It is the worst of all possible baseball worlds.
The 1995 season has been diminished enough by a short spring training and a shortened schedule. It certainly didn't need to lose two of its most dynamic offensive stars to season-threatening injuries in the space of two weeks.
First Ken Griffey. Now, San Francisco Giants third baseman Matt Williams, who was putting up Triple Crown numbers (.381, 13 home runs, 35 RBIs) when he broke his foot on Saturday and was knocked out of action for at least six weeks.
The Giants may be able to overcome the loss in the weak NL West -- depending on whether a productive Williams can return before September -- but the damage to the sport continues to mount. The game already had been hit with a rash of early-season pitching injuries, some of which could be linked to the shortened spring training, and also recently has lost power hitters David Justice and Dean Palmer and is just getting back Mike Piazza.
The fans were staying away in record numbers already. Now they have even less reason to come back. Good thing the Cincinnati Reds made a big run when they did, because they may have to scuffle to stay near the top of the NL Central standings for the next few weeks. Pitcher Jose Rijo and offensive lightning rod Deion Sanders went on the disabled list Saturday. If there is a bright side, the Reds lost the right Sanders. Reggie Sanders was the club's most productive hitter during its recent nine-game winning streak. . . . Wake-up call: Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell had two huge hits in Houston's extra-inning victory over the Atlanta Braves on Saturday night, but he still is struggling to get over the Mendoza line. His slow start has the club concerned, but he is largely a victim of his own 1994 success. He would end up with 25 homers and 79 RBIs over a 162-game season at his current pace -- only slightly off his career numbers in those departments going into his MVP season.
The Philadelphia Phillies ran into a roadblock in San Francisco over the weekend, but even on the way to their first series loss of the season, they continued to get outstanding pitching. In losses Friday and Saturday at Candlestick Park, starters Paul Quantrill and Curt Schilling combined to give up three earned runs over 14 innings. . . . Montreal Expos starter Jeff Fassero is making a lot of major-league scouting departments look bad. The winningest pitcher in baseball (7-1) slipped through the Cardinals, White Sox and Indians organizations with barely a notice before he caught on with the Expos in 1991. In five major-league seasons as a reliever and starter, his ERA never has been above 2.99.
Time to make a formal apology to the California Angels, who were a consensus pick to finish last in the AL West. They may finish last yet, but the way they have dominated the New York Yankees in two early-season series (5-1) leaves no alternative but to consider them legitimate pennant contenders. The Yankees, despite their surprising drop to the bottom of the AL East standings, were considered one of the best teams in baseball when the season began. . . . The loss of Palmer -- who ruptured a tendon in his left arm -- could be a major blow to the Texas Rangers, who were just beginning to assert themselves in the AL West race. But with the return of Juan Gonzalez, the club still should have enough offensive firepower to remain
Gene Lamont took the fall on Friday for the horrible way the Chicago White Sox started the season, but his fate was sealed by the team on the other side of town. The White Sox were expected to compete for a division title, but have struggled to stay out of the AL Central cellar. The Cubs did not come into the season with great expectations, but have gotten off to a great start. . . . The Sox made smaller headlines on Saturday when they released third baseman Chris Sabo. The club apparently attempted to trade Sabo after designating him for assignment a couple of weeks ago.
The Boston Red Sox celebrated the return of pitching ace Roger Clemens with a big series against the Seattle Mariners, but they did it in spite of their starting pitching. Clemens and Zane Smith combined to give up 11 runs in nine innings in the first two games of the series. . . . Yankees owner George Steinbrenner confirmed this week that he is pondering the possibility of signing Darryl Strawberry. It's possible, but it's more likely the Yankee Shipper is trying to divert attention from the team's 2-10 record the past two weeks.