Sunday, August 15, 1999

BASEBALL INSIDER


D'backs thinking playoffs

BY CHRIS HAFT
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A month and a half of the regular season remains, but you'd have trouble convincing the Arizona Diamondbacks of that.

        The Diamondbacks have begun mentally preparing for the first round of the playoffs, assured that they've already clinched the National League West. They entered Saturday with a 61/2-game edge over the fading San Francisco Giants. The division's other three teams were 14 games behind or more.

        At one point last week, the Diamondbacks' lead crested at 71/2 games. “Seven-and-a-half games is a lot,” said third baseman Matt Williams, a strong Most Valuable Player candidate. “The Giants have got to play really well.”

        To catch Arizona, the Giants would have to win at a .660 pace (31-16) starting Saturday if Arizona played .500 ball (23-23).

        Said catcher Damian Miller, “I don't see anybody that can beat us right now, to tell you the truth. We're playing that well. It's only the middle of August, but it's awesome.”

        IVAN THE DURABLE: Despite the typically searing heat the Texas Rangers endure at home, catcher Ivan Rodriguez had started 100 games through Friday. Moreover, the perennial All-Star was hitting .400 (46-for-115) with seven homers and 21 RBI in his last 25 games.

        Before this year, Rodriguez had hit .317 before the All-Star break and .272 afterward.

        His offseason routine has made a difference. Instead of playing winter ball, Rodriguez concentrated on girding himself through weightlifting.

        But the toughened Rodriguez still took a fatalistic view.

        “You don't beat this heat, not when it's 100 degrees day after day,” he said. “I don't surrender to it. I've never worked harder or felt stronger in my career. But it won't matter. I'm human. The heat will wear me down by September. All of us will feel it sooner or later.”

        NOT-SO-CUDDLY CUBS: It's almost funny to look back and realize that at the beginning of the season, many so-called experts were downright convinced that the Chicago Cubs were a better team than the Reds.

        The Cubs had lost 17 of their last 21 games through Friday, a stretch that included a 3-11 homestand. If it weren't for Wrigley Field and Sammy Sosa, there'd be no reason to see them play.

        “One of two things happened,” first baseman Mark Grace said. “We either really overachieved as a team last year or we've really underachieved this year.”

        AROUND THE HORN: Roger Clemens, a five-time Cy Young Award winner, is 5-5 with a 5.71 ERA since June1. He has allowed three earned runs or more in seven of his last eight starts. His overall ERA of 4.92 for the New York Yankees almost doubles the league-leading 2.65 figure he posted last year. “Roger hasn't been Roger this year,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said.

        • The injury-laden Anaheim Angels finally unveiled what they thought would be their Opening Day lineup ... in the season's 112th game. It included left fielder Garret Anderson, center fielder Jim Edmonds, right fielder Tim Salmon, first baseman Darin Erstad and designated hitter Mo Vaughn. Naturally, Erstad sprained his right knee that night and left the game.

        • Along those lines, San Francisco has had Barry Bonds, Ellis Burks, Jeff Kent and J.T. Snow together for only 28 games. The Giants are 17-11 in those contests. “We haven't had our maximum talent on the field,” manager Dusty Baker said. “I always believed that if I can play my first string against your first string, most times I'm going to win.”

       



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