This deck of Cards has no ace, just Jose De-Leon, the game's most mysterious pitcher.
He's 31 and has tremendous stuff. He was once traded even-up for Bonilla. In nine major league seasons righthanded hitters have a .189 average against him, but his career record is 73-105, and he's only 12-28 the last two years. He's durable but has had only one complete game in his last 60 starts.
Yet he will be the Cards' Opening Day starter, which might say all that needs to be said about St. Louis's chances. Manager Joe Torre, however, thinks we might see a different DeLeon this year, so we'll listen. First off, DeLeon has been nearly unhittable this spring: two runs allowed in 22 innings, through last week. His forkball is improved, but he's now relying more on his 90-mph fastball than on breaking stuff.
St. Louis needs DeLeon to come up big because the rest of the rotation consists of pitchers who are 12-game winners at best: Bryn Smith has won between nine and 12 games for six straight seasons; Bob Tewksbury won 10 in 1990, 11 last year; Omar Olivares won 11 last year. When they falter, the Cardinals have Lee Smith, who someday may be recognized as the best closer in history. The starters will also be helped by a standout defense—even with Guerrero in left. (By the way, Guerrero's motto for 1992—"It was a mistake before it got to me"—deftly shifts the onus back to the pitchers.)
But St. Louis can't win this division unless DeLeon finally finds the fountain of truth. That's doubtful. What Torre needs is a healthy Magrane, who won 18 games in 1989 but missed last year with a left elbow injury and won't be back in action until mid-May. Without an ace the Cards can't bluff their way through.
4. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
What will those nutty Phillie pitchers do for an encore this year? A few more wild pitches hitting the screen on the fly? Six hundred walks for the fifth straight year? Another 1-2-3 Philadelphia sweep for the worst control pitchers in the league?
Yes, again, the Phillies' pitchers are young, talented and unpredictable. Sometimes they're even good: During one hot stretch by the staff last season, Philadelphia ran off 13 straight wins, the longest streak in this century by a team with a losing record.
Terry Mulholland has become one of the best lefties in the league, and Tommy Greene has gone from raw to reliable. Jose DeJesus, though, may yet become the first pitcher in history to walk 15 and strike out 15 in the same game. "Who knows where his pitches are going," says one National League batter. "I faced him once this spring, and it was the longest 15 minutes of my life." Rookie Kyle Abbott, obtained from the Angels in an off-season deal for outfielder Von Hayes, brings another impressive arm, and scouts were raving this spring about rookie Andy Ashby's fastball, but both are—surprise!—wild. In other words, Philadelphia fans, get ready for both great and ghastly nights.
The fun won't stop when manager Jim Fregosi goes to his bullpen, which is headed by the wildest Phillie of them all, closer Mitch Williams. Williams is impressed with his fellow pitchers. "I think all the walks are behind us," he says. "Except for me, of course."