- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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Only 11 of the 25 players who went north with the Cardinals last year are with the club this season. General Manager Herzog sought to build his type of team: swift, with a hint of power, like his old Kansas City Royals. To manage the club he interviewed a number of candidates, Gene Mauch among them. His conclusion: "I couldn't find a better manager than Whitey Herzog." He probably didn't look very hard.
The Cardinals led the league in hitting (.275) and runs scored last year (see box), but those are misleading statistics considering that in 77 games the team scored three runs or fewer. Most of their troubles originated in the bullpen, which could scrape together only 27 saves. Enter Sutter, who has had 31, 27, 37 and 28 the last four years. How good is he? Says Herzog, "The best"...dramatic pause..."in history. If he was here last year, you'd be talking to Ken Boyer right now."
Herzog is no more pleased about Sutter's arrival than his starting pitchers, though Bob Forsch has rolled three straight 11-win seasons after being 20-7 in 1977. The other starters include Andy Rincon, who was very impressive in four late-season starts, and Silvio Martinez, who seems to have recovered from an elbow problem. Lefthanders Jim Kaat, who broke in with the Washington Senators in 1959, and Bob Shirley will both start and relieve.
The Cardinals are counting heavily on comebacks by Porter and Lezcano. If Porter can approach his '79 figures of 101 runs, 121 walks and 112 RBIs, he'll be a bargain. His understudy will be Tenace, who would still be good for 20 homers and 100 walks if he played regularly. Lezcano, who will play leftfield, saw his average dip 92 points to .229 last year. Although he's nowhere near that bad, expectations of improvement must be tempered by the realization that American League imports traditionally have a problem adjusting to National League pitching. George Hendrick is back in right, coming off a splendid year (.302, 25 HRs and 109 RBIs), and Tony Scott will be in center. Scott stole 22 bases last year, but he should at least double that under Herzog's green light.
The only other question mark is at second base, where Herzog has planted Tommy Herr, a .248 hitter last year. Ken Oberkfell, a steady .300 hitter with zero power, moves from second to third. Keith Hernandez won his third consecutive Gold Glove at first base last year and finished second in the league in batting with a .321 average. Garry Templeton (.319, 31 stolen bases) is simply the most gifted shortstop in the league.
When they were champions, the Pirates enjoyed comparisons with the Steelers. Now they'll have to suffer the comparisons. Like the Steelers, who failed to make the playoffs last season, the Pirates are aging and hobbled. Second Baseman Phil Garner underwent surgery on his right shoulder last week and will be out until mid-May. Willie Stargell, who had knee surgery in September, is behind schedule in his recovery. Dave Parker, who had knee surgery in November, hit a home run in his first swing of spring training, but he says, "I know I can hit. I just don't know if I can run." And they are the heart and soul of the Pirates.
Parker appears to be carrying too much weight for his knee. Third Baseman Bill Madlock has to shed some pounds, too. In fact, the clubhouse looks a little like a health spa. One Pirate who is in trim is none other than Luis Tiant, a 40-year-old for the fifth straight year. Tiant will begin the season in Portland, but don't be surprised if he's pitching for Pittsburgh in June. The rotation is now dependent on the recoveries of Rick Rhoden and Don Robinson from shoulder troubles. Jim Bibby won 19 last year, but he may have been pitching over his 6'5" head. John Candelaria had his worst year ever (11-14, 4.02 ERA), but he has a chance to become a free agent at the end of the season, and that may be the incentive to push him toward his potential. The Pirates are very long on short relief with Kent Tekulve, Enrique Romo, Victor Cruz and Grant Jackson.
Centerfielder Omar Moreno stole 96 bases, although he had only a .249 average. If he hits better this year, John Bench won't be the only catcher pushing for a two-day week. In leftfield is Mike Easler/Lee Lacy, a lefty/righty who hit .337 with 28 homers and 107 RBIs last year. Two important newcomers are First Baseman Jason Thompson, the former Angel, and Catcher Tony Pena, the former Portland Beaver. Manager Chuck Tanner says, "Our players have a lot of confidence, a lot of pride, a lot to prove. People who pick us for fourth are wrong." Sorry, Chuck, they're right.
You've heard the one about the trade that helps both teams. Well, it happened on March 1, when the Mets sent Leftfielder Steve Henderson to the Cubs for Dave Kingman. The Cubs held a champagne party to celebrate their loss. But Neil Allen, who has faced Kingman 11 times as a Met reliever and given up seven hits, three of them homers, says, "I will wait on him hand and foot."
The new Dave Kingman graciously presented the New York writers with Cross pens engraved "3/4/81 DK" and said, "Just don't turn them into swords." Kingman gives the Mets the power hitter they've lacked since the old Dave Kingman left, five teams and four years ago. "We finally have some balance," says Lee Mazzilli, who's salivating at the thought of the fastballs he'll get batting in front of Kingman. Kong may not be Mr. Nice Guy, but he's still only a year removed from 48 homers. "His negative effect will be outweighed by his positives," says Manager Joe Torre.