SEATTLE -- Which team, if any, has the best chance to dethrone the Oakland A's as the American League's Western Division champions?
Would you believe the Seattle Mariners?
Don't laugh. This team is no longer a joke. No longer are the Mariners a collection of lovable losers.
Since losing their first six games of the year, the Mariners have gone 15-7, the best record in baseball. They may have the best starting rotation in the American League, and possibly the major leagues. The Orioles' team earned run average is higher than the individual ERAs of nine of the pitchers on the Seattle staff.
"Even when we were 0-6, I knew we would start playing better," said manager Jim Lefebvre, whose job was considered on the line during that first week of the season. "Right now we're playing more consistently, and that is especially important early in the season."
Bill Swift and rookie Mike Jackson have picked up for injured relief ace Mike Schooler, and second baseman Harold Reynolds has found a new home in the No. 2 spot in the batting order.
Reynolds has 13 hits in his last 24 at-bats and the Mariners have won five in a row and 11 of their last 12 at home going into this weekend's series with the Orioles.
The Mariners are still looking for the first winning season in their 15-year history, and until they prove they can win, they will always be suspect. But don't be surprised if Seattle is the team closest to Oakland when it's all over.
* O'S AREN'T ALONE: At last count there were 104 players who had gone to bat in the big leagues and were sporting averages under .200. That figures out to roughly 27 percent of the position players.
Kansas City and Cincinnati were the leaders with seven people hitting under .200. The Yankees, Mets and Tigers were close behind with six members of the club.
At the other end, a total of 73 pitchers (about 16 percent) were sporting ERAs over 5.00. Evidently the guys hitting under .200 are not facing the pitchers over 5.00 often enough.
The overall batting average was .253 for the American League and .243 for the National League. The combined ERA of the AL was 3.84, while the NL had a 3.57 mark.
* JUICY EVIDENCE: Last year the Oakland A's played 16 games at home during the month of May and allowed 38 runs. Last weekend they gave up 35 runs to the Cleveland Indians in two games.
The rumors are starting again that the baseballs are juiced up, but evidently the Orioles haven't heard.
* LET'S PLAY 20: The Chicago Cubs opened the season by playing games on 20 successive days, the maximum allowed by the basic agreement with the Players Association.
It was the first time since 1938 that the Cubs, who were not rained out during the stretch, played that many successive games at the start of the season.
* NO WALKING SHOES: Those three home runs in one game early in the season must've had an effect on Dave Winfield. The California outfielder, who has averaged over 60 walks per season during his career, has not drawn a base on balls in 85 at-bats this season.
His red spikes are definitely not made for walking.
* BLAME EDDIE: A lot has been made of Darryl Strawberry's poor start with the Dodgers. Perhaps overlooked was the part played by Eddie Murray.
Murray missed seven games early in the year because of a pulled pelvic muscle and the Dodgers' lefthanded-laden lineup went into a tailspin without him. By the time Murray came back Strawberry, KalDaniels and Mike Scioscia were all in a deep funk.
* CARD FILE: The crazy baseball card craze has crept into the Orioles' television booth. Brooks Robinson is serving as spokesman for Topps, while Jim Palmer is making appearances for Donruss.
Meanwhile Upper Deck is sponsoring the Heroes Series of old-timer games. You think this isn't big business?
* RIP GETS REST: Orioles manager Frank Robinson seems determined to avoid the debate about whether or not Cal Ripken should take some time off.
Of the 24 games Ripken has left early during his remarkable streak of 1,436 consecutive games, five of them have come already this year, including two in a row (before a scheduled off-day) in Oakland this week.
* IMPERTINENT QUESTIONS: With Queen Elizabeth and Reggie Jackson both scheduled to be in Memorial Stadium Wednesday night, do you think they could re-create the scene from Naked Gun? "I don't think she knows about it," said Jackson.
At his current pace won't Gregg Olson be the best mop-up man in baseball?
How could the San Francisco Giants even think about trading Kevin Mitchell for Kansas City pitcher Tom Gordon, regardless of what else comes in the package?
Nevertheless, isn't Gordon currently the best fifth starter in the big leagues?
Will three days off help Randy Milligan when he returns to the Orioles' lineup tonight?
When will the Orioles finally put tickets on sale for the last weekend of the season?
Did anybody notice earlier in the week that for a few days the three lowest ERAs in the National League belonged to ex-Orioles (Pete Harnisch, Mike Morgan and Dennis Martinez)? Aren't the California Angels putting too much faith in the middle of their lineup (Gary Gaetti, Dave Parker and Winfield)?
Is it possible that Ben McDonald is tipping his pitches again?