Tom Verducci's View

August 01, 2004

CLOSER DU JOUR

The Giants are scrambling to find a closer, such as Jose Mesa of
the Pirates or Ugueth Urbina of the Tigers, now that the clock
has struck midnight for early-season surprise Matt Herges (left),
middleman Jim Brower has already worked in a career-high 55 games
and setup man Felix Rodriguez continues to have a ninth-inning
phobia. The need to replace Herges--who had 22 saves through
Sunday, but had a 13.50 ERA and .514 opponents' batting average
since July 1--is more proof that closers are as disposable as NFL
placekickers.

Only five teams are using the same closer they had at the start
of last season: the Angels (Troy Percival), Braves (John Smoltz),
Dodgers (Eric Gagne), Orioles (Jorge Julio) and Yankees (Mariano
Rivera). More commonly, teams stumble upon a hot arm and ride it
as long as possible. Not just anyone can save 25 games in a
season--it only seems that way. Since 2001, 41 pitchers have
saved 25 games in a season. More than half of them (21) are no
longer closers, including such luminaries as Juan Acevedo,
Antonio Alfonseca and Mike DeJean.

GONE WITH THE WIND

What's up at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago? Home run rates. The
erstwhile Comiskey Park was surrendering 3.19 homers per game,
the highest rate in the majors and up 18.6% from last year.
Conspiracy theorists point to renovations at the top of the
stadium, where eight rows of seats were removed and an
old-fashioned partial roof was installed, creating more favorable
air currents for hitters. (Paul Konerko, right, leads the Sox
with 26 homers.) Or maybe it's just a Chicago thing. The park
with the third most home runs per game was Wrigley Field (2.76).

LIGHTS OUT IN HOUSTON

The Astros have not responded to manager Phil Garner (left), who
replaced Jimy Williams on July 14 and was 5-5. "They made the
move too late," says an NL executive. Williams was canned after
88 games this year. Only two teams replaced their manager later
in the season than the Astros and made the playoffs: the 1932
Cubs (after 99 games) and 1978 Yankees (94). In both cases the
teams replaced overbearing managers (Rogers Hornsby and Billy
Martin, respectively) with easygoing ones who were popular with
the players (Charlie Grimm and Bob Lemon).

IT CAN'T GET MUCH WORSE

The Diamondbacks were putting up some oddly horrific numbers
through Sunday, such as a 2-19 record under interim manager Al
Pedrique, a 6-28 record when they face lefthanded starters and a
Prairie View-like 1-15 record on Saturdays. Arizona's signature
flaw, however, is its knack for losing close games. The
Diamondbacks were 6-22 in games decided by one run, including
0-11 since June 20. Only the 1935 Braves finished a season with a
worse record in such games. Here are the five teams with the
worst records in one-run games since 1901.

Team W-L PCT.

1935 Braves 7-31 .184

2004 D-Backs 6-22 .214

1937 Browns 10-31 .244

1999 Royals 11-32 .256

1916 A's 11-32 .256

THREE STRIKES

1. The Dodgers could use another bat, but they've established
themselves as the favorites to win the NL West because of their
bullpen. As one NL G.M. says, "You're pretty much done when they
get a lead." L.A. relievers had lost only seven games.

2. Still not convinced Orioles third baseman Melvin Mora is an
elite hitter? The top three righthanded hitters in the majors as
ranked by on-base plus slugging percentage: Boston's Manny
Ramirez (1.062), St. Louis's Albert Pujols (1.053) and Mora
(1.001).

3. The Phillies, a half game out of the NL East lead despite
mediocre starting pitching, went 8-2 in only one 10-game stretch
through their first 98 games, and not since May 15.

COLOR PHOTO: MARK GOLDMAN/ICON SMI (HERGES) COLOR PHOTO: DAVID DUROCHIK/SPORTPICS (KONERKO) COLOR PHOTO: JOSH MERWIN (GARNER)

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)