Brew Ha Ha
Healthy Milwaukee can contend in the injury-ravaged National League Central
You have to understand that first baseman Sean Berry is new to Milwaukee. Generally talk like his—of the Brewers' possibly winning the National League Central—would be dismissed as the crazy babble of a fresh-start veteran on a needy club. The Brew Crew, playoff-bound? Whatever, Biff.
Berry, however, sees an opening—a ray of light for the perennial bottom feeders who finished 74-88 last season. It has less to do with skill than with the carnage that has befallen Milwaukee's division rivals. "What's happened this spring is very sad," he says. "I don't like watching guys get hurt, none of us do. But these types of twists and turns really open things up."
Cubs righthanded flamethrower Kerry Wood is out for the year with a torn ligament in his right elbow. The Cardinals' 20-game-winner-in-waiting, righthander Matt Morris, is gone with the same injury. Lefthander Denny Neagle, potentially the Reds' best starter since Jose Rijo, has suffered weakness in his pitching shoulder and will open the season on the 15-day disabled list. Going into spring training the Cubs, Cardinals and Reds were considered playoff contenders—if not to outgun Houston in the Central, then at least to challenge for the wild card. Now....
"There are always good outfielders available and usually a spare infielder who can fill in," says lefthander Terry Mulholland, who will step into the Cubs' rotation. "But replacing an ace is a huge challenge. It cripples you."
The Cardinals' rotation now consists of a quintet that combined for 33 wins last year. The Cubs' rotation is anchored by veterans Kevin Tapani, Steve Trachsel, Mulholland and Scott Sanders, but none is good enough to lift a team that relied on the 21-year-old Wood not only for victories but also for adrenaline. "A huge part of winning is feeling you can win," says Milwaukee manager Phil Garner. "When you lose a Kerry Wood, you have to lose a little of that feeling."
The Pirates were not exempt from the devastation. They lost a starting pitcher the hard way: Righty Jose Silva was struck in the face by a line drive last week, and he will open the season on the DL. Although none of the Astros' arms have dropped off, left-fielder Moises Alou, Houston's most productive hitter, is out for the year with a torn ligament in his left knee.
The Central's only safe haven seems to be Milwaukee. Suddenly the Scott Karl-Steve Woodard- Bill Pulsipher starting trio doesn't look so bad. "I've always felt our injuries were the reason we haven't won the division," says Garner, who last year had three key players—utilityman Dave Nilsson, first baseman John Jaha and righthander Cal Eldred—on the DL for long stretches. "Now we're healthy, and everyone else is banged up. It's time to find out if I'm right."
New Chip on Jays' Shoulder
The get-tough attitude in Toronto starts at the top. General manager Gord Ash showed up for spring training with a shaved head. His new assistant G.M., Dave Stewart, was an intimidating presence on the mound during a 16-year career, and as the Padres' pitching coach last year he told his staff to stop fraternizing with opposing players before games. Manager Jim Fregosi, who took over for the fired Tim Johnson on March 17, presided over the '93 National League champion Phillies, one of the more colorful teams of the decade.