How young pitching helped turn them around

March 31, 2002|By Joe Christensen

Oakland Athletics

From 1993 to 1998, the A's had a .395 winning percentage. But a string of remarkable drafts helped them land what has become the best starting pitching trio in baseball. Oakland grabbed Tim Hudson in the sixth round of the 1997 draft, then made Mark Mulder and Barry Zito its first-round pick in the 1998 and 1999 drafts, respectively. Over the past two seasons, those three have combined to win 92 games, and the A's have made the playoffs both years.

Houston Astros

After winning the National League Central title three consecutive years, the Astros stumbled to 72-90 in 2000. But last year, an influx of young pitching helped put Houston back on top. Roy Oswalt, 24, and Wade Miller, 25, combined to win 30 games. Carlos Hernandez, a 21-year-old left-hander, made the starting rotation this spring, edging out Tim Redding, a 24-year-old right-hander.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins didn't finish above fourth place from 1993 to 2000, and if that wasn't enough to keep fans away, Kirby Puckett was forced into sudden retirement with glaucoma in 1996. But the Twins started remaking themselves with a pair of trades that brought Joe Mays and Eric Milton into the organization. Those two pitchers, now 26, made the All-Star team last season and led Minnesota to a second-place finish in the AL Central. With another wave of young pitchers coming --- Kyle Lohse, Matt Kinney, Brad Thomas and Adam Johnson - the Twins might generate enough excitement to stave off contraction.

Florida Marlins

Take away one of the best young pitching staffs in baseball, and what else would the Marlins have? They completely dismantled after winning the 1997 World Series, losing 196 games over the next two seasons. But former general manager Dave Dombrowski began assembling a young pitching staff, and Ryan Dempster, 24, Brad Penny, 23, A.J. Burnett, 25, and Josh Beckett, 21 have kept some measure of respect for a struggling franchise. The Marlins finished 10 games below .500 a year ago, and there's enough talent there to compete if the new ownership ever reopens the wallets.

Cleveland Indians

The Indians said goodbye to Roberto Alomar, Kenny Lofton and Juan Gonzalez this past off-season, and outsiders assumed Cleveland was waving the white flag. Guess again. General manager Mark Shapiro recognized the talents of his young pitchers and said the franchise would build around them. Bartolo Colon, 28, had 201 strikeouts last season. C.C. Sabathia, a 21-year-old left-hander, went 17-5. Danys Baez, 24, posted a 2.50 ERA in 43 relief appearances, prompting a move to the starting rotation. And Ryan Drese, 25, claimed the fifth spot in the starting rotation.

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