Search

Inside Baseball

June 03, 2002
June 03, 2002

Table of Contents
June 3, 2002

Inside Baseball

Reality Check
A shakeup aims to give the lumbering A's a jump start

This is an article from the June 3, 2002 issue Original Layout

What's happened to the A's? The easy answer: Jason Giambi bolted
Oakland for the Yankees, and without its spiritual leader last
year's American League wild card, a scrappy, maturing team, fell
apart. That makes for a simple Goliath-over-David story, but
while the struggling offense certainly misses Giambi's bat,
there's more to the tale than that. Even after sweeping the
Devil Rays over the weekend, the A's were 23-26 and in third
place, nine games behind the West-leading Mariners. They have
underachieved thanks to a rotation that hasn't performed up to
its reputation, a rash of injuries and a lack of speed.

Last week general manager Billy Beane addressed the last issue
with a roster shakeup. First he demoted .218-hitting rookie
first baseman Carlos Pena and two fading veterans, second
baseman Frank Menechino and setup man Jeff Tam, to Triple A
Sacramento. Then Beane traded leftfielder and leadoff hitter
Jeremy Giambi to the Phillies for John Mabry, a utilityman and
pinch hitter. "We're not going through a radical change," Beane
says. "The core of this team is still very good."

But Beane was sending a shape-up-or-else message to the
remaining A's. "They said they were going to do this, and they
weren't bluffing," said third baseman Eric Chavez. "Everyone
comes into the clubhouse and kind of looks around now."

With Oakland batting .254 and ranked eighth in the league in
scoring (4.6 runs per game) at week's end, the moves were also
an attempt at altering the club's offensive style, which has
consisted of getting on first base and waiting to be driven in
by a homer. Hence the departure of Jeremy Giambi, who this
spring was installed at leadoff and in leftfield despite having
the speed and mobility of the Bay Bridge. Giambi did have a
strong .390 on-base percentage, but in Beane's eyes Giambi's
limited defensive ability far outweighed his contribution at the
plate.

The new leadoff hitter and second baseman is 24-year-old Esteban
German, who last season stole 48 bases in the minors. "German is
a work in progress, but he gives us speed," says Beane. (German
stole a base in his fourth game, his only steal at week's end.)
Adam Piatt, a topflight prospect and a far more athletic player
than Giambi, now patrols leftfield.

A slew of stolen bases and running catches won't matter,
however, if the rotation, the team's supposed strength, doesn't
sort itself out. At week's end Oakland had the league's
third-highest starters' ERA (4.96). Ace lefthander Mark Mulder
(6.96 ERA) and the fourth starter, righthander Cory Lidle
(5.24), have spent time on the DL. The No. 2 starter,
righthander Tim Hudson (3-6, 4.60), has struggled with his
command at times. "He has an Atlas mentality," says Beane of
Hudson. "If we lose three in a row, he feels like he has to win
all three in one start."

Shawn Green's Homer Binge
May This Bat Rest in Pieces

The bad news for National League pitchers is that Shawn Green
has found his stroke; the good news is that the Dodgers
rightfielder no longer has the services of his charmed bat.
Green set a major league record against the Diamondbacks last
Saturday when he hit his seventh home run in three games, a line
drive into the leftfield stands at Bank One Ballpark off
lefthander Eddie Oropesa in the ninth inning of L.A.'s 10-5
victory. It's hard to say what made the shot most
noteworthy--that Green smashed a record or that he broke his bat
when he hit it.

"It died a hero," Green said of the club, a 34-inch, 32-ounce
Rawlings model that he used to hit all seven of the homers (and
a total of nine in a Sunday-through-Saturday stretch, breaking a
National League mark). The cracked lumber will live on in
Cooperstown.

With his power binge Green also yanked himself out of one of the
worst slumps of his career. All season he had been having
trouble turning on pitches inside. Accordingly, entering the
Dodgers' May 21 game against the Brewers, Green was hitting .231
with three dingers. That day he slammed two homers in the
Dodgers' 8-6 loss to the Brewers at Miller Park. Two days later
at the same venue, Green had one of the greatest offensive games
in history: 6 for 6, four home runs, six runs, seven RBIs and a
major-league-record 19 total bases. "There's no one in the game
that needed it more than I did," he said. "I was getting pretty
down."

Green's reversal of fortune continued over the weekend. Through
Sunday he was 16 for 27 in his last six games and had raised his
average more than 50 points, to .284.

