Teams preying on Tigers



April 13, 2003|By PETER SCHMUCK

Here's a little food for thought for beleaguered Orioles fans who might be wondering if things will ever be right again: It could be worse.

This could be Detroit.

Before yesterday's 4-3 win over Chicago, the Tigers were winless in their first nine games for the second year in a row, and the numbers surrounding their abysmal start left little doubt that it was no fluke.

In the first nine games, the Tigers averaged 1.55 runs and 4.2 hits and as a team didn't crack a .150 batting average or .200 slugging percentage. They temporarily held the lead in games only twice, both times by one run.

Thursday's box score said it all. Former Oriole Eugene Kingsale's .238 batting average was the highest among the 12 hitters who appeared in the series finale against the streaking Kansas City Royals, and only one other player was batting above .200.

The Tigers lost Friday night to become the first team to go 0-9 in two consecutive seasons. The New York Mets went 0-8 in their first two seasons in 1962 and '63.

New manager Alan Trammell should get a medal for keeping a positive attitude through all this. "In our minds, we have a plan," he said, "even though right this second people are thinking it's the same old story."

It wasn't like he came into the season thinking pennant. The Tigers opened 2003 with 12 players on the Opening Day roster for the first time and 17 players with less than three years' experience.

Diamondbacks aren't forever

The defending National League West champion Arizona Diamondbacks also got off to a worse start than the Orioles, though it's fair to assume that the former will recover in time to compete for a playoff berth.

Their 2-7 record through Thursday matched their record for the first nine games of the 1998 expansion season, but probably doesn't reflect the true quality of a team that is all but certain to get 40-plus victories from the first two pitchers in the starting rotation.

Former Orioles outfielder Steve Finley gets credit for brevity in summing up the situation.

"We stink," he said.

Royal flash

No one pays much attention to spring training records, but the Royals apparently weren't kidding when they rolled up the majors' best exhibition record (19-10). They've maintained that momentum through the first two weeks of the season, though no one seriously believes that they'll run away with the American League Central title. Manager Tony Pena just wants to enjoy it while it lasts.

"I know it's only a few games," he said. "But it means a lot to this ballclub. We lost 100 games last year. I know everyone thought we were going to start this season 0-20."

Giant start

The San Francisco Giants won their first seven games to get off to the franchise's best start since 1930 and quickly divert attention from the absence of some of the cornerstones of last year's World Series team.

Dusty Baker is managing the Chicago Cubs. Jeff Kent is playing second base for the Houston Astros. Kenny Lofton is with the Pittsburgh Pirates. And it's just possible that the Giants are a deeper, more balanced team.

"The way I think of it, it's 2003," said veteran shortstop Rich Aurilia. "This is this team. There's no Dusty, no Jeff, no this guy or that guy. Why talk about that? I'd rather talk about [Ray] Durham or talk about [Edgardo] Alfonzo or Felipe [Alou]. That's not to take away from anything that we did last year, but this is this year."

The 500 club

With the recent arrival of Sammy Sosa in the 500-homer club and the possibility that Fred McGriff, Rafael Palmeiro and Ken Griffey also could get in this year, the question resurfaces: Has the home run explosion of the past decade taken the luster off one of baseball's most cherished plateaus? Barry Bonds, who hit his 500th in 2001 and already is well past 600, doesn't think so.

"I've already been there. You have to ask them their feelings," Bonds said. "Just on my opinion I think they would think it's an outstanding achievement because it definitely is. I mean, 400 is an outstanding achievement.

"Five hundred has always been the number as far as the elite, because when you're talking about Hank Aaron and Willie Mays and all the other guys, 500 has always been the number. You never even thought you'd be in the [same category] with Willie, Hank and Babe Ruth, ever."

Pedro's option

The Boston Red Sox gave up what little leverage they might have in future contract negotiations with pitching ace Pedro Martinez when the club picked up the $17.5 million option to lock him up for the 2004 season.

The move was intended to keep Martinez happy for a season that new Red Sox ownership hopes will end in the World Series, but it was not a great decision from a cold, hard business perspective.

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