- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Circle this date on your calendar: Wednesday, Oct. 3. On that day, the last of the regular season, the Cubs will be in Philadelphia, the Mets will be in Pittsburgh, and the Cardinals will be in Montreal. The Cubs. Mets and Cards will wake up that morning tied for first place, and their opponents—the Phillies, Pirates and Expos—will be in a deadlock for last. As seen on ESPN that afternoon, the Phillies will nip the Cubs 10-9 after the umpires disallow Jerome Walton's spectacular ninth-inning catch because his glove measures 12 1/16" from heel to tip. and the Pirates will edge the Mets 5-4 when Wally Backman homers in the ninth off New York's right-handed closer. Dwight Gooden. That night on CBS. St. Louis will win the division with a 1-0 shutout by Jose DeLeon, who strikes out Delino DeShields, clear favorite for DeRookie of DeYear honors, with two down and the bases loaded.
As fanciful as that scenario sounds, the NL East could very well produce the first crackerjack. three-team division race since 1982. when the Braves. Dodgers and Giants battled for the NL West title on the final weekend. This year the NL East seems to be split right down the middle. On the right side of the tracks are the Cubs. Mets and Cards, each capable of winning 90 games. On the wrong side are the Phillies, Pirates and Expos, each capable of losing 90. Of course, last year at this time the Cubs were on the wrong side, and they ended up winning the division.
1. ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Every club lacks something, and the Cardinals never seem to have enough training tables or whirlpools. Particularly hard-hit last year was the pitching staff, which lost starters Danny Cox and Greg Mathews before the start of the season and bullpen ace Todd Worrell at the end, all to elbow injuries. So this spring manager Whitey Herzog wasn't quite sure of the state of his staff. "I've got 19 pitchers," he said, "and 13 question marks." Worrell won't be back until after the All-Star break, and Cox will open the season on the DL. Fortunately, in the off-season the Cardinals signed free agents Bryn Smith and John Tudor. If Tudor, who also had elbow surgery last year, can return to form, that will give St. Louis a formidable rotation of Joe Magrane (18-9, 2.91), Jose DeLeon (16-12, a league-leading 201 strikeouts). Smith (10-11, 2.84), Tudor and Mathews. To replace Worrell, Herzog will revive the bullpen-by-committee he invented almost 10 years ago. Long live Jeff Lahti!
Outfielder Vince Coleman has a chance this year to tie Maury Wills's record for most consecutive seasons leading the National League in stolen bases (six). Coleman had a particularly anemic year at the plate in '89 (.254, .316 on-base average), and despite an off-season tutorial with appropriately named batting coach Steve Braun, he might have to steal time away from the Cards' other regular outfielders—moving left to right, former MVP Willie McGee, Milt Thompson (.290, 68 RBIs, 27 stolen bases) and Tom Brunansky, who hit at least 20 homers in each of the last eight seasons. Significantly, Coleman, McGee and Brunansky can all be free agents at the end of the year. So if you believe in salary drives, you'll believe in the Cardinals.
They also have the best infield in the game: Pedro Guerrero (.311, 117 RBIs) at first, Jose Oquendo (.291) at second, Ozzie Smith (29 stolen bases, 50 RBIs) at short and Terry Pendleton (74 RBIs) at third. Playing in St. Louis has done wonders for Guerrero, who was considered a bad influence by the Dodgers. "They leave me alone here," he says. "All I have to do is hit. And catch the ball. Sometimes."
2. NEW YORK METS
"This is the sixth year in a row the Mets will be favored to win the division," says Herzog. "Even I like 'em. I would certainly like to have some of their pitching. And they made a pretty good trade with the Dodgers." That trade is the one in which the Mets acquired reliever Alejandro Pena and first baseman Mike Marshall for center-fielder Juan Samuel. The Mets also traded their left-handed closer, Randy Myers, to the Reds for their lefthanded closer, John Franco. On paper New York looks formidable. But then, the team looked that way last year too—and ended up finishing a distant second to the Cubs.
Disappointment has become old hat at Shea. The 1990 Elias Baseball Analyst points out that of the eight teams that won two thirds of their games in the last 50 years, only the 1986 Mets failed to return to the World Series within the next two seasons. "We're all still a little embarrassed by last year," says pitcher David Cone, who went from 20-3 in '88 to 14-8 last season. "There was a lot of individualism, and it seemed to pull us apart. But the consensus is that we're going to weed out that negative mentality. I really believe that we're in transition to a new club."
You may recall that on Picture Day in the spring of '89, outfielder Darryl Strawberry took a swing at first baseman Keith Hernandez. Well, at Picture Day this spring, manager Davey Johnson mockingly separated Strawberry from Gooden as if they were fighting. Everybody laughed. Meanwhile, prima donna second baseman Gregg Jefferies has made a concerted effort to be one of the guys this spring. So maybe morale won't be a problem.