Regardless of where the Chicago Cubs finish in the National League East in baseball's Second Season, this is not the same team Manager Joe Amalfitano took to spring training. It has matured; its defense has improved; its young players care; and it has found some pitching.
Part of the reason has to be Amalfitano, whose low-key approach has taken a team that was 15-37 before the strike and suddenly made it a contender. Of all the things Joe has done well, perhaps his greatest achievement has been the way he has juggled his pitching staff, never staying too long with a starter when he got into trouble, and always having the right man ready in the bullpen.
Help has also come from General Manager Herman Franks, who wasn't afraid to take a chance on much-traveled outfielder Bobby Bonds.
Franks, who managed Bonds when both were with the San Francisco Giants, had little trouble convincing the Texas Rangers to release Bobby from their minor league farm system. Herman was gambling that Bonds, who five times has hit 30 or more home runs and stolen 30 or more bases in the same season, still has some of that fire left.
Although Bonds may have lost a step and had his worst season ever last year with St. Louis, supposedly because of a hand injury, he has often carried the Cubs with his bat since the stike.
Anyway, it was vintage Bonds last week against the Cardinals, when he ripped his old teammates for two homers and five runs-batted-in. Amalfitano was batting Bobby cleanup; Cub fans were basking in his glory; and Franks was sitting in the club's front office saying: "I told you so."
With managers being hunted down like Medflies in California these days, perhaps it shouldn't have been surprising that Montreal fired Dick Williams and replaced him with General Manager Jim Fanning.
What made William's departure such a stunning event was that he had the Expos within a shoelace of first place when he was told his services were no longer needed.
Dick's departure may have been speeded by rumors that the New York Yankees had decided to go after him as their manager for next year, although NY owner George Steinbrenner later denied that report.
Cleveland's John Denny threw his third consecutive shutout, a three-hitter against the California Angels, whose mental and physical mistakes were driving manager Gene Mauch up a wall.
Meanwhile, Gaylord Perry moved closer to his 300th win with career victory No. 296. And Boston rookie Bob Ojeda came within three outs of becoming the first left-hander to pitch a no-hitter against the Yankees.
Johnny Bench, who hadn't been around for awhile because of a broken ankle, hit two home runs to tie Joe DiMaggio for 27th on the all-time list with 361.
And Los Angeles announced that third-basement Ron Cey would miss the rest of the season after being hit on the hand by a pitch.
Asked to explain the sudden success of the San Francisco Giants, second baseman Joe Morgan replied: "Actually we were a good team before the strike. Out biggest problem then was our own mistakes, which saw us blow a lot of one-run games. But now that we're hitting in the clutch, making the big plays in the field, and getting pretty good pitching all at the same time, everybody thinks we're different. Well, we're not really.We've just been making the most of our opportunities."
As for the pennant races overall, Houston, because of its pitching depth, continues to look strong in the NL West. In fact, the way the Astros and Dodgers are playing, their division may not be decided until they meet in the final three games in LA.
In the NL East, the Cardinals' edge has been reliever Bruce Sutter and the clever bench-juggling of manager Whitey Herzog.
In the AL West, Kansas City and Oakland apparently plan to carry hostilities to the wire. The A's have a lot of pitching, but the Royals probably have better team balance.
In the AL East, the Yankees under new manager Bob Lemon are currently playing like the best team in baseball and have been getting some superb pitching from rookie left-hander Dave Righetti. But nothing is sure in a division that includes the Detroit Tigers, who have shown great consistency, plus the pitching-rich Baltimore Orioles and the powerful Milwaukee Brewers.