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Mediocrity Seeks Its Level in the American League West

September 6, 1987

Undated (AP) _ Nothing really matters in the American League West until September. That’s when one team gets hot and decides to win the division.

This year is no different. There will be a pennant race - that’s what happens when mediocrity seek and finds its own level.

Minnesota, trying for its first division championship since 1970, leads going into the final month and Oakland, California and Kansas City are all within 5 1-2 games.

None of those teams is outstanding. Any of them could win it - Texas and Seattle are even on the fringe. By all rights, the AL West winner should get wiped out in the playoffs, but that never seems to happen.

Twins executive vice president Andy MacPhail says, ″we have the best team.″ It depends on which Minnesota club he’s talking about.

At the Metrodome, the Twins have the best record in baseball. Kirby Puckett (.329, 21 home runs, 77 runs batted in) is the prototype player for that bubble ballpark, combining speed with line-drive power.

On the road, the Twins are plain bad at 26-43. Fortunately for them, they play 18 of their final 30 games at home, although they finish the season with six games on the road.

Even with a 4.81 ERA that ranks among the highest in the majors, the Twins have managed to win when it counts. They are 10-3 against second-place Oakland, the biggest reason the Athletics are two games behind.

And, with teams resuming intra-division play Monday and remaining that way for the rest of the season, Minnesota could be in good shape. The Twins are 35-25 against West clubs, the best such record for western teams.

In August, the Twins got designated hitter Don Baylor from Boston and Steve Carlton from Cleveland. Carlton went 1-4, was dropped from the starting rotation, sent to the minors and is ineligible for postseason play. How much Baylor (.239) will help remains to be seen.

″Of all the deals that have been made over the last couple of days, the one I regret the most is Don Baylor going to Minnesota,″ California Manager Gene Mauch said. ″As much for his presence as for his ability.″

The Angels, 4 1-2 games back, helped themselves by getting second baseman Johnny Ray from Pittsburgh. Ray went 9-for-19 for the Angels in his first week.

California plays 12 of its final 25 games at Anaheim Stadium. That maybe good - the Angels are 33-36 at home and 33-32 on the road.

Mauch and the Angels are still seeking their first World Series trip. They will never get closer than last season, when they came within one strike of beating Boston in the playoffs. This time, they should have Wally Joyner (.289, 27 HR, 99 RBI) healthy.

Oakland is two games behind Minnesota and hopes the addition of Rick Honeycutt and Storm Davis can breathe life into a starting rotation that has consisted of Dave Stewart, 18-9, and whoever was healthy.

The Athletics might be in the wrong division. Somehow, they are 43-32 against the powerful AL East but just 25-33 versus the weaker West. Mark McGwire (rookie record 40 HR) and Jose Canseco hit well against everybody, each with 96 RBI. Reggie Jackson (.209, 15 HR, 40 RBI) is hoping for one final chance at the postseason, but the Athletics will have to carry ″Mr. October.″

Kansas City remains the strangest team in baseball. On paper, their rotation of Bret Saberhagen, Charlie Leibrandt, Danny Jackson and Mark Gubicza is the best in baseball, and George Brett, Danny Tartabull and Kevin Seitzer highlight a potent offense.

Instead, the Royals just limp along. They have been shut out 16 times this season, Bo Jackson was on the bench thinking about football they don’t have a catcher.

Saberhagen, 14-2 at the All-Star break, is 2-6 since then. Kansas City’s 3.92 ERA is second to Toronto in the league, but it doesn’t matter if the team can’t score and can’t protect leads. The Royals have scored 100 fewer runs than Minnesota.

New Manager John Wathan pledged to get Dan Quisenberry (eight saves) into more games and then the Royals traded for reliever Gene Garber.

The youth programs in Seattle and Texas are still developing. The Mariners have played well at times while the Rangers have been a disappointment.

Who knows what the Chicago White Sox are doing? They remain a bad team in a bad division.

End Adv For Weekend Editions Sept. 5-6

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