- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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When it comes time to clear the table at the end of this season, Rodgers will, somehow, again be free of acid indigestion. "Buck Rodgers does wonderful things," says St. Louis manager Joe Torre. Indeed. Having managed the Expos to 500 wins in six full seasons, he is the dean of the division's managers. However, Rodgers looks forward to a season when he no longer has to be so wonderful. This is not that season.
5. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
This BP was rated NC-17. Wally Backman and John Kruk were hitting against coach Larry Bowa this spring, and the three of them were spraying as many imaginatively coined obscenities around the infield as they did baseballs. "Murph," said leftfielder Von Hayes, addressing the fourth member of this group of hellions, "how did you get stuck with this bunch?"
How, indeed, did straight-arrow Dale Murphy fall in with this band of rogues? With Backman, the tobaccy-chomping free agent from Pittsburgh whom Darryl Strawberry once called a "redneck"? Or with Kruk, the intense, Red Man-hawking first baseman who has batted .308 since joining the Phils two years ago?
Or with centerfielder Lenny Dykstra, who hit .325 last season and who should again draw full houses around the league this summer. (Let us rephrase that. Dykstra, who is serving a year of baseball probation for running up a $78,000 poker debt, will again put fans in the seats.)
The Phils should at least fill the Vet's bleachers with souvenir-seekers, so hideous is the team's pitching staff. When asked to name the most difficult part of his job, manager Nick Leyva says, "Convincing my pitchers that they're good." Lefthander Pat Combs walked nine batters in three innings this spring and could only laugh about it afterward. Reliever Chuck McElroy gave up a ninth-inning, game-losing grand slam and was shaking so violently when pitching coach Johnny Podres went to comfort him that the Pod called on Sandy Koufax the next day to counsel the 23-year-old McElroy. (A few weeks later, he was traded to the Cubs.)
Too bad Pirates G.M. Larry Doughty couldn't have inadvertently thrown in a pitcher when his office made the clerical error—a misinterpretation of the waiver rules—that gave Philadelphia promising leftfielder Wes Chamberlain last summer. Now the Phils can trade Von Hayes for a much-needed starter.
Even if that deal doesn't happen, though, Leyva has made a Namath-like prediction for this team. "We won't," he says, "finish last." He is right.
6. ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Never mind Joe Torre. Roger Tory Peterson couldn't identify these Cardinals. Gone from a team that lost 92 games and drove Whitey Herzog to retirement are outfielders Willie McGee and Vince Coleman, third baseman Terry Pendleton and pitcher Ken Dayley. Not coincidentally, those players signed free-agent contracts worth $41.5 million.