Johnny Oates fell on his sword Friday, taking the blame for the Texas Rangers' 11-17 start and resigning as manager. That's as it should be. If you look at the talent the Rangers have, you've gotta figure this team should be at least 12-16, and maybe even 13-15.
The Rangers went 71-91 last year with the worst pitching in baseball -- by a lot. Texas had an earned-run average of 5.52, and the Rangers were the only team that gave up more than six runs a game. They were ninth in the 14-team American League in offense last year, but they weren't far behind the sixth best team, which was the Yankees, who achieved some success in the postseason. The Rangers' offense wasn't great, but it was adequate. So what did they do? They went out and got Alex Rodriguez (you might have heard they're paying him a healthy wage), Andres Galarraga, Randy Velarde and Ken Caminiti.
Aside from Caminiti, who's been hurt and, at 38, is probably through, the pickups have done quite nicely. Galarraga's hitting .269 with five homers and 17 RBIs through Thursday, which isn't world-beating but projects out to almost a 30-homer, 100-RBI season. Velarde's hitting .327 in the No. 2 spot, and Rodriguez is hitting .308 with nine home runs, 24 RBIs.
The pitchers the Rangers have added to improve the game's worst staff are Pat Mahomes, Jeff Brantley and Mark Petkovsek, along with rookie R.A. Dickey, a No. 1 pick in 1996. Petkovsek, who had a decent year in the Angels' bullpen last year, has struggled, with a 7.98 ERA, but Mahomes and Brantley have actually improved on their 2000 seasons so far. Mahomes, 5-3 with a 5.46 ERA in 53 games with the Mets, is 1-2 with a 3.72 in eight games this year. Brantley, 2-7 with 23 saves and a 5.86 in 55 games with the Phillies a year ago, has a 3.97 ERA and no record in 10 games this year.
The problem with the Rangers is lousy starting pitching (Kenny Rogers is their best starter so far -- by a lot -- with a 5.71 ERA) complemented by a lousy bullpen, not the manager who took them to the playoffs three times in four years from '96 to '99. The team ERA is 6.72, more than a run worse than the next worst team, the White Sox. It doesn't help that their best player, whose name is Ivan, not Alex, Rodriguez, just went on the disabled list.
Maybe interim manager Jerry Narron has some tricks up his sleeve, but that's an 11-17 team.
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Never is heard a discouraging word
The next time you hear some ballplayer or coach complaining about how the nattering nabobs of negativity in the press always dwell on the bad stuff, never write about the good stuff, here are two words you can shout back at the TV screen or newspaper: Deion Sanders.
Sanders returned to the majors after three and a half years Tuesday and went 3-for-3 with a sacrifice, a home run, a double, three RBIs, two runs scored and a stolen base in his first game for the Cincinnati Reds. He made headlines and news broadcasts coast to coast. The next night he went 0-for-4 and wasn't even a footnote. The night after that, 0-for-5.
Now, imagine if he'd gone 0-for-4 his first night, then 0-for-5, and then the big night. The coverage would have gone like this: footnote, nothing, coast-to-coast headlines.
See? We in the media are always looking for the positive, happy story, the good news, the glad tidings.
Of course, one more 0-for-4 and Sanders is below the Mendoza Line. Then, all bets are off.
My preseason baseball predictions are looking fantastic so far!
Oh, sure, I picked the Minnesota Twins, Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs to finish in last place and they're all in first. Sure, I picked the Oakland A's to win the World Series and they're in last place. Hey, baseball's a funny game. You can't expect to know everything in advance.
But I'm pretty happy with some of my picks. I had the San Diego Padres finishing last in the N.L. West, and, friends, where are they? Last! Oh my! And I picked the Reds to finish second in the Central and win the wild card. They're in second all right, and if the season were to end today, they'd win the wild card. Of course, that would be a very short season.
I can only attribute my lack of a high-paying job as a TV baseball analyst to blatant cronyism.
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Wake up! It's Round 2
Not to beat a dead horse -- oh, why not, the horse can't feel it -- but wasn't that first round of the NBA playoffs exciting? Would you believe that when that round started, Johnny Oates was manager of the Rangers? And Herbert Hoover was president.
So. The top two teams in each conference won their series without any of them being pushed to a fifth game. That means 1 and 2 seeds are 66-6 in series against 7 and 8 seeds since the current playoff format began in 1984. These series are almost totally pointless. This year's first round featured a 3 vs. 6 upset in the East, where Charlotte swept Miami. With Sacramento's win over Phoenix in the West, third seeds are now 26-10, a .722 winning percentage. That's at least reasonably competitive -- odd because the No. 3 seed is often the second-best team in the conference, since the two division winners are automatically 1-2. Fifth seeds Dallas and Toronto beat Utah and New York, respectively, which isn't a surprise since 5 seeds beat 4 seeds more than 60 percent of the time (22 out of 36).
I'll say it again. The seventh and eighth seeds shouldn't make the playoffs. You'd still get the 4 vs. 5 and 3 vs. 6 series, and the top two seeds would get a bye in the first round, which would actually be something to shoot for -- you'd actually get something for winning your division. That first round should be best of three. You'd get even more upsets that way, and we could get it over with in a week, instead of two weeks-plus. The excitement level would be higher, and the NBA would shed at least some of that image that pretty much every team makes the playoffs. Twelve teams in the playoffs and 17 teams out looks a lot better than 16 in and 13 out.
I also think the NBA should re-seed the remaining teams after each round, the way the NHL does, rather than following a bracket. As it is, the worst team remaining in the East, Charlotte, doesn't have to play the best team, Philadelphia. The least the best team should get, if it doesn't get a first-round bye, ought to be the right to play the lowest-ranked team remaining in each round.
Here are my predictions for the second round, since I'm doing so well with baseball: Philadelphia over Toronto in seven; Milwaukee over Charlotte in seven; San Antonio over Dallas in six; Sacramento over Los Angeles -- oh my! -- in 7.