Defensively, the heart of a baseball team is supposed to be up the middle—catcher, short, second and center field—and there the Reds have four Gold Glove winners in Bench, Concepcion, Morgan and Geronimo. By moving Rose in from left field to third base, Anderson strengthened both positions. Foster has developed into an outstanding outfielder, and Rose has played third base far better than last year's incumbent, Driessen. Foster, says Rose, is "the most underrated outfielder in the league."
Cincinnati's starting pitchers in the playoffs will most likely be Don Gullett (15-4), who probably would have won 25 games had he not missed two months with a broken thumb; Gary Nolan, who came back to win 15 games (against nine losses) after missing most of the last two seasons with an injured shoulder; and plucky little Fred Norman (12-4). None of them is expected to go nine innings, for it is Anderson's philosophy that pitching is a group project. Red starters went a record 45 consecutive games without finishing one, and the staff had only 22 complete games. But with relievers Clay Carroll, Pedro Borbon, Rawly Eastwick and Will McEnaney at the ready, a nine-inning tour by a starter seems to Anderson wretched excess.
The Reds did have their share of injuries this year. In addition to Gullett, Concepcion missed several weeks with a broken bone in his wrist, Perez had a fractured thumb, Griffey has been troubled by a sore arm, and Bench, who had been bothered by an aching left shoulder, recently injured his left ankle and suffered a groin pull. But the Reds feel this is their year no matter what.
The Pirates, who almost gave their division lead away in a woeful August, beg to disagree. For all of their clubhouse bickering (they are the A's of the National League), they are jolly sorts. When they dropped 12 of 14 games on one August road trip, they were able to laugh at themselves, a not entirely common trait among contending teams, and pull out of the slump. The most garrulous among them, Dock Ellis, has been significantly restrained since his tirade against Manager Danny Murtaugh earned him a brief suspension.
It is easy to make merry, of course, when you can hit the baseball the way the Pirates can. They have league-leading home run power in Dave Parker (25), Willie Stargell (22), Al Oliver (18), Richie Zisk (20) and Richie Hebner (15). This is not to mention Stennett, who cracked out 12 hits in three games, including a record-tying seven in one, and Manny Sanguillen, who hit .328 this season. The Reds and Pirates split the 12 games they played this year, but the Reds' group-insurance pitching staff hardly hampered the sluggers from Three Rivers. Of the Pirate regulars, only Frank Taveras hit below .275 against Reds' pitching. The Pirates also outhomered the Reds 16 to 8.
Pirate pitching is another matter. At one point during the season the team may have had the best starting pitching in the league. This was followed by a marked dropoff, then a recovery. Reuss has been effective most of the year, but Rooker has been hampered by a groin injury, Ellis has a wounded psyche and Bruce Kison contrived to lose seven games in a row. Candelaria, the rookie lefthander, will probably be the third starter in the playoffs after Reuss and Rooker. He is a sidewinder who is effective against left-handed hitting. He won one and lost one against the Reds. The Pirates' bullpen is not as effective as the Reds', although in Dave Giusti and Ramon Hernandez, two 35-year-olds, they have experienced, if fading, talent.
Defensively, the Pirates do not compare with their opponents. Stennett at second and Parker in right are outstanding, but they can scarcely compensate for their less nimble teammates. Hebner at third and Stargell at first are severely limited in range and Taveras at short is erratic. Zisk is a veritable statue in left field and Oliver is not the most mobile of centerfielders in the game. The Pirates also are vulnerable behind the plate, where Sanguillen had a bad year defensively. The Reds are the best running team in the league (169 stolen bases), and they stole seven in seven attempts against the Pirates this year. The only way to keep the Reds from stealing bases is to keep them off, and that's not easy.
The Pirates may prove tenacious, but it would be folly to pick against the Reds in this, the year of their destiny.