Colangelo's
less-than-forceful refutation of that talk has done little to
turn down the heat. "We're all hired to win championships, not to
be competitive," says Showalter, who insists there's no animosity
between him and Colangelo. "I don't understand anyone who thinks
he shouldn't be held accountable."
There are several reasons for the Diamondbacks' failure to repeat
their 1999 run. Williams broke his right foot in spring training
and has hobbled through the season with foot and leg ailments;
through Sunday he had played only 82 games, hit seven home runs,
knocked in 29 runs and batted .146 with runners in scoring
position. Righthander Todd Stottlemyre has been effective when
healthy, but he has spent more than two months on the disabled
list with elbow pain and was only 9-6 with a 4.73 ERA. First
baseman Erubiel Durazo had season-ending wrist surgery last
month. Closer Matt Mantei has endured two stints on the disabled
list with biceps tendinitis and shoulder pain and had just 15
saves. Second baseman Jay Bell, after setting career highs with
38 homers and 112 RBIs in 1999, had come back to earth: He had
only 16 homers and 62 RBIs.
The Diamondbacks will face the Giants eight times in the final
two weeks, but, without any head-to-head chances to make up
ground on the Mets, Arizona's postseason prospects are dim. "In a
lot of parks the out-of-town scores are right behind me, and
every time I hear a click, I turn around," leftfielder Luis
Gonzalez said before the Diamondbacks' win over Atlanta last
Friday. "This isn't the scenario we pictured when spring training
The Real Crash Davis
Better Late Than Never
There are two types of September call-ups: topflight prospects
getting their feet wet in the majors and minor league lifers
granted a few weeks of big league meal money in recognition of
their toil on the farm. It's safe to say that Adam Hyzdu
(pronounced HIGHS-doo), a former first-round pick of the Giants,
falls into the latter category. On Sept. 8, Hyzdu, a 28-year-old
outfielder, made his major league debut, with the Pirates--he
singled in his first plate appearance--after 1,208 games and more
than 4,200 at bats in the minors.
A moment of joy, right? Try relief. "You have to understand how
many times over the years people have asked me why I'd never
played in the majors," says Hyzdu, who after being drafted in
1990 spent time in the Giants', Reds', Red Sox' and Diamondbacks'
systems as well as with the Monterrey Sultans of the Mexican
League. "I know their intentions were good, but it was tough to
have that question asked over and over."
Of course, many players would kill for the success Hyzdu has had.
Batting .253 with only 12.8 home runs a year in his first five
full seasons kept him in the minors, but in the past two years
with the Altoona Curve, the Pirates' Double A affiliate, Hyzdu
had 55 homers and 184 RBIs. On Sept. 4 the Curve even retired his
number, 16. "Altoona fans were E-mailing the Pirates and telling
them I should be in Pittsburgh," says Hyzdu, a graduate of
Cincinnati's Moeller High, where he broke Ken Griffey Jr.'s
career home run record. "I wondered why I was still in Double A.
I didn't feel I had anything left to prove."
They Keep Changing Sox
Red Sox manager Jimy Williams used 24 players in a 7-6 defeat of
the Tigers last Friday as the two teams combined to deploy 42
players, tying the league record for a nine-inning game. The next
day Williams, whose favorite explanation for his frequent
substitutions is "They're all major leaguers, so why not use 'em
all," called on 28 Red Sox in a doubleheader split with Detroit.
Included in that total was starting pitcher Steve Ontiveros, who
last pitched in the majors in 1995, and seven others who weren't
part of the Boston organization as of the All-Star break. On
Sunday, in a 5-4 loss to the Tigers, Williams used 19 players.
All told, 32 players appeared for the Red Sox in the four-game
Sept. 21-24: A's at Mariners
The American League West race could be settled by this four-game
series. The teams are evenly matched offensively (the A's were
hitting .269 through Sunday and averaging 5.7 runs, the Mariners
.270 and 5.6), but Oakland won six of the first nine meetings
between the teams by roughing up Seattle's usually superior
pitching. The Mariners ranked third in the league with a 4.47
ERA, but against the A's this season that mark soared to 6.05.
The reason? Oakland's patience. Seattle's staff averaged 5.9
walks per nine innings against the A's, just 3.8 against the rest
of the league.
Which Guy for the Cy?
At the All-Star break the Diamondbacks' Randy Johnson was 14-2
with a 1.80 ERA and cruising toward his second straight National
League Cy Young Award. However, a second-half swoon (4-4, 3.35
ERA), mirroring that of his team, has brought renewed drama to
the race. Here's how the contenders stack up (all stats through
PITCHER, TEAM RECORD, ERA OPPONENTS
Tom Glavine (left), BRAVES 19-8, 3.58 Mets, Expos, Rockies
SKINNY: Clutch victories--10-3 since All-Star break, 9-2 after
Atlanta losses--give Glavine edge over Big Unit.
Randy Johnson, DIAMONDBACKS 18-6, 2.38 Dodgers, Rockies, Giants
SKINNY: Gaudy stats--leading the league in ERA and strikeouts
(326), third in batting average against (.217)--but a mere
8-5 against teams with winning records.
Greg Maddux, BRAVES 17-8, 3.09 Mets, Rockies, Mets
SKINNY: Tied for the league lead in shutouts with three
but surrendered at least four earned runs in nine starts.
Darryl Kile, CARDINALS 19-9, 3.75 Cubs, Padres
SKINNY: Tied for the league lead in victories but has counted
on solid offensive support (4.9 runs per start) to compensate
for highest ERA among the leading candidates.
the HOT corner
Expos manager Felipe Alou said last week that if he were the
Phillies' skipper, he would yank lefthander Omar Daal (3-19
through Sunday) from the rotation before he becomes the first
pitcher to lose 20 games in a season since A's righty Brian
Kingman in 1980. "You carry that the rest of your life," said
Alou. Phillies manager Terry Francona's reply: "I have a ton of
respect for Felipe Alou, but I'll handle the pitching here. I
think [Daal] will get more out of pitching, whether he wins or
loses, than from sitting."...
Through Sunday, Royals outfielder Johnny Damon, hitting .412
since the All-Star break, had nearly as many four-hit games
(eight) as hitless ones (11) in the second half of the season....
The Cardinals began this week needing 16 stolen bases in their
final 12 games to keep alive their streak of 100-steal seasons.
St. Louis had at least 100 thefts in every nonstrike year from
1979 to '99....
When Blue Jays righthander Kelvim Escobar moved to the bullpen
last month, he replaced his four-seam fastball, which he says
gave him more control, with a two-seamer with more movement. The
change worked: 7-13 with a 5.42 ERA as a starter, Escobar was
3-1 with a 4.26 ERA in relief through Sunday, and his
strikeout-to-walk ratio had jumped from 1.5 to 4.0.