THIS CAN BE a deceptive time of year. It seems like a lot of baseball games have been played when, in reality, the season is just starting to heat up.

Veteran baseball people usually understand this. They're not planning any parades in Tampa Bay. The Astros, Cardinals, Marlins, White Sox, Twins and Athletics - all teams that are playing well above expectations - realize they haven't accomplished anything yet. The Orioles, despite being in the thick of the AL East race, are still answering questions about whether second baseman Brian Roberts and closer George Sherrill will be traded before the July 31 deadline.

Despite that, a real angst has begun to infect some teams that haven't lived up to their preseason hype.

The Mets are wallowing around .500. Willie Randolph made a comment to the Bergen Record, later retracted, that suggested he was being unfairly singled out as an African-American manager. That got a lot of attention, but he also claimed that SNY, the cable channel controlled by the team, contributed to the perception that he's too unemotional by not showing him interacting with players in the dugout during games.

Detroit is in last place despite adding Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. Jim Leyland reacted sharply to an article in USA Today that quoted former Tigers pitcher Jason Grilli saying the problem was a lack of team chemistry after getting rid of "good people" like Sean Casey.

"You've got to be [kidding] me," the manager sputtered. "I mean, please. Come on. Don't misunderstand one thing. I miss Sean Casey. But Sean Casey has nothing to do with the fact that the Tigers are where they're at."

Padres general manager Kevin Towers already has threatened a thorough housecleaning.

"If we make changes, it will be wholesale," he said. "I'm not going to watch this for another 4 months."

Brewers leftfielder Ryan Braun stirred the pot in Milwaukee by saying he felt like his teammates "never expected to win" and were "just content to be there" while being swept by the Red Sox.

All together now: It's ... still ... early.

And you know what's really odd? The team that seems to be handling a horrid start better than anybody is (wait for it) ... the Yankees.

"I think we're just about ready to go on a tear," Hank Steinbrenner said encouragingly earlier this week.

Strange times, indeed.

The hot corner

* The Mariners have a club-record $117 million payroll, an 18-30 record and were just clubbed three straight times by the last-place Tigers. That's led to strong speculation that manager

John McLaren

or general manager Bill Bavasi - or both - could be on the way out.

* The Braves' bullpen could get better in a hurry. Manager Bobby Cox says he expects John Smoltz, Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez to all be ready to come off the disabled list within the next couple weeks.

Around the bases

* Boston's

Manny Ramirez

has been stuck at 498 career homers since May 12, but doesn't appear overly concerned. "There's something I've been meaning to tell you about the 500 home runs. I don't want to hit 500 right now," he told

Maureen Mullen

of the Lynn (Mass.)

Item

. "I want to wait a little while. No one is talking about it. No one's excited about it. I want to wait until everyone is excited about it."

* Geovany Soto's inside-the-park home run this week was the first by a Cubs catcher since Cal Neeman did it on June 17, 1959.

* According to the New York Daily News, the Yankees had revenue of more than $319 million last season.

On deck

CHEERS: For Braves righthander Jorge Campillo. He's 29 and an 8-year veteran of the Mexican League. Signed as a minor league free agent this winter, he got a spot start against the Mets in the nightcap of Tuesday's doubleheader and made the most of it, dazzling the hitters with an array of offspeed stuff. He went six innings and allowed just three hits while striking out seven. "That's called the art of pitching," manager Bobby Cox said.

Said Campillo: "I think this is the biggest thing that ever happened to me playing baseball."

JEERS: For bogus blogging. After the Brewers were swept by the Red Sox last weekend, a non-sports blog posted an item quoting unnamed sources saying that manager Ned Yost would be fired on the off-day.

Bloggers like to claim they have as much right to express an opinion as the people who actually report for a living. Fair enough. But this was apparently a complete fabrication masquerading as fact. News organizations, who are supposed to demand at last two independent sources before running unattributed info but picked up on the falsehood and passed it along without checking first, were also wrong.

A furious Yost called the whole mess "a joke ... totally irresponsible ... not fair" among other things. He's right.

BY THE NUMBERS:

7: Shutouts of the Tigers, who on paper have one of the most potent lineups in baseball.

21: Times the Padres have been held to two or fewer runs, entering last night.

30: Teams in baseball history that have made the playoffs after trailing by at least 10 games at any point in the season.

.397: American League slugging percentage going into play yesterday. The last time the AL finished the season under .400 was 1992 (.385).

UP NEXT: If San Francisco's Omar Vizquel plays all three games in Miami this weekend, he will set the all-time record for games played at shortstop.

Vizquel is much better than many realize. He and Ken Griffey Jr. both made their debut for the Mariners on April 3, 1989. How many realize Vizquel has more career hits than the often-injured Griffey?

He also has a higher career fielding percentage, batting average and on-base percentage than Ozzie Smith, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

Weeklings

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols, on going 0-for-3 after hitting a line drive that broke the nose of San Diego starter Chris Young on Wednesday and then, moments later, knocking catcher Josh Bard out of the game with a hard slide at the plate: "It was a pretty tough night. After that I couldn't concentrate on my other at-bats. I kind of had flashbacks."

STAT OF THE WEEK: Rockies third baseman Garrett Atkins leads the team with 28 RBI. He's doing that despite batting .208 with runners in scoring position and having more strikeouts (13) than hits (11) in those situations.

PSYCHOLOGY 101 OF THE WEEK: Reds pitching coach Dick Pole went up to Matt Belisle before his last start Tuesday and said simply, "Step it up, pal. Right now." Belisle then went out and held the Dodgers to three runs in six innings.

Dusty Baker said Belisle wasn't pitching to save his spot in the rotation, but conceded that he wanted to see him show a little more urgency. "A hungry man is a working man," the manager explained.

NICE STORY OF THE WEEK: The no-hitter thrown by Red Sox righthander Jon Lester against the Royals Monday night struck an emotional chord. He's a cancer survivor and that seems to have touched everybody. "There was crying in the dugout in the middle of the game," manager Terry Francona said.

Lester said he's still getting used to being a role model. "It's something that I'm trying to learn how to deal with," he said. "It's different when you get people coming up to you in the street that you don't know and telling you that you're an inspiration to them. You don't know what to say. You don't know how to act. You don't know what to do. It's something that I'm having to cope with and interact with people on that level."

Finally

Mike Piazza,

one of the greatest hitting catchers of all time, announced his retirement this week when it became clear that no team was interested in signing him.

The knock on Piazza was that he wasn't very good defensively. But Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who preceded him as the Dodgers starting catcher and worked with him as a coach his last 2 years in Los Angeles, has a little different take on that.

"You had to see Mike from the early days to appreciate how far he came," Scioscia said. "He took it to heart. He really cared about the job he did behind the plate."