Attention should center on Dodger chances of winning a third straight pennant, something not accomplished in the league since 1944 [page 78]. But with Koufax retired and Wills and Davis traded away, the Dodgers are not the same, and no one expects them to win. On the other hand, you have the Pirates, who have finished no better than third for six seasons and who backed out of the race last September when the Dodgers looked them in the eye in the stretch. The Pirates have Wills now, to give them heart, and they have bolstered their shaky pitching. They seem the logical choice. But the Giants, rich with stars and riddled with faults, have won more games the past five years than any club except Los Angeles. The Braves, who win 83 to 88 games every season, think this is the year to get out of that rut. The iffy Phils may challenge, and the surprisingly inept Reds could, too. So could the run-poor Cardinals, who at least know how to win, given the chance. A difficult race to pick: only the Cubs, Astros and Mets are out of it.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
The Dodgers proved in the World Series to be inept at hitting fastball pitchers. They also have little talent for hitting left-handed pitchers. Only Jim Lefebvre held his own against lefties last year, hitting .270, just six points less than he did against right-handers. Six other front-line players—Willie Davis, Ron Fairly, Lou Johnson, Wes Parker, John Roseboro and former Met Ron Hunt—hit a collective .293 versus right-handers (and had one homer for each 35 times at bat), but against left-handers they batted only .247 (and went 81.5 times at bat for each homer). Before Willie Davis sprained his ankle this spring Manager Walt Alston wanted to put him in the leadoff spot to utilize his exceptional speed, but Willie's inability to wait out pitches (he has averaged only 21 walks a season for seven years) made the idea a questionable one even then. The skimpy attack is built around Lefebvre (24 homers and 74 RBIs), Fairly (61 RBIs), Johnson (73 RBIs) and Roseboro (.276). It has been bolstered somewhat by the acquisition of Bob Bailey (.279) and Hunt (.288), a good hit-and-run man.
With Sandy Koufax gone, the pitching staff—still a good one—cannot hope to match the 2.62 ERA that led the majors last year. But a full tour of spring training has helped Don Drysdale (13-16, 3.42 in 1966 after his long holdout). Lefthander Claude Osteen (17-14, 2.85 ERA) and Don Sutton (12-12, 2.99) are strong starters, too, and will be joined in the rotation by former Relievers Bob Miller and Joe Moeller. The well-manned bullpen features Phil Regan (14-1, 17 saves, 1.62 ERA), who starts the season with a 13-game winning streak, plus left-hander Ron Perranoski and big Bob Lee, picked up from the Angels. The defense is better at second, where Hunt replaces Lefebvre, who moves to third. Either Gene Michael, who has range and a strong arm, or Dick Schofield can play short better than Maury Wills. Parker is peerless at first, and Roseboro is one of the best catchers around.
The slightly stronger attack is nullified by much weaker pitching (any staff that loses a Koufax is much weaker). The Dodgers may make the first division. But a pennant? Not this time.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
An opposing player laid down a perfect bunt to squeeze home a runner against the Giants in an exhibition game, and a wise guy from San Francisco said, "You'd never see one of our players do something like that." The Giants failed to win the pennant the last two years partly because they could not execute the little plays that win championships. Sure, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Jim Ray Hart and Tom Haller hit a total of 133 home runs last season. But the Giants bunted poorly; they stole fewer bases than any team in the league; they hit fewer sacrifice flies; and only the Mets had a lower team batting average. Yet Mays and McCovey and Hart and Haller again will hit plenty of home runs, and so will Outfielder Ollie Brown, whom they call "Downtown" because of his prodigious homers. Jesus Alou, who was injured most of last season, looks like a sharp hitter again; he was the subject of a spring-training psych job by Manager Herman Franks. Hal Lanier, who has regressed since his good rookie season in 1964, is switch hitting now. There are only two veterans on the bench, Jim Davenport and Norm Siebern.
The Giants may have the top pitching staff in the league. Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry are the best one-two combination, and Bob Bolin, the third man, should have been 16-5 instead of 11-10 last year. The fourth starter will be Ray Sadecki, who was wild high all spring, or Mike McCormick, who no longer can throw hard, or Ron Herbel. The bullpen of Lindy McDaniel, Frank Linzy and Bill Henry is one of the league's finest. But the fielding defense is inadequate. Catcher Haller permits too many passed balls and stolen bases. Second Baseman Lanier, who seems to play in short right field all the time, and Shortstop Tito Fuentes are a weak double-play combination. Third Baseman Hart and First Baseman McCovey are no better than adequate at their positions. The outfield defense is good, but that's mostly because Mays is in center.
Despite their home run power and superior pitching, the Giants will be lucky to win with that atrocious infield and their perennial inability to make the little plays that bring pennants.