4-for-4: Earning Pinstripes


Clint Barmes. We've mentioned the Colorado Rockies' rookie shortstop before. He's done a surprisingly good job adapting to big-league pitching, and he's leading the National League with a .386 average and 17 multi-hit games and 32 runs scored. Even more impressive: He has more hits than Ichiro.

Dontrelle Willis. He became the first pitcher in the majors to reach seven victories last Wednesday in the Florida Marlins' 2-1 win over Houston. He continues to be a pitcher that's tough to pick up the ball. He's the early pick to be the NL starter in the All-Star game over Roger Clemens.

Yahoo! Sports' MLB analyst Ryne Sandberg gives four answers to four pressing questions in the major leagues.

More Sandberg: Power Numbers

1. Are the Yankees back, or are they just beating up on the AL West's weakest teams?

Sometimes it takes series against weak teams to get back to winning ways, and the New York Yankees have definitely done that by producing a nine-game win streak against Oakland and Seattle.

The schedule still favors the Yankees – they have two more games in Seattle and then return to New York for three-game sets against the Mets at Shea Stadium and Detroit at home. So they should remain hot and continue to win. But the true test will be Memorial Day weekend when they face Boston again at Yankee Stadium. We'll see how the Yankees' pitching holds up – because that's where it all starts for them.

The Yankees just got back to .500 and that's always the first sign for a team on the rise. Once you get to .500, you can make a move. But I'm not ready to declare that the Yankees are back. They're in striking distance of AL East-leading Baltimore, but they're not back to being their old selves. They're still five games out of first place.

2. Why isn't Lee Mazzilli getting credit for the Orioles' surprising start?

I haven't heard his name once, and I'm surprised he hasn't been mentioned. Someone has to take credit for the Baltimore Orioles' pitching and the way it has been effective. And that someone should be Mazzilli.

Ozzie Guillen came out publicly that he was going to change the attitude of the White Sox, and that has definitely gotten some play during their fast start. What's going on in Baltimore, especially with the surprising pitching, is a reflection of the manager. Mazzilli had the offense. But when it comes to handling pitchers and making sure the right guys are in the game in the right spots, that's the manager and pitching coach. So let's give Lee Mazzilli and pitching coach Ray Miller some credit.

What's interesting about the Orioles and White Sox is that they are very comparable yet are very different in aspects of the game. Chicago is strong in pitching and Baltimore is strong in hitting. They're evenly matched clubs and their splitting of a four-game series last weekend makes a potential postseason encounter that much more interesting.

3. Is Manny Ramirez a Hall of Famer?

I think the Boston Red Sox outfielder has taken advantage of Fenway Park. He's very comfortable there hitting balls off the Green Monster, and he's been very constant in what he contributes year in and year out with his run production.

At this point of his career, Ramirez reminds me of Jim Rice and Andre Dawson. Both of them hit over 400 home runs in their careers, but they're not in the Hall of Fame yet. Ramirez could have six or seven years left and wind up with 500-plus home runs. At that point, you could talk about Manny as a Hall of Famer. But not now.

Five hundred career home runs used to be the magic number to get into the Hall. Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa reached the 500-home plateau the past couple of seasons. They'll test whether 500 homers is still a first-ballot lock due to baseball's explosion of home runs from all different factors – first and foremost the steroid issue.

4. Will we see Jeff Bagwell playing in the majors again?

It's always tougher to come back from an injury later in your career. Bagwell, being 36 years old, will have a difficult time coming back from arthroscopic surgery on his aching right shoulder. But the Houston Astros first baseman has a tremendous work ethic and has always enjoyed lifting weights. I don't think he would want to retire before his buddy Craig Biggio quits, too.

The shoulder was a constant pain; that's why Bagwell opted for surgery. The biggest thing will be to see how well he can throw after surgery. If he's pain-free, we'll probably see him on the field again. If he isn't, then he should retire with Biggio as a package deal.


The interest in the Phoenix Suns is back in full force in the Valley of the Sun, and the team has really had quite a following throughout the league this season because of the way they play. Since Steve Nash has been named MVP, it seems like he has raised his game even more in the NBA playoffs. It appears as if he feels he has to play like an MVP. Because of Nash, I'm predicting the Suns will win the next two games and beat Dallas 4-2 to advance to the Western Conference finals.