- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
In all five previous expansion seasons, the pennant winner in the expanded league won at least 100 games, a streak the ATLANTA BRAVES will expand on this year. Or will they? "I can't see any team in our division winning 100 games," counters San Diego Padre rightfielder Tony Gwynn. "I know Atlanta and Cincinnati are loaded, but...."
But virtually every team in the West is vastly improved. All Atlanta did was add Greg Maddux, the best pitcher in the league, to what was already the best pitching staff in the game. Beyond that, the Braves are the same team that has won two consecutive pennants—a club that is rapidly becoming to the '90s what the Los Angeles Lakers were to the '80s.
The Lakers had Showtime. The Braves have Prime Time. And they're still trying to make him Full Time. Leftfielder Deion Sanders had his contract renewed last month, but Atlanta hopes to throw cold water on any notions of his playing football during the baseball postseason by working out a new, exclusive deal soon.
The Lakers had Dyan Cannon. Well, rightfielder David Justice married actress Halle Berry in the off-season, the upside of a down year in which he hit .256 with 72 RBIs. Also this winter, centerfielder Otis Nixon married Juanita Leonard, former wife of the now Sugarless Ray. Halle and Juanita should supersede the aging Jane Fonda and Ted Turner in the seats along the first base line.
Which leaves the Braves complete, save for a true closer in the bullpen. General manager John Schuerholz continues to do the tomahawk shop.
The good news is Kevin Mitchell will cover a lot of ground in leftfield for the CINCINNATI REDS this season. The bad news is he can do so standing still. Mitchell reported to camp weighing one eighth of a ton and missed most of the Reds' spring games with a broken bone in his left foot and various personal commitments.
New general manager Jim Bowden commissioned an appropriately weighty 150-page report on Mitchell before acquiring him from the Seattle Mariners for reliever Norm Charlton in November. When Mitchell alighted, dirigiblelike, at the Reds' camp in Plant City, Fla., Bowden was there to greet him. "I told him I wanted to meet the player I put my career on the line for," says Bowden.
The Reds won 90 games last year but went limp in the heat of the pennant race. Their main problem was run production: Paul O'Neill is not a number-four hitter, which is why Bowden sent him to the New York Yankees for centerfielder Roberto Kelly. And why Mitchell was brought in to clean up, like he did in averaging 32 home runs and 91 RBIs during 4� years in San Francisco. (He hit nine home runs and drove in 67 runs in an injury-shortened season in Seattle last year.)
The Reds' starting pitching—Jose Rijo, Tim Belcher, Tom Browning—is second only to Atlanta's: To caulk the crack left by departed free-agent pitcher Greg Swindell, Bowden signed John Smiley, who has won 36 games over the past two seasons, one more than Maddux. With Rob Dibble in the pen, the Reds' pitching is almost without flaw.
His new teammates welcomed Greg Swindell to the HOUSTON ASTROS this winter by organizing a dinner in his honor. There the pitcher dispatched a waiter to a table occupied by Astro infielders Casey Candaele and Ken Caminiti, with the idea of buying them a drink. Candaele and Caminiti ordered Dom Perignon. "In return," says Candaele, "we sent over two glasses and a bottle of Sharp's."