The Milwaukee Brewers came into the 1991 season with new hope and enough new players to justify their claim to contention in the wide-open American League East, but it has been the same old sad story.
The Brewers have been baseball's most injury-prone team over the past 3 1/2 seasons, and they have done nothing this year to ease the crowding in the training room.
Barely a week into the season, newcomer Candy Maldonado suffered a fractured foot and was laid up for much of the first half. Since then, seven more players have missed at least 20 games because of injuries, and Robin Yount will soon bring the total number of 20-game injured to nine.
Yount had seemed immune to the Brew Flu until complications from a kidney stone forced him onto the disabled list recently. In his first 17 major-league seasons, he had played an average of 144 games. But now he's just the new guy at sick call.
The list of players who have lost significant time (20 games or more) due to injuries includes starting pitchers Teddy Higuera, Ron Robinson, Bill Wegman and Mark Knudson, reliever Edwin Nunez, outfielders Maldonado and Darryl Hamilton and infielder Gary Sheffield. No wonder the Brewers entered yesterday's game 14 games under .500 and 15 1/2 games out of contention in the league's weaker division.
But Brewers fans have grown accustomed to the club's fragile constitution. From 1988-90, the team lost 2,393 player-days to injury, or the equivalent of 15 individual seasons. That means that the Brewers played at about 80 percent of full roster strength for three straight seasons and still managed to play close to .500 ball (242-244).
Team officials have looked high and low for some logical explanation for the annual Brewers breakdown, but there is no common thread. The club incorporated a new exercise program this year in the hope that it would have some preventive effect, but the situation has not improved.
"We never had the 25-man roster we projected to have before the start of the season," manager Tom Trebelhorn said. "We haven't had Higuera and Robinson [who were expected to be the top two starters] all year, but nobody's going to feel sorry for us. That's the way it is."
The San Diego Padres have some very demanding fans, judging from the noise coming out of the stands at San Diego/Jack Murphy Stadium when outfielder Tony Gwynn comes to the plate. No, they aren't paying a long-distance tribute to hometown hero Moose Milligan. Those are boos for the slumping Gwynn, who entered yesterday's game in a 10-for-55 tailspin.
"I may not like it," Gwynn said recently, "but their reaction doesn't surprise me. No one is immune to being booed. I'm not going to lose my sanity over it. I've come to expect a lot of different things that happen here."
It is a bit unusual for the home crowd to boo a perennial league batting champion, though California Angels fans were hard on seven-time batting champ Rod Carew at one point during the 1980 season. But that was after a well-publicized anti-fan diatribe by Carew at a particularly tense point in baseball's troubled labor history.
Gwynn, who still leads National League hitters with a .337 average didn't say boo to anyone, but he is hearing them
Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Lenny Dykstra has made a positive first impression on new (to him, at least) manager Jim Fregosi.
"I hadn't seen him that much before the accident," Fregosi said, "but I've since been amazed at how many quality at-bats he gives you in tough situations. He finds a way to get it done."
Ex-Orioles on parade: Maybe this isn't saying much, but if they held an election today, outfielder Steve Finley would be the Houston Astros MVP and right-hander Pete Harnisch would run a close second.
Finley has been the club's most consistent hitter, his average peaking at .301 last week before settling back into the .290s. He also leads the Astros in extra bases and entered yesterday's game with 18 steals.
He likely would have been a platoon player if he had stayed in Baltimore this year, but he has proved effective against left-handed pitching, batting .276 through Thursday.
Harnisch remains one of the top pitchers in the National League, though his 6-7 won-lost record reflects the low-priced Houston offensive attack.
Strange stat of the week: Harnisch has held opposing hitters to a batting average this year, which ranks him among the league leaders in that department, but opposing pitchers are batting a combined .214. Figure that out.
Is it possible that Harnisch is letting down a bit when he gets to the ninth spot in the order?
"I never thought about it until now," said Harnisch, after giving up two straight RBI hits to Ken Hill on Wednesday night, "but maybe I better start thinking about it."
More Milwaukee maladies: Sheffield continues to resist the notion that surgery is the only answer to his chronic wrist soreness, but the numbers seem to indicate that he cannot play through the injury.
Sheffield entered the weekend with 10 hits in his previous 90 at-bats (.111). He has no homers and seven RBI since he first injured his left wrist in late May.
"It's about the same, no better, no worse," he said. "I really can't say what's going to happen. I keep trying to work at it."
The surprising St. Louis Cardinals aren't really so surprising. They're just doing a great job of beating the teams they are
supposed to beat. The club is a combined 17-6 against the Astros and Phillies -- the two worst teams in the league.
Former Baltimore Oriole Storm Davis wasn't exactly thrilled when was exiled to the bullpen May 24, but it has turned out to be the right move for him and the team.
Davis was 2-7 with a 5.30 ERA as a starter, which left him only a couple of options -- move to middle relief or move back to Baltimore, where those numbers wouldn't stand out. The Royals moved him to the bullpen and have not been sorry.
In 23 games, he has worked 36 1/3 innings and given up four earned runs, which works out to a 1.01 ERA. In the process, he has dropped his overall ERA to 3.57 and regained a measure of confidence.
"I think he enjoys what he's doing now," pitching coach Pat Dobson said. "He's a lot more aggressive. He's attacking hitters and not walking anybody."
Davis has even regained his sense of humor.
"Being a good setup man is like being a good ball boy at Wimbledon," he said recently. "Just keep the ball out of play."
Things are starting to fall in place for the Royals, though they will need a minor miracle to climb past all six teams ahead of them in the AL West standings. Only nine games separate the penthouse from the outhouse, however, so anything is possible.
The Royals entered the weekend on a roll. Before losing to the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday night, they had won eight of their previous 10 to pull within two games of .500. The starting rotation appears to be back on track and the club has gotten a big offensive lift from newcomer Todd Benzinger.
Benzinger was batting .187 with one home run and 11 RBI when the Cincinnati Reds traded him to the Royals on July 12. In 15 games since, he's batting .317 with two homers and 15 RBI.
"I can't imagine being more comfortable at the plate than I feel now," said Benzinger, who might yet fulfill the lofty expectations placed on him when he broke in with the Boston Red Sox.
The Los Angeles Dodgers were 0-33 in games they trailed entering the ninth inning when Mitch Webster brought them from behind with a home run in Tuesday night's 6-5 victory over the Phillies.
The Brew flu
Here is a list of the nine Milwaukee Brewers players who have missed 20 games due to injury this year:
Ted Higuera.. .. .. .. ..Rotator cuff
Ron Robinson.. .. .. .. Elbow surgery
Candy Maldonado.. .. ..Fractured foot
Gary Sheffield.. ..Wrist and shoulder
Mark Knudson.. .. ..Shoulder soreness
Bill Wegman.. .. .. .. .Elbow surgery
Edwin Nunez.. .. .. .. ..Back surgery
Darryl Hamilton.. .. .. .. ..Shoulder
Robin Yount.. .. .. .. Kidney stones*
*Yount will have missed 20 straight games by the time he completes minimum time on disabled list.