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If Wilson does come up with a big year, the Pirates won't have to worry so much about the bottom of their order. At the bottom of the bottom were the Pirate shortstops, who produced only 16 RBIs last year, one less than the pitchers did. Over the winter, manager Jim Leyland pondered batting his pitchers eighth, but he perished that thought. At the top of the order Leyland has little to worry about, with leftfielder Barry Bonds (24 homers, 97 runs), Van Slyke (25 homers, 100 RBIs) and switch-hitting third baseman Bobby Bonilla (24 homers, 100 RBIs).
Few teams can match the Pirates' defense up the middle, with Van Slyke, second baseman Jose Lind, shortstop Rafael Belliard and catcher Mike LaValliere. "Lind and Belliard are as good as Tommy Herr and Ozzie Smith were when I played with the Cardinals, and LaValliere is the best catcher in the game, if not the best-looking," says Van Slyke, with LaValliere in earshot. "Look at him. You'd think he was a cook in a White Castle."
Doug Drabek, Mike Dunne, John Smiley, Bob Walk and Brian Fisher give the Pirates a solid rotation, and the bullpen has Jim Gott (34 saves) and Jeff Robinson (9 saves and a major league-leading 124⅔ relief innings). Perhaps the best thing about this team is that of the aforementioned players, only Walk is over 30. And now that Wilson owns a filling station, maybe the Pirates won't run out of gas in September.
3 ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
When the Cardinals announced recently that starting pitcher Danny Cox would be lost for the season because of elbow surgery, every club in the division but the Mets must have cringed. For the Cardinals are the one team in the National League East that has proved it can beat the Mets head-to-head. Cox's injury isn't the only one the Cards have to worry about. Third baseman Terry Pendleton may not be ready for Opening Day because of a cartilage operation on his left knee. Starter Greg Mathews has a tender left arm. Even when he goes home, manager Whitey Herzog is reminded of the injuries: His wife, Mary Lou, has her broken leg in a cast, the result of a skiing accident.
If Pendleton is able to play, the Cardinals will have, in the words of shortstop Ozzie Smith, a seven-year veteran of the club, "the best offense we've had since I've been here." Leftfielder Vince Coleman, Smith, centerfielder Willie McGee, first baseman Pedro Guerrero, rightfielder Tom Brunansky, Pendleton, catcher Tony Pena and second baseman Jose Oquendo are indeed a batting order to be reckoned with. McGee worked out in the off-season with strength guru Mackie Shilstone, so he may get back up to his 100-RBI level. Guerrero is happy to be a Cardinal, and his teammates can't believe the bad things the Dodgers said about him. And Brunansky (22 homers, 79 RBIs) should be better now that he doesn't have to carry the power load alone.
With Cox down, the Cardinal starters will be Jose DeLeon, Joe Magrane, Scott Terry, rookie Cris Carpenter and Mathews; none has ever won more than 13 games in a season. At least the bullpen is in good shape, with Todd Worrell, Ken Dayley, Frank DiPino and Dan Quisenberry. "When we heard about Cox, what could we do but breathe a sigh and say 'Life goes on'?" says Smith. "We still want very much to be thought of as the team of the '80s. And we would be, with World Series appearances in '82, '85, '87 and '89." Nice thought, Ozzie. but don't count on it.
4 MONTREAL EXPOS
Pitching is Montreal's problem, too. With Pascual Perez out indefinitely because of drug problems, manager Buck Rodgers will have to rely on Dennis Martinez (15-13), Kevin Gross (60-66 lifetime), journeyman Bryn Smith, untested Brian Holman and 6'10" rookie Randy Johnson. The bullpen isn't particularly deep, either; the Expos had to give up setup man Jeff Parrett to get Gross from the Phillies.
If the Expos are to stay in contention, they need comeback years from both leftfielder Tim Raines and third baseman Tim Wallach. In the off-season, Montreal picked up a reliable shortstop. Spike Owen, from Boston and a much-needed left-handed batter, Mike Aldrete, from San Francisco. But they still have to settle on a centerfielder, Dave Martinez or Otis Nixon. At second, the Expos are planning to platoon Tom Foley and Rex Hudler. Nixon and Hudler were called up from Indianapolis last year and had much to do with the Expos' second-half surge. Hudler, who is something of a liability at second, is, according to Raines, "the fastest white man I have ever seen."