AL East flexes its muscle


If there was ever any doubt about which member of the new six-division format would be the strongest this year, it has been removed in a hurry. The top four teams in the American League East were a combined 19-6 last week. Even including the 2-4 mark posted by the last-place Tigers, they were 11 games over .500 against the rest of the league and are 16 games over for the rTC year. . . . Blue Jays rookie Carlos Delgado has begun to settle down and Orioles outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds is heating up. Go with Hammonds over the long run. . . . Why are the Red Sox going so well? The answer is balance. They are playing consistently in an erratic environment. The Red Sox have hit the ball only decently (5.4 runs per game) and pitched only passably (4.57 ERA) over the past week, but they went 6-1. . . . Where are they now dept.: What ever happened to all the experts who said that Lee Smith couldn't pitch anymore?

AL Central

Midlife minor-leaguer Michael Jordan ranks among the Southern League leaders with a .326 batting average. He could move up to the Triple-A level soon, but don't expect the White Sox organization to do anything that might disrupt the major-league club -- even for Mike. . . . The Brewers finished the week with four straight victories, largely on the strength of starting pitchers Ricky Bones, Bill Wegman and Cal Eldred, who combined to give up two earned runs over 22 innings, including Bones' first career shutout in 74 starts.

AL West

The Athletics had high hopes that pitching prospect Todd Van Poppel would come into his own this season, but the early returns are not good. Van Poppel walked six and got just two outs in Saturday's game against the Yankees. He is 0-2 with a 16.62 ERA. . . . One reason the Rangers are struggling: Third baseman Dean Palmer hit his first home run of the year yesterday in the club's 16th game. Palmer had three home runs in the first two games of the season last year at Camden Yards. . . . Worst division update: The AL West finished the week a combined 5-18 to drop a total of 17 games under .500 against the rest of the American League -- and the season is three weeks old.

NL East

The Expos recovered just in time. They were in danger of a double-digit divisional deficit when the week began, but they reeled off a four-game winning streak in the same time frame as the Braves' four-game skid. So everyone is still alive in the East, for the moment. . . . Reason No. 326 that the NL East race is over: The defending NL champion Phillies were swept in a three-game series at San Diego over the weekend. Terry Mulholland would look pretty good in that starting rotation. . . . Mets first baseman David Segui got off to a bit of a slow start, but he is sneaking up on National League pitching. He hit safely in each of the Mets' seven games last week to run his hitting streak to nine games and raise his average to .275. . . . Hot-hitting Jeff Kent, meanwhile, has fallen victim to the Baltimore Sun Extra Innings jinx. He went hitless in four at-bats yesterday.

NL Central

How much worse can it get for Cubs fans, who have watched their team equal its all-time worst start at home? The Cubs ran their Wrigley wreckord to 0-8 last week but went to Colorado over the weekend and improved their road record to a very respectable 5-3. You figure it out. . . . Reds outfielder Reggie Sanders got a five-day suspension for charging the mound during Pedro Martinez's attempt at a perfect game. If that seems rather harsh, the message is unclear. Is new NL president Len Coleman cracking down on violence or stupidity? . . . Who says that nobody makes deals in April? Who says no one makes trades within their division? The Astros sent catcher Ed Taubensee to the Reds last week for minor-league pitchers Ross Powell and Marty Lister in a deal that doesn't exactly figure to change the balance of power in the NL Central.

NL West

The beat goes on for Dante "We could have had him for Craig Worthington" Bichette, who hit safely in his 16th consecutive game yesterday to break Andres Galarraga's year-old club record. He ranks among the league leaders in almost everything. . . . The Dodgers decided that Korean import Chan Ho Park was not getting enough work at the major-league level, so they sent him to their Double-A San Antonio club to pitch in the starting rotation. Park seemed happy for the opportunity, but it couldn't have come as good news to his Los Angeles-based interpreter. . . . It was another tough week for Barry Bonds, who went 6-for-23, but the Giants seem to be getting along fine without him -- or is it that the only other competitive team in the division existed only on paper the day Bonds signed with the Giants 16 months ago? . . . Did you know dept: That the Padres had to sweep the Phillies over the weekend just to get on pace to win 48 games?

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