Barring a rash of major injuries like pulled jaw muscles, you can pretty much count on meeting the Mets in the National League Championship Series. The possibility exists, of course, that someone else from Murmurers' Row will give an explosive interview: " Lenny Dykstra ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich," Mookie Wilson reveals in the latest issue of Jack and Jill.
Fact is, though, the
NEW YORK METS
are the best team in the National League East, with speed, power, fine defense and great pitching, a team with a surfeit of talent that almost—but not quite—justifies its insufferable attitude.
This is baseball's best division. As Pittsburgh manager Jim Leyland says, "Not only do you have to be a damn good team to win this division, you also have to be a damn good team not to finish last." The middle teams will be packed as tightly as reporters around Darryl Strawberry's locker, waiting for him to talk trash about his teammates. Then again, if the Straw Man has the kind of year he had in '87 (.284. 39 HRs. 104 RBIs, 36 steals), he won't have to shut up. The controversy over his interview in the April Esquire, in which he trashed manager Davey Johnson, first baseman Keith Hernandez, catcher Gary Carter, second baseman Wally Backman and center-fielder Lenny Dykstra, passed over the club's Florida training camp like a flash rainstorm. Said second baseman Tim Teufel, "I'm sure Darryl said those things. I just wish he had included me." Another Met complained because he couldn't get through to the Trade Him phone number set up by the
New York Post
in a Play Him or Trade Him phone poll.
The Mets aren't about to trade Strawberry, even though a rumor was afloat that he was going to the Expos for Tim Raines. Trade him? Strawberry, 26, has more RBIs and more stolen bases than Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays had at similar stages in their careers, as well as more home runs than Mantle and more walks than Mays.
Johnson does have a few concerns. He will want to find enough playing time for Dave Magadan at first base behind Hernandez and at third behind Howard Johnson, and he also has to get utility man Keith Miller into the lineup once in a while. The manager will also need to rest Carter, or Co-Captain Kid, more often; he hit .285 in games after days off and .216 after starting the day before. Rick Aguilera and David Cone, the Mets' fifth and sixth starters, would be aces on other staffs. Relievers Roger McDowell and Randy Myers have yet to prove they can be trusted as the righty-lefty closer tandem. Davey's problems amount to a hill of beans, though, compared with those of other managers. This is one heck of a team.
Jack Who? "He's gone, and he wasn't the only player on this team,"
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
shortstop Ozzie Smith said this spring. "After all. we did make it to the seventh game of the World Series without him. We're moving on." To replace what's his face's bat, which accounted for 35 homers and 103 RBIs in 131 games, the Cardinals signed Bob Horner, late of the Yakult Swallows. The Cards were impressed with Horner-san this spring because he still has one of the quicker bats in baseball and he is a decided defensive improvement at first base over, um, the name escapes us. Still, St. Louis isn't in danger of having many of its bats examined for cork this season. The top returning Cardinal home run hitter is third baseman Terry Pendleton, who had 12. "When they find out my new restaurant is called Whitey Herzog's Powerhouse, they'll wonder," says manager Whitey Herzog.
The Rat got himself another pitcher just before spring training: righthander Jose DeLeon from the White Sox. The Cards already had John Tudor, Danny Cox, Joe Magrane, Greg Mathews and Bob Forsch as starters and Todd Worrell and Ken Dayley in the pen. "I'm not so sure our pitching can't be better than New York's," says Herzog. "I know it can be the best staff I've ever had."
Even without old No. 22—oh yes, Jack Clark is his name—these Cardinals could be as good as the ones that won 95 games last year. It's just that the Mets will be better.
To paraphrase Winston Churchill, this season's
are an enigma wrapped inside the Philly Phanatic's costume. Funny how a team with Milt Thompson (.302, 46 stolen bases in '87), Juan Samuel (28 homers, 100 RBIs, 35 steals), Von Hayes (21 homers, 84 RBIs), Mike Schmidt (.293, 35 homers, 113 RBIs), Lance Parrish (67 RBIs) and Chris James (17 homers in 358 at bats) can finish last in runs scored in the division. Funny how it can come within a whisker of finishing fifth, despite having reliever Steve Bedrosian, who won the Cy Young Award over teammate Shane Rawley. "The only explanation," says catcher Parrish, "is that we were simply screwed up."
If manager Lee Elia can unscrew them, the Phillies could make a quantum leap. They have added a useful starter in free-agent righty David Palmer, and they got rightfielder Phil Bradley in a trade from Seattle. Over the last three seasons Bradley has averaged 57 extra-base hits and 28 steals and had an on-base percentage of .378. He might just be the best player ever with the same first name as his team. (His competition: Angel Moreno, J.J. Cannon and six Reds named Red.)