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Playoff force or playoff pretender?

Special to

July 20

If you watched the Tuesday highlights and saw those two plays by Roberto Alomar and Omar Vizquel, you start thinking about what could happen if Cleveland makes it into the playoffs.

The Indians have been through 27 pitchers already -- actually 29, if you count the Scott Sanders and Jared Camp shellacking in a rainout -- and general manager John Hart is scouring the Yellow Pages for more help. He wants a top guy and is trying to figure out a way to package enough for Curt Schilling, while looking at some of the contracts available like Omar Daal, Steve Woodard and Ismael Valdes. Would Hart trade Richie Sexson? Yes, for a Schilling or top starter, but Milwaukee's offer of Woodard and Bob Wickman probably won't get it done. If Cleveland deals Sexson they have to get a keeper in return -- the Marlins wouldn't bite on Sexson and Tim Drew for Ryan Dempster and Dan Miceli.

Chuck Finley
Chuck Finley leads a strong threesome that includes Bartolo Colon and Dave Burba. Cleveland's problem has been the fourth and fifth starters.

The tough thing for the Indians is getting to October. But if they do, they go in with a lineup that's peaking and three quality starters in Chuck Finley, Bartolo Colon and Dave Burba. If one of them struggles, like Finley did on Wednesday, the air is sucked out of them because their fourth and fifth spots in the rotation are like the old Amateur Nights at Catch a Rising Star. Their top three starters were 26-17 after Finley's loss, but all other starters are 9-15, 6.87.

For all the White Sox, Mariners, Athletics and Angels have done to make this such an unusual season in the American League, none of those young teams want to get matched up with the veteran Yankees, Indians or Red Sox. One way or another -- and that might include acquiring Rondell White -- the Yankees will get their payroll to $115 million and have their lineup and pitching intact. If the Red Sox get to the playoffs, that means two career winners named Ramon Martinez and Bret Saberhagen will be in gear, their bullpen is still pitching well and Dan Duquette will have found another starter; you can slam Jimy Williams all you want, but this team plays through whatever ails them thanks to the mentality of the manager and the trio of Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra and Carl Everett.

Oakland, Anaheim and Toronto have a lot to do with what happens as eight teams vying for four postseason positions battle it out.

"I love the Mariners, White Sox and A's," says one AL general manager, "but I think the American League World Series representative will be the Yankees, Indians or Red Sox. But I also can see two of them not even making the playoffs."

Around the majors

  • The figuring in Montreal always was that the Expos would honor Rondell White's request to be traded as soon as Milton Bradley is ready. Bradley has arrived and White is eligible to come off the DL on Sunday, so he may go somewhere next week. The Mets, Red Sox. Yankees, Mariners, A's and Braves are very interested. White has made it clear to management that every day he plays on turf is another day ticking off his career because of his bad knee. ... That makes White, Jeromy Burnitz, Dmitri Young, Michael Tucker, David Segui and B.J. Surhoff among the talented offensive players on the market. Segui is playing in considerable pain, as the plate in his foot has broken and he needs an operation after the season.

  • The White Sox say they are not worried about Cal Eldred's elbow and disabled him only to give him rest -- caution they can afford with their big lead -- but reports persist that Ron Schueler is interested in Pete Harnisch, who would give a young team experience, character and enthusiasm.

  • Texas manager Johnny Oates does not want John Wetteland traded, as Francisco Cordero and Tim Crabtree haven't yet proven either is ready to close and because Wetteland is so important to the team's makeup. One scenario has Wetteland traded, then coming back to Texas as a free agent next season.

  • Cubs GM Ed Lynch went out with class. "I had offered to Andy (MacPhail) to resign back on May 18," says Lynch. "We fired Jim Riggleman and the coaches last year, asking them to take the blame. We didn't get better this year, and someone has to take responsibility." Actually, Lynch's moves had generally worked; Joe Girardi, Ricky Gutierrez, Eric Young and Damon Buford built a good team in the middle of the field, but Ismael Valdes and the bullpen killed the Cubs. Lynch never had the opportunity to go into the dump mode and rebuild the farm system since they were within view of the wild card at the trading deadline in each of the last two years.

  • Colorado is trying to reconstruct some things, and has been talking to Oakland about a deal that would give the A's Rolando Arrojo as a setup man for Jason Isringhausen. The Rockies may have to take Omar Olivares' contract to get a couple of Oakland's prospects ... Incidentally, A's GM Billy Beane has told clubs he absolutely will not trade left-hander Barry Zito. Beane is also looking for a right-handed bat, and has been looking at Glenallen Hill.

  • The Tigers are very concerned about the bulging disc in Tony Clark's back, and that concern is a lot more serious than whether or not they can move him at the deadline. Detroit is playing much better, even though the continued physical problems of Juan Gonzalez has left a lot of people wondering exactly where Gonzalez is at this point in his career. "What we've seen is that there are some special people here that we want to build around, not trade," says Phil Garner, meaning Brad Ausmus, Dean Palmer and Bobby Higginson. "They're guys who'll play if they have bones sticking out of them," says Todd Jones. ... Ausmus makes the point that since hitters today hit those 95-mph fastballs, the best closers have to have three and sometimes four pitches, as Jones does. "What that does," adds coach Bob Melvin, "is force hitters to swing at the first fastball they see. Brad talks a lot about how late in games against closers like Billy Koch that you see short at-bats out of necessity, because if you get behind they bury you with 90 mile-an-hour sliders and splits."

  • It's amazing how many people look at Magglio Ordonez and see a young, right-handed-hitting Carl Yastrzemski.

  • One team's scouting assessment of Ismael Valdes: "Awful. Just awful."

  • One of the biggest mistakes of the offseason came when the Devil Rays refused to trade Arrojo and Miguel Cairo for Garret Anderson, and turned instead to Vinny Castilla. Anderson may be the most underappreciated player in the game, on a 40-homer pace, a steady center fielder and one of those rare gamers who's in the lineup every day, healthy or hurt. And now that's he's letting it fly and using his power, we are seeing him scratch the surface of his enormous talent.

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