There's nothing wrong with stumbling for three or four months if you can recover, streak to 84 victories and win your division. Ask the World Series champion Kansas City Royals, who were 22-24 through Friday, but only two games out of first place.
Don't ask the St. Louis Cardinals, who had fallen to 16-27, 15 1/2 games behind the New York Mets, and are deader than Whitey Herzog's sense of humor.
"We need better players," he quipped this week.
Don't ask the American League East champion Toronto Blue Jays, who would be only four games out of first in the AL West, but at 22-26 through Friday, find themselves dead last and nine out in the AL East. Say goodnight to the Blue Jays in 1986.
(In all, last season's four first-place teams -- the Cardinals, Blue Jays, Royals and Los Angeles Dodgers -- were 83-102 through Friday.)
And don't ask the hundreds of people who figured this was the year the AL West would finally be better than the East. Through Thursday, East teams were 128-89 (.590) against West teams, and only one West team, Texas at 19-19, was so much as even with its East opponents . . .
Here's why the Royals are floundering: Bret Saberhagen and Charlie Leibrandt, who went 37-15 last season, haven't won any of their last 10 starts, and the Royals have lost eight of those games.
Also, George Brett has followed up a bad April with a bad May. Through Friday, he was hitting .234 (22 for 94) this month, the worst May he has had since he hit .216 in 1974, his rookie season.
First baseman Steve Balboni has been no better. Since his average reached .314 on April 17, he has hit .184 (24 for 130) in the 36 games since.
Still, the Royals are in about the same spot they were a year ago at this time. No one else is tearing up the West, and their usual August-September push would probably give them their eighth division championship in 12 years. Game Greeting
Kevin Mitchell of the Mets slid into third base in a game last weekend and, when he stood up, said to San Diego's Graig Nettles, "My father said to say hello."
Nettles asked him who his father was.
Earl Mitchell, he was told.
Nettles and Earl Mitchell were the starting guards for San Diego High's basketball team in 1961, one year before Kevin was born . . .
The note of the week on the amazing Boston Red Sox: At their current pace and based on 35 starts per player, Roger Clemens would strike out 315 hitters this season and teammate Bruce Hurst would strike out 294.
That's a total of 609. The record for two players on the same team is 624 by Nolan Ryan (383) and Bill Singer (241) of the 1973 California Angels.
One of the reasons the New York Yankees traded Don Baylor to the Red Sox is that they thought Baylor didn't hit right-handed pitching well enough. But this season, nine of his 10 homers have come against right-handers and, in his last 10 games, he's hitting .412 (14 for 34) against all kinds of pitching.
Meanwhile, the Yankees are looking to pick up a right-handed bat.
That's about all that's wrong with the Yankees, who hit only 20 homers in their first 30 games, but now have 31 in their last 16.
When California's Wally Joyner hit a home run off Yankees reliever Dave Righetti Monday, it was the first time a left-handed hitter had hit one off Righetti since Aug. 5, 1983. Hitting Pitchers
More on the demise of the Cardinals: Their pitchers have 16 RBI, and only one regular, Willie McGee with 18, has more. Pitcher Ray Burris has seven RBI in six at-bats and now trails second baseman Tommy Herr by only two.
Worse, the Cardinals have only two homers by left-handed hitters this season, those from Jerry White and Andy Van Slyke.
Then there's the Bullpen by Committee. Three of the four committee members are on the disabled list or unable to pitch, leaving only Todd Worrell . . .
San Francisco rookie Will Clark, a left-handed hitter, was benched for a game this week because, oddly, he was hitting 102 points higher against left-handed pitching than against right-handed pitching . . .
Montreal second baseman Vance Law pitched an inning Wednesday in a 10-1 loss to the Padres. "Their second baseman comes in and he has the best stuff [of anyone]," Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn said. "That's embarrassing" . . .
Atlanta catcher Ozzie Virgil hasn't gotten his batting average above .185 this season, and the last 14 runners to try to steal against him have all been successful . . .
With a 5.23 team ERA through Thursday, Minnesota pitchers would have to throw 266 straight shutout innings (30 games) to match Boston's 3.15 ERA . . .
The season's most incredible statistic is from San Francisco catcher Bob Melvin, with a higher batting average (.183) than on-base average (.178). That's because he has no walks, hasn't been hit by a pitch and has a sacrifice fly, which counts against an on-base average . . .
The Mets have lost once in Ron Darling's last 19 starts and, if he wins Sunday, he'll be the first Mets pitcher ever to start 7-0 . . .
Mets catcher Gary Carter has thrown out only eight of 43 baserunners, but with his pitching staff, he has few chances . .
Quote of the week: "Every player who was playing in the American League when I last managed here 11 years ago is either a coach, a manager or a member of the California Angels" -- new Seattle Manager Dick Williams.