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That doesn't mean the Mets don't have any concerns. The new centerfielder, Keith Miller, is untested. The platoon of Barry Lyons and Mackey Sasser at catcher leaves the Mets the weakest they have been at that position since the days of Choo Choo Coleman. And if third baseman Howard Johnson can't repeat his MVP-like season (36 homers, 101 RBIs, 41 steals), then Strawberry (.225, 29 homers, 77 RBIs) or leftfielder Kevin McReynolds (22 homers. 85 RBIs) will have to pick up the slack.
But, oh, the pitching. If you were to take the better of the past two seasons for each of the six starters—Gooden, Cone, Frank Viola, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez and Bob Ojeda—they would have a combined record of 106-44, and the two relievers—Franco and Pena—would have a total of 51 saves. This may be the best staff assembled since that of the '71 Orioles, who had four 20-game winners. To avoid giving his starters six days' rest, manager Davey Johnson has demoted Ojeda to the bullpen for the moment. Like everyone else, Ojeda must be wondering why one of the Mets' aces wasn't traded long ago for a catcher or a centerfielder.
3. CHICAGO CUBS
"Last year we seemed to have to make excuses for winning," says Cub first baseman Mark Grace. "It was either our chemistry, or we were getting the breaks, or something else. Finally, toward the end of the year, I said, 'You know why we're winning? Because we're a good team.' " And they still are. Any team with Grace (.314, 79 RBIs), second baseman Ryne Sandberg (.290, 30 homers, 76 RBIs), shortstop Shawon Dunston (19 steals, 60 RBIs) and former MVP Andre Dawson would have to be considered a contender. Of course, the same could have been said last spring, when nobody, including SI, gave the Cubs a chance.
The two biggest factors in the Cubs' surprising turnaround last year were rookie outfielders Jerome Walton (.293, 24 steals) and Dwight Smith (52 RBIs in 343 at bats), the first position players from the same team to finish 1-2 in the Rookie of the Year voting since Fred Lynn and Jim Rice did it for the 1975 pennant-winning Red Sox. However, if there is any truth to the theory of the Sophomore Slump, the Cubs may be in trouble. The '76 Red Sox, after all, finished third.
And that's not all that Chicago has to worry about. Dawson has still not recovered from knee surgery. Catcher Damon Berry-hill won't be able to play until May because of a shoulder injury, and the Cubs were only 39-39 last year in games he didn't catch. Luis Salazar is a nice player to have on your bench, but do you want him as your starting third baseman?
Manager Don Zimmer can still list Greg Maddux (19-12) and Mike Bielecki (18-7) as probable pitchers, but after them he doesn't know what to expect, especially now that Rick Sutcliffe (16-11) is on the DL. Zimmer also doesn't know what to expect from closer Mitch (Wild Thing) Williams, who saved 36 games but blew another 11 opportunities. Nevertheless, general manager Jim Frey is optimistic. "I'll admit, we got some breaks last year." he says. "But my father used to say to me. 'Who deserves good luck any more than us?' I can't think of anyone. Can you?" Nope. After all, the Cubs haven't won a world championship since 1908.
4. PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Last year at this time the young Pirates were considered contenders. But then in one fell swoop they lost closer Jim Gott (elbow injury), first baseman Sid Bream (knee), centerfielder Andy Van Slyke (rib cage) and catcher Mike LaValliere (knee) for all or a big chunk of the season. To strengthen their roster, the Pirates picked up catcher Don Slaught, infielder Wally Backman and pitchers Ted Power and Walt Terrell. However, as one National League scout put it, "They needed some cement, but all they got was spackle."
Pittsburgh is also making one position change, moving Bobby Bonilla to rightfield from third base, where he was either going to kill himself or some of the people sitting behind first base. What does having the 6'3", 230-pound Bonilla in right mean? "It means I'm going to think twice about racing after a line drive in the gap," says Van Slyke. "I don't want to find out the physics of running into a 230-pound moving object at 22 miles an hour." Actually, it means the Pirates have one of the better outfields in baseball, with Bonilla (.281, 24 homers), Van Slyke (.288, 100 RBIs in '88) and Barry Bonds (19 homers, 32 stolen bases).