Bobby Cox, going for his 10th straight division title as Braves manager, was nearly as distraught as Bowa as he tried to fix his team’s woeful offense. After putting 43-year-old Julio Franco at first, Cox stuck Chipper Jones in left so that Ken Caminiti’s bat could be in the lineup. This was the same Caminiti who had one hit over a recent nine-game stretch and was batting .225 as a Brave. Moving its best player to a new position in September does not seem like a move a team thinking about the World Series would want to make. But Jones told Cox he was willing to try and with Golden Glove winner Andruw Jones in center, Chipper promised “to man that hundred-foot area from the foul line to straightaway medium left field. I’ll let him have the rest.”
The Diamondbacks have the edge
The way Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson have pitched, the Diamondbacks are not likely to suffer any kind of tailspin. Schilling is 12-1 after Diamondbacks losses and Johnson entered the week with one loss since the All-Star break.
While the rest of the West spends the final two weeks playing inside the division, Arizona should benefit from the unbalanced schedule. After not facing the Brewers all season, the Diamondbacks catch the disappointing Brew Crew six times in the next two weeks.
The Central will provide the wild card
The Giants and Dodgers still meet six more times, but the Cubs and the Cardinals have finished their head-to-head games. Both, however, have at least seven dates against division opponents they have dominated this season. The Cubs won eight of their first 10 against both the Pirates and the Reds, and they will play those clubs in 10 of their last 17 games. The Cardinals have won eight of 10 against the Pirates, with seven more remaining. The teams in the West, meanwhile, have battled on more even terms. The Dodgers, for example, entered the week 21-17 against their remaining opponents: 6-6 vs. the Diamondbacks, 7-6 vs. the Padres and 8-5 vs. the Giants. “The teams in the West will kill one another (in head-to-head competition),” predicts Padres general manager Kevin Towers. “Watch for the Cubs, or maybe the Cardinals, to slide in while the Giants and Dodgers bang heads.”
162 might not be enough
With four teams bunched so tightly for the wild card, there’s always the chance for playoffs. Consider these possibilities:
* If three teams finish tied for the wild card, there will be a two-game playoff. There will be a draw to see which club receives a bye. The winner of the playoff between the other two teams will then meet the bye team the following day. If four teams somehow tie for the wild card, there will be a four-team tournament, with the seedings based on a drawing.
* Here’s a situation that baseball surely hopes to avoid: A three-way tie, with two teams even for a division lead. Let’s say the Diamondbacks, Giants and Cubs all finish with the same record, and the Giants and Diamondbacks are tied for the West lead with Cubs in second place in the Central. The Giants and D-backs would have a one-game playoff for the division title, and the loser would be out, since it then would be a half game behind the Cubs. Though general managers have voted to change that rule, it has not yet passed through all the proper channels.
* And, finally, say those same three teams finish in the same situation and the Cardinals finish tied for second with the Cubs. There would be separate playoffs: The Giants and Diamondbacks would meet for the division, and the Cubs and Cardinals would play for the wild card.
It’s pretty confusing. With so many teams in the race, scoreboard watching becomes more challenging. Cardinals center fielder Jim Edmonds was watching the Rockies play the Giants recently and found himself cheering for the Giants. Whoops!
When Tony La Russa heard Edmonds rooting on the enemy, the Cardinals manager did not hide his displeasure. Edmonds tried to explain.
“I don’t get too excited about it,” Edmonds says. “If you get all caught up in it, you lose your mind. Until we win four or five in a row, there’s no reason to worry.”
Unless, of course, you lose four or five in a row first.