Scouts following the Giants agree that the three biggest factors in San Francisco's rise to the top in the National League West this year have been 1) the combination of general manager Al Rosen and manager Roger Craig, 2) the two-man wrecking crew of Will Clark and Kevin Mitchell, who through Sunday had combined for 69 homers and 234 RBIs, and 3) the Candlestick advantage.
"No club works harder than the Giants, from the front office down to the batboys," says one scout. "They're the only team ever to have four guys working each game with headsets. They position the defense on every pitch, and they steal signs. And their pitchers execute scouting reports to perfection. It all stems from the top. Rosen is the only G.M. who sits in back of the screen or in his skybox and tells his assistant [Ralph Nelson, who wears a headset] how to position players."
As for Craig, baseball purists would love to watch him match wits with the Cubs' Don Zimmer in the playoffs because they're both so unpredictable. (And those purists will almost certainly get their wish: San Francisco's magic number was down to two and Chicago's to three as of Sunday night.) Indeed, Craig and Zimmer came up with many of their unusual tactics together when Craig was working as a coach for Zimmer in San Diego in 1972, and Zimmer as a coach for Craig in '87 in San Francisco. Craig will call a pitchout on any count, mainly to intimidate opposing managers. Zimmer loves to send runners with the bases loaded, one out and the count 3 and 2. And both will put on the hit-and-run at any time.
Clark, the Giants' No. 3 batter and perhaps the best hitter in the game, and cleanup man Mitchell have been phenomenal at knocking in the Giants' No. 1 and No. 2 batters, Brett Butler and Robby Thompson, respectively. But the rest of the starting lineup isn't that impressive. Matt Williams has 17 homers in only 79 games as a dead fastball hitter, but the Cubs should be able to neutralize him by feeding him breaking balls.
The big worry for the Giants is injuries. Not only did Clark bang up his right leg on Sept. 21, but many of the pitchers are also hurting. Righthander Don Robinson is trying to come back from a right knee injury; ace Rick Reuschel is, in one scout's opinion, "throwing about 75 percent"; and righthander Kelly Downs is still recuperating from a sore right shoulder. The same scout says relievers Steve Bedrosian and Craig Lefferts "aren't throwing the ball well at all. Both look as if they're hurt."
Meanwhile, Chicago is worried about centerfielder Jerome Walton's strained hamstring. Like Butler, Walton is his team's offensive catalyst, and he can be dangerous against the Giants, particularly if Terry Kennedy is behind the plate.
Finally, there's Candlestick. Says one scout, "That park is the biggest home-field advantage in the majors, because no one wants to play there. Don't even look at the flags. The wind swirls in several directions at once, and balls blow in from the corners. [ Chicago leftfielder] Dwight Smith could get hit right between the eyes."
The results of regular-season matchups rarely foretell what will happen in the playoffs. The Mets were 10-1 against the Dodgers last year, and look what happened to them. One reason the playoffs are different is that managers tend to bear down harder on the weaknesses of opposing players. If the Blue Jays (page 48) make the playoffs, for instance, their opponents will run like crazy on Mookie Wilson if he plays right and Lloyd Moseby in left, because they both have weak arms. Conversely, the playoff format will allow other teams to cover up their flaws. The Cubs should be able to get by with their three-man rotation of Mike Bielecki, Greg Maddux and Rick Sutcliffe. And if the Orioles win the American League East title, they can use their aces, Jeff Ballard and Bob Milacki, in five of the seven games and bring in closer Gregg Olson to protect every lead. For the record, the Cubs were 6-6 against the Giants in the regular season, and both the Blue Jays and Orioles were 5-7 against the Athletics, whose magic number was two after Sunday's action.