White Sox breezing; Mariners sinking
For the first time since he became manager of the Chicago White Sox in August 1979, Tony LaRussa has no holes to mend. Of course, a few briefs may be waiting for LaRussa to adjust in the off-season, since Tony is a licensed lawyer in the state of Florida. But the White Sox, who currently look like the safest of all four of baseball's division leaders to stay right where they are, have become a prime example of all the good things that can happen when team balance molds with good pitching. Although 11 other American League clubs have higher batting averages than Chicago, three of its players (rookie Ron Kittle, Greg Luzinski, and Carlton Fisk) each have a chance at hitting 30 home runs.
Fisk, in fact, has been positively amazing. Since the veteran catcher was moved from sixth to second in the White Sox batting order on June 15, he has hit .363, with 16 homers and 48 RBIs. Before the switch he was batting .154 with three homers and only 10 RBIs. Even when the White Sox were in their spin-dry cycle back in June, when their pitching hadn't come around yet and LaRussa was having infield problems, Fisk was still quick to predict a bright future.
''I look at the three teams we're probably going to have to beat to win our division (Kansas City, Texas, and California) and none of them can come close to matching our pitching,'' Carlton told reporters. ''Believe me, I see us playing great baseball over the second half of the season and winning this thing. And if the fans will just give our infield a little time to settle down, we'll be all right there, too.''
The White Sox pitching that Fisk was referring to consists primarily of starters LaMarr Hoyt, Rich Dotson, Floyd Bannister, and Britt Burns, although Burns was asked to do a stretch in the bullpen recently. Britt's work had been suffering from two things: a lack of concentration and a tendency to overthrow the ball. Bannister, the expensive free agent who toiled for the Seattle Mariners last year, has now won seven games in a row after an April and May filled with problems. Hoyt recently became the major leagues' first 15-game winner, while Dotson has been steady as rain. With Chicago's last 10 games of the 1983 season scheduled for Comiskey Park, it is difficult at this point to see how anyone can catch the White Sox. Manager Del Crandall looks ahead
Most new managers would rather be caught wearing different-colored athletic socks on national television than take over a losing team in the middle of a season. The exception may be Del Crandall, who on June 23 signed a three-year contract to replace Rene Lachemann as manager of the Seattle Mariners.
''While every new manager would probably prefer to start fresh with his team in spring training, there are pluses and minuses to everything,'' Crandall explained. ''My plus with the Mariners is that I got to see my players perform immediately under pressure. Consequently I was able to make some evaluations much quicker than I would have back in March. For example, I know pretty much which players on my roster are going to be important to the Mariners down the road and which ones I'll trade. Our biggest problem so far has been our inconsistency. Once the season is over, we'll be looking for two strong guys who can hit between 25 and 30 home runs a year for us.''
Asked if the problems of playing 81 home games in Seattle's Kingdome, where home runs often come cheap, meant that the Mariners would be limited to building only a certain type of team, Crandall replied: ''The way you handle that situation is with a strong pitching staff, because pitching ultimately is the key to everything.'' Tidbits from around the majors
* ''I think if I could have any young player in the National League, I'd take rookie Darryl Strawberry of the New York Mets,'' said Manager Joe Torre of the Atlanta Braves. ''I like his power. Considering the fact that the Mets didn't recall Strawberry from the minors until after the season started, I think his 15 -home-run total is amazing. Give this kid a little more time to develop physically - I mean like 20 more pounds - and he'll be an all-star.''
* From Manager Dick Howser of the Kansas City Royals on shortstop U. L. Washington: ''Washington is the only player on the Royals who is better than what I thought he was when I came here. U. L. would be written about a lot more if his defense wasn't being constantly overshadowed by George Brett and Hal McRae's offense.''
* ''The best team I was ever associated with was the 1961 New York Yankees,'' explained manager Ralph Houk of the Boston Red Sox. ''That was the year Roger Maris hit 61 home runs and Mickey Mantle batted right in back of him. We won 109 games that year and then beat the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series.''
* The New York Yankees, who were looking for more speed at the top of their batting order, finally got the player owner George Steinbrenner wanted in Omar Moreno of the Houston Astros. In exchange for Moreno, who reportedly had personality conflicts with Houston Manager Bob Lillis, the Yankees gave up veteran outfielder Jerry Mumphrey. Although Mumphrey has the higher lifetime batting average (.282 to .255), Moreno leads in stolen bases, 412 to 142.
* Pitcher John Denny, whom Philadelphia General Manager Paul Owens purchased last fall from the Cleveland Indians, has suddenly moved ahead of Steve Carlton as the ace of the Phillies' staff. In fact Denny, in putting together a 13-5 record that includes seven straight wins, hasn't lost since July 8. In two of John's five defeats, Philadelphia has failed to get him a run. From here Denny looks like the American League Comeback Player of the Year.