- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Before the first exhibition game this spring. G.M. John Schuerholz made a quick rundown of his roster and said. "We need a backup shortstop. But that's it." Then he went out and got one—Steve Jeltz—from the Phillies. Which must mean that the Royals now have all the necessary weapons in their obsessive quest to shoot down the A's. They even hired Oakland's assistant fitness coach and now play the same music during stretching exercises as the A's do.
In fact, though, Kansas City is still short a few bullets. The Royals don't have a lefthanded starter. They don't have a legitimate leadoff man. Mark Gubicza's right shoulder will need a close watch. Few are predicting that newly acquired Storm Davis will win even 12 games, let alone the 19 he won for Oakland in '89. And too often last season, the K.C offense shot blanks: The Royals were shut out 18 times. the most in the AL since the '81 Blue Jays.
Still, the Royals are loaded. They have both reigning Cy Young winners: their own Bret Saberhagen and now Mark Davis, who, for $13 million, brought his plaque with him from San Diego. They added underrated Gerald Perry as a DH-first baseman. They have Bo Jackson, whose batting average, homers and RBIs have increased in each of the last three seasons. And they have a determined George Brett celebrating the 10-year anniversary of his .390 season, during which a flock of reporters trailed him over the final two months. 'The way things have gone for me the last couple of years," Brett says, "people might start following me again if I threaten to hit .290."
Manager John Wathan says he sent a letter to every Royal last winter, "telling them not to get all caught up in the press clippings. We still have to do it on the field." Most of the clips were about Mark Davis: he was overpowering in '89—44 saves in 48 tries—but did the Royals need him that badly? The K.C. pen had a 3.06 ERA last season, and Jeff Montgomery and Steve Farr became the first teammates in AL history to save 18 games each in the same season. But, says Schuerholz, the Royals had to do something major to compete with the mighty A's. They did, and they will.
"Sure they're good," Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog says of Kansas City, where he once managed. "They spent $19 million this winter. They better be good."
3. CALIFORNIA ANGELS
The Senior Professional Baseball Association called Doug Rader last fall to ask if he would be interested in playing. "At the time," says the Angel manager. "I was playing in an over-40 slo-pitch softball league, and those guys were blowing the ball right by me. How could I hit guys throwing even harder?"
Some of California's opponents looked equally overmatched last season facing Rader's fast-pitch staff. The Angels tossed 20 shutouts (which is the most in the AL since '72), finished second in the league in ERA and became the first AL team in the DH era to have three pitchers (162-plus innings) with an ERA under 3.00. In the off-season, they signed Mark Langston for $16 million, giving Rader six starters, which some say is too many. "How do you get it right?" Rader asks. "When you have a duplicity of roles, they say it's unfair. You trade one, they say you don't have enough depth. How can too much pitchingjeopardize you?"
It can't. As one member of the Royals whispered, "If I had to pick, I'd have to go with the Angels, with us and the A's chasing them." California DH Brian Downing certainly hopes so: He is one of two major leaguers (Frank Tanana is the other) who have played in parts of 18 seasons and never made an appearance in the World Series.
A lot depends on Langston. Last year, in the only pennant race of his career, Langston went 3-6 the last two months, as the Expos crumbled. Rader decided against making Langston his Opening Day pitcher to alleviate some of the pressure on him—but, really, shouldn't a $16 million price tag come with a little pressure? Langston gets help from sub-3.00 boys Bert Blyleven, Chuck Finley and Kirk McCaskill, plus lefthander Jim Abbott. And look for Mike Witt, the sixth starter now relegated to the bullpen, to be traded when the right deal comes along.