Colorado Comeback
Hurdle Has Rockies Hopping

Often when a new manager takes over a failing club during the
season, the result is a few days of euphoria followed by a rapid
return to the doldrums. A change at the Rockies' helm on April
26, however, still had them rejuvenated on Memorial Day. After
sweeping the Giants in a three-game series at Coors Field,
Colorado was 20-8 under rookie skipper Clint Hurdle, who
replaced the fired Buddy Bell after the club's 6-16 start. The
Rockies' 26-24 record marked the first time they were two games
over .500 in almost a year. "[Hurdle] has done a very good job
as a cheerleader, motivator and positive force," third baseman
Todd Zeile told the Rocky Mountain News.

The clubhouse atmosphere Hurdle has created starkly contrasts
with that under Bell, for whom the Rockies often looked uptight
and unenthused. Hurdle built a close relationship with his
players in five-plus years as the team's hitting coach, and the
players have responded to his rah-rah approach. "He has come in
and made guys loosen up," rightfielder Larry Walker declared to
The Denver Post.

Colorado has also benefited from a startlingly effective
pitching staff. Through Sunday its team ERA (4.13) was the
National League's ninth best, not its worst, as it usually is.
The bullpen had the league's sixth-best relief ERA (3.12). Do
you credit the humidor at Coors Field in which the Rockies store
their baseballs to keep them from drying out, perhaps making
them easier to grip and limiting the distance they fly? The
Rockies (7-14 on the road) will find out: On Monday they began a
stretch in which they'll play 13 of 16 games away from Coors.

COLOR PHOTO: BRAD MANGIN Oakland's problems haven't all been at the plate, as Hudson, among others, has struggled.COLOR PHOTO: TANNEN MAURY/AFP Homer No. 4 on his epic day didn't end Green's onslaughtCOLOR PHOTO: BILL SETLIFF The rangy Upton is projected as another Larkin.

The Other Brother

Philadelphia is the City of Brotherly Love, but the Phillies
have a way of loving the wrong brother. Last week they acquired
outfielder and career .273 hitter Jeremy Giambi, whose more
accomplished sibling is Yankees All-Star first baseman-DH Jason
Giambi. Here are four other Phils who were the less- or
least-heralded member of big league brother combos.

PLAYER, POSITION FAMOUS BROTHER(S) PHILLY PERIOD

Vince DiMaggio, OF Hall of Famer Joe 1945: batted .257,
Seven-time All-Star Dom led NL with 91 Ks

Ken Brett, LHP Hall of Famer George 1973: 13-9, 3.44 ERA

Mike Maddux, RHP Cy Young winner Greg 1986-89: 10-13, 4.51
ERA

Mark Leiter, RHP Two-time All-Star Al 1997-98: league-high
17 losses in '97

High School High

The amateur draft begins on June 4, and at week's end the only
certainty was that there were no surefire top five picks. Why?
For starters, the available college talent is thin, especially
compared with last year, when righthanders Mark Prior (chosen by
the Cubs) and Dewon Brazelton (Devil Rays) and third baseman
Mark Teixeira (Rangers) were locks to be picked among the top
five. This year's draft pool is heavy on high school players
and, therefore, hard to get a handle on. "Because of that, a lot
of teams are still finding their way," says one scouting
director whose team has a pick in the top 10. Here is an
educated guess at the first five selections.

1. Pirates. Bryan Bullington, RHP, Ball State; 6'5", 225 pounds.
Junior's stock has risen in recent weeks thanks to 11-3 record,
2.84 ERA. Sinker-slider pitcher with excellent command.

2. Devil Rays. B.J. Upton, SS, Greenbrier Christian Academy
(Chesapeake, Va.); 6'2", 167. One scouting director calls .614
hitter a "Barry Larkin- or Pokey Reese-type athlete."

3. Reds. Scott Kazmir, LHP, Cypress Falls High (Houston); 6
feet, 178. A Little Unit--fastball blazes at 94 to 97 mph.
Fanned 172 in 74 2/3 innings this season.

4. Orioles. Adam Loewen, LHP, Fraser Valley Christian High
(Surrey, B.C.); 6'6", 215. Another power lefty. Would be first
Canadian ever taken in the top 10.

5. Expos. Chris Gruler, RHP, Liberty High (Brentwood, Calif.);
6'3", 200. Struck out 135 in 66 1/3 innings; named California
high school player of the year.