O's can't keep up with Dodgers, who go to top as flop

On Baseball

June 27, 1999|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Misery loves company. The Orioles may have cooled off during their frustrating three-game series against the Boston Red Sox and their first two games against the New York Yankees, but they clearly have been replaced as baseball's most disappointing team.

The Los Angeles Dodgers were swept in a three-game series by the last-place San Diego Padres and entered this weekend's important series against the rival San Francisco Giants in danger of dropping into the National League West cellar.

How can that be? This is the team that spent $105 million to add Kevin Brown to the starting rotation -- ostensibly so that the team would be configured well for the playoffs. Now, the playoffs are looking like a pipe dream.

Brown has pitched well enough, but who really thought he would give a $15 million performance? The rest of the club -- which was supposed to get an intensity transplant from the volatile Brown -- continues to play far below expectations, which has become the norm in Los Angeles.

The similarity to the Orioles' predicament is obvious. Each club signed an extremely high-priced free agent in the hope that he would light a fire under the franchise. Both clubs are in fourth place, with almost identical records. Both clubs are involved in big series with traditional rivals this weekend.

The difference is direction. The Orioles, despite losing four of their past five to the Red Sox and Yankees, have been playing very good baseball the past couple of weeks. The Dodgers appear to be digging themselves a deeper hole, though they could change that perception dramatically with a strong performance against the two teams directly ahead of them (the Giants and Rockies) during the next few days.

One thing is certain. They aren't going to get much slack from disappointed Dodgers fans. General manager Kevin Malone has no one but himself to blame for raising expectations with his admittedly lighthearted spring prediction that the Dodgers would face the New York Yankees in the World Series.

Now, it looks like he'll only be half-right.

One that got away

The Toronto Blue Jays have to wonder where they might be right now if they had re-signed veteran slugger Jose Canseco, who has led the American League in home runs for much of the season.

"What bristles me," general manager Gord Ash told reporters recently, "is the perception that we let him go that we failed to sign him."

It's a question of semantics, of course. The Blue Jays did want Canseco back, but they admit that it was difficult to figure out just what to pay him. The guy hit 46 home runs last year and entered a free-agent market in which players with less impressive numbers were going for $8 million per year or more.

"We wanted him back and Jose certainly had a willingness to return, but we were never really able to quantify our interest," Ash said.

The Jays eventually offered about the same money as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, but Canseco chose to play closer to his Florida home. He has had no reason to regret that decision, but the Blue Jays certainly do.

Mystery solved

We owe Albert Belle a cyber-apology after indicating that there was no way to contact him on his Web site.

The sullen slugger actually has two online sites, one on the World Wide Web and the other through America Online. The AOL site accepts messages from fans and includes a special area where Belle takes questions from the media. The other site (www.athletedirect.com) does not accept e-mail.

The two sites do have one thing in common -- Belle's delightful prose. He has chosen to bypass the traditional media for an unfiltered forum in which he can explain why he does what he does.

It's pretty vapid stuff, but you have to give him credit for being a cutting-edge kind of guy, even if his cybertwin, Terry Belle, is the one with his head buried in the laptop at the ballpark.

Can't wait to ask Albert about Y2K. He'll probably explain that he just missed the ball.

Cheap thrill

The Milwaukee Brewers are getting more than their money's worth from Japanese pitcher Hideo Nomo, who has re-emerged as a quality starting pitcher since he signed a $250,000 contract with the club.

Nomo is 5-1 with a 3.68 ERA in his first nine starts for the Brewers, a performance that has to have the Chicago Cubs wondering what they didn't see while he was auditioning for them at the Triple-A level.

"I'm having a good time in Milwaukee," Nomo told reporters after a victory in San Francisco on Monday. "I'm very relaxed in Milwaukee. When I go to the mound, I feel very comfortable."

Nomo and Brewers pitching coach Bill Campbell say that the veteran right-hander is doing nothing different than he did in Los Angeles or with the New York Mets, except putting the ball where he wants it.

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