At the all-star break, an easy bet is that there won't be a repeat of last year's Red Sox-Mets World Series, not with Boston moving closer and closer to a complete overhaul and certainly not with the New York clubhouse a virtual combat zone.
At various times this week, the Mets threw food at reporters, threw a firecracker near a group of reporters and barred them from their clubhouse. This came after 10 days of players criticizing players and players saying they wanted to be traded.
What's hard to believe is how they've accepted their troubles so badly. The Mets aren't losing because some players don't like Darryl Strawberry. They're losing because the game's greatest pitching staff has fallen apart. A year ago at the midway point, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Dwight Gooden and Bobby Ojeda were 41-10. This year, they're 19-17.
Their pitching declining, the Mets suddenly have weaknesses everywhere. Len Dykstra and Wally Backman aren't awesome leadoff men, Rafael Santana is only a passable shortstop and Gary Carter's knees and throwing arm are shot.
Strange as it may seem, the immediate future looks better for the Red Sox, who've had an infusion of young talent. Red Sox management apparently envisions an outfield of Mike Greenwell, Ellis Burks and Todd Benzinger and may even be considering speeding up the changes by trading Don Baylor, making Jim Rice a designated hitter and shifting Dwight Evans to first base . . .
More stories of youth recaptured: Nolan Ryan's fragile right elbow has felt so good this year that he now says he'd like to return for a 21st season in 1988. Now 40, he leads the National League in strikeouts and is fifth in earned run average. His record (4-10) isn't better because the Houston Astros have scored only 2.3 runs per game for him . . .
The key to the seven-player trade by the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants was third baseman Chris Brown. The Padres flatly told the Giants they wouldn't trade Dave Dravecky if Brown wasn't included, and because of a youngster named Matt Williams, the Giants agreed.
Williams was their No. 1 draft pick last year and is projected as their starting third baseman, perhaps as early as next year. "He's got Mike Schmidt-type talent," General Manager Al Rosen said.
The deal paid quick dividends for the Giants as they won four of the next five games. Third baseman Kevin Mitchell, acquired from the Padres, hit two home runs in his first game for the Giants, left-handed reliever Craig Lefferts pitched in all four victories and Dravecky got a victory in his first start . . . Incidentally, the deal was completed by new Padres boss Chub Feeney, another indication that Jack McKeon no longer runs that team. Howe and Why
Steve Howe, who hasn't pitched in the major leagues since 1985, apparently will sign a contract with the Texas Rangers today. Howe's return to baseball still has to be cleared by Commissioner Peter Ueberroth and probably will be if he agrees to some kind of regular drug-testing program. Howe has been in trouble because of drugs four times and recently has been pitching in Mexico. Still, he's only 29, and his left arm used to be one of the best in the game. If the Rangers do sign him, they say they'd like to make him a starter . . . The Rangers have had all sorts of problems this year, especially with defense. Their 87 errors lead the majors, and that includes 24 by outfielders . . .
Chicago White Sox General Manager Larry Himes is going to the All-Star Game hoping to make a deal for pitchers Richard Dotson and Floyd Bannister, and the A's and Blue Jays are interested. The Cincinnati Reds were interested earlier, but injuries to Ron Oester and Kal Daniels have changed that. Oester's knee injury was so severe that he required reconstructive surgery, and Daniels will be out about five weeks. If shortstop Kurt Stillwell can make the transition to second base as Oester's replacement, the Reds still may not be hurt badly, except in their ability to trade for another pitcher.
Manager Pete Rose, concerned how his players would react to adversity, called a team meeting to say: "If I'm not mistaken, we're in first place. We should be happy. We should be having some fun. We can't dwell on what we don't have."
But there's no question, the Reds are desperate for pitching. Their starters blew leads in 40 of the first 81 games . . .
Nor can the Milwaukee Brewers laugh much. When they left Seattle on May 3, they were 20-4. When they left on July 8, they were 40-41. Their problems are spread around, but Juan Nieves is especially puzzling. He has finished only one of his 18 starts, a no-hitter against Baltimore . . . White Sox catcher Carlton Fisk told friends he'll challenge the team's alcohol ban by bringing a cooler of beer to Thursday's game at Comiskey Park . . .
At the break, San Diego catcher Benito Santiago and Detroit third baseman Darnell Coles lead the majors in errors with 16. Coles has 16 despite having played very little since late May, and how a catcher can make 16 errors may be one of the season's biggest mysteries. Santiago also has 63 strikeouts and seven walks . . .
Remember Sparky Anderson's spring prediction that he wouldn't have a regular catcher or cleanup hitter in 1987? He was wrong. Catcher Matt Nokes and cleanup hitter Alan Trammell are both on the American League all-star team. But Detroit second baseman Lou Whitaker has asked to be taken off, and the Tigers no longer know what to make of him. He has made 12 errors, as many as he has had in six of nine full seasons. He hasn't homered or had an RBI in 20 games and hasn't had an extra base hit since June 24. Most troubling is that his attitude has shifted from relaxed to indifferent . . . Trivia: The Tigers are the only team never to have had a 10-run game against the Mariners in the Kingdome. Every other American League team has done it at least four times . . .
After the St. Louis Cardinals swept back-to-back doubleheaders from the Los Angeles Dodgers last week, Pedro Guerrero said, "Before they even sing the national anthem, they have the bases loaded and Jack Clark is up." Losing four games in two days to St. Louis is just another indication of the Dodgers' troubles.Feeling the Drought
Their farm system is so depleted, the Dodgers signed former Cardinal Tito Landrum this week and guaranteed his contract for 1988. This year, they've obtained six players who were either released, optioned, unsigned or unwanted by their previous team.
They've also decided on a way to stop teammates from accusing Mike Marshall of missing games because of minor injuries: by trading Marshall. They contacted a dozen or more teams about him last week . . .
The Cardinals continue to amaze. They lead the major leagues with 468 runs despite hitting fewer homers (52) than 25 other teams. Since the designated hitter was introduced in 1972, no NL team has led the majors in scoring this late in a season . . .
The news also is good for the California Angels, whose bullpen has yielded just 20 earned runs in its last 101 1/3 innings. The relievers are going so well that Kirk McCaskill isn't coming off the disabled list this weekend simply because the Angels can't decide whom to drop. DeWayne Buice has allowed one run in 19 1/3 innings; Greg Minton six in 26 innings; Gary Lucas two in 23 innings and Chuck Finley zero in 10 innings . . .
Head hunting? Oakland's Mark McGwire wasn't hit by a single pitch in his first 76 games. He has been hit by four in his last eight . . . Tommy John, 44, of the Yankees and Joe Niekro, 42, of the Twins pitched against one another Tuesday night. Wednesday might have been more appropriate because it was Old Timers Day at Yankee Stadium . . . The Kansas City Royals must promote Lonnie Smith to the big leagues or release him by Tuesday. Indications now are that they'll work a trade for Steve Balboni by then, especially since George Brett has become their everyday first baseman.