"What else do you think about?" asked Lasorda.
"God, please don't let him hit the ball to Sax."
Well, Steve Sax is still at second, and Guerrero has agreed to go back to third after two years and, believe it or not, the defense will be better. Until Guerrero agreed to be the good soldier, L. A. was talking about playing Sax at third, Mariano Duncan at second and Mike Davis in centerfield. So, if you think the defense is bad now....
Ah, but that lineup. Sax, newly acquired shortstop Alfredo Griffin, newly acquired leftfielder Gibson, Guerrero, Mike Marshall, newly acquired right-fielder Davis, John Shelby and Mike Scioscia could make up the most devastating batting order in the league—if everyone stays healthy. That's a big if, considering the medical histories of Marshall (back), Guerrero (knee), Griffin (thumb) and Gibson (ribs, wrist, ankle and knee, not to mention hurt feelings). As for Gibson's state of mind, he seems to have gotten over the eye-black-on-the-hatband caper that caused him to storm off the field before his first Dodger spring training game. The prankster, newly acquired Jesse Orosco, sometimes pitched last year as if he were pulling a practical joke on the Mets. He's still a quality reliever and will probably break the Dodger record of 24 saves in a season.
Bowa, the SAN DIEGO PADRES manager who has been known to throw a tantrum or two, is willing to make two predictions for the '88 season, neither of them startling: "We'll get off to a better start than we did last year" and "We'll put nine men on the field." Getting a better start shouldn't be difficult, because the Padres were 12-39 at the end of May. Bowa's second prognostication might be taken as a concession, because the Padres would probably need 10 men on the field to become a contender. They won't lose 97 games again, but they won't crack .500, either. Steve Gar-vey, bless him, is gone, but on board this time around is Keith Moreland, who went west with his 27 homers in '87 in the trade that sent pitchers Rich Gossage and Ray Hayward to the Cubs. San Diego is counting on Rookie of the Year catcher Benito Santiago to improve on last season's numbers, which will take some doing because he hit .300 with 18 homers and 79 RBIs and stole 21 bases. He also hit safely in 34 straight games, which is the longest such streak ever by a catcher, rookie or Latin American player. First baseman John Kruk is a rising star, having hit .313 with 20 homers and 91 RBIs in '87, only his second season in the majors. Then there's the nonpareil Tony Gwynn, the first National Leaguer to bat .370 or higher (.370 on the nose) and steal 50 or more bases (56). The less said about Padre pitching, the better.
At different times during spring training, the eternally optimistic Chuck Tanner, the manager of the ATLANTA BRAVES, compared Zane Smith with Whitey Ford, Andres Thomas with Dave Concepcion, Tommy Greene with Don Drysdale, Jeff Blauser with Pee Wee Reese, and Tom Glavine with John Tudor. Before this season is half over, however, other people may be comparing the Braves with the '62 Mets.
Since last September the team that lost 92 games in '87 also lost starters Doyle Alexander and David Palmer, reliever Gene Garber and infielders Glenn Hubbard and Ramirez. Atlanta's only new major league face—albeit a cute one—belongs to Buddy Biancalana.
The offense will depend a great deal on how well Gerald Perry does, particularly if he bats behind Dale Murphy, whose 29 intentional walks were 10 more than the entire Mariners roster received last year. But scoring runs won't be the Braves' biggest problem; yielding them will be. Last year Atlanta went 22-14 in games in which lefty Zane Smith started and 47-78 in all others. And the ace has a bone spur in his pitching elbow that may eventually require surgery. Following him in the rotation will be Rick Mahler, a pitcher who has kept many a hitter in the National League (1.344 hits allowed in 1,281 career innings). After them, it can be any of a cast of dozens. Behind Tanner's desk in West Palm Beach was a huge chart listing all the pitchers Atlanta had brought to camp. "I like looking up there," said Tanner. "There are some outstanding arms on that chart." Most of the outstanding ones, like those of Greene, Derek Lilliquist and John Smoltz, will be helping the Braves' farm clubs for a while, however. Bruce Sutter's name was also on the chart, and while a comeback by the once great reliever would be nice, Atlanta isn't counting on it. "We'll be competitive for now," says general manager Bobby Cox. "But it's the future I'm excited about. We'll have one of the best staffs in baseball in a few years." Braves fans will probably have to wait 'til the year after next year.