It's tough to put tag on AL West


The American League West is in need of a new nickname. It has been called the AL Worst, the AL Mess and, among fans of former cowboy star Gene Autry, the mild, mild West, but none of those dubious descriptions truly captures the futility of realignment's worst nightmare.

The California Angels were 13-20 going into Tuesday's semi-doubleheader against the Texas Rangers, and finished the night on top of the standings. The Angels got two victories that night, one of them the completion of a suspended game, and that was enough to go from third place to the top of the heap (emphasis on the word heap). So let's call it the Lifeboat Division -- the only division in baseball where women and children would be first.

The Angels caught fire at midweek, thanks to one of the all-time hot streaks by 1993 Rookie of the Year Tim Salmon. The Big Fish got off to a slow start this season, but he chased away the sophomore jinx with a three-game run in which he went 13-for-15 (.867) with three home runs and 10 RBIs. . . . Worst division update: At last count, there were 20 teams outside the division who would be ahead of the AL West-leading Rangers (15-19).

AL Central

The Minnesota Twins showed the Orioles a thing or three over the weekend and wake up today looking downright respectable. They've won seven of their past eight games and stand only one game under .500 and two games out of first. They can label themselves as a contender for the moment, but like the Teflon that covers the Metrodome, it won't stick. . . . The outlook for the Kansas City Royals will be dramatically improved if Gary Gaetti's offensive renaissance is not a short-term fluke. Gaetti's bat was left for dead in California, but he has been producing ever since he arrived in Kansas City late last year. He has six homers and 29 RBIs and his 4-for-5 performance Friday pumped his average to .319. . . . The Brewers had their lack of bullpen depth laid bare during the weekend series with the Yankees, who scored six times in the 12th inning Friday night and five times in the ninth Saturday. They have lost five straight to drop into last place.

AL East

No doubt, the highlight of the week in the division came Wednesday, when the last-place Tigers took over sole possession of first place in the AL West. The Tigers have trailed the field in the East throughout the early weeks of the season, but that might have something to do with the fact that they have not been in a position to fatten their record against the league's subterranean subset. The Tigers have played just eight games against the West. The Orioles have played 21, the Yankees have played 17 and the Red Sox have played 15. . . . Has anyone figured out what has gotten into the Yankees, who stretched their longest winning streak of the '90s to 10 games yesterday? One big reason: Only once since May 7 has a reliever -- middle or otherwise -- given up a run. . . . Department of Negativity: The Orioles have one of the best records in baseball, but they have played just one team (Kansas City) that currently has a winning record.

NL West

The San Francisco Giants have been playing possum, but it won't be long before they are in complete control of the weak NL West. Barry Bonds got off to a horrendous start, but has managed to hit nine homers and drive in 25 runs anyway. Rod Beck missed most of April, but came back to work in six straight games without surrendering a run before giving up three in a loss to the Reds yesterday. They will soon leave the Dodgers and the Rockies in the dust. . . . The success of promising outfielders Raul Mondesi and Henry Rodriguez make it seem extremely unlikely that the Dodgers will welcome Darryl Strawberry back to the major-league roster. Rodriguez is batting .340. Mondesi is hitting .311 with six homers and 24 RBIs.

NL Central

The stoppable force is about to meet the movable object in Chicago, where the Padres open a three-game series against the Cubs tonight at Wrigley Field. The Cubs are 2-14 at home and the Padres are 3-12 on the road. . . . The Reds had a tough weekend, but outfielder Kevin Mitchell already is making playoff plans. "If we keep playing the way we're playing into the next month, we'll have no problem," he said.

NL East

The Amusin' Mets continue to hold their own in the middle of the NL East standings, and a measure of their recent success ought to go to the Orioles. Baltimore castoffs David Segui and Joe Orsulak hit game-winning home runs on back-to-back nights last week to help the Mets keep their heads above .500. . . No one should be surprised that the Braves have righted themselves after a two-week slide. They continue to play dominating baseball on the road, where they are 13-5.

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