5. SAN DIEGO PADRES
Even though we are picking them fifth, we wouldn't be surprised if the Padres surprise some people. "This is the type of team that could surprise some people," says Tony Gwynn.
Says manager Greg Riddoch, "I'd like to think this team can surprise some people." Adds first baseman Fred McGriff, "I don't see any reason why this team can't surprise some people."
Riddoch, it will come as no surprise, is a former high school psychology teacher trying desperately to persuade the Padres that they are good. And good-natured, for a change. Riddoch did an impromptu striptease in a hotel lobby this spring, unbuttoning his uniform top to reveal the T-shirt beneath it. The shirt showed a group of Padres standing on a field as a little boy looked admiringly at them.
"I don't even know if guys were rooting for each other last year," says one Padre player, "I think there were guys hoping that their teammates would mess up."
New G.M. Joe McIlvaine immediately established himself as Trader Mac, moving outfielder Joe Carter and second baseman Roberto Alomar to Toronto for McGriff and shortstop Tony Fernandez. The trade means Bip Roberts will have to play second base, where he made three errors in the eight games he played there last season. San Diego will overlook his defensive deficiencies. "Last season, three players batted .300 or better with at least 40 extra-base hits and 40 stolen bases," notes The 1991 Elias Baseball Analyst. "Two won MVP Awards; the other was Bip."
Bruce Hurst, Ed Whitson and Andy Benes—the nucleus of the staff—will win 40 games among them this season. But Greg Harris has been pulled from the bullpen to become the fourth starter. As for the open fifth slot? Eric Nolte appears to be the winner. He beat out Derek Lilliquist, who is most notable for wearing the lowest-riding pants since George Hendrick donned what appeared to be footsie pajamas, and Wes Gardner, whose best pitches are his print ads for The Gap, which is where most of his fastballs are hit.
6. HOUSTON ASTROS
They serve a drink in a mason jar at a dive called the Big Bamboo, a spring hangout for Astros and others in Kissimmee, Fla. The cocktail is also called the Big Bamboo. "Nobody knows what's in it," jokes a bartender, "and the contents change daily."
The same may be said for Art Howe's lineup this summer. So unfamiliar are most of these players that pitcher Jim Deshaies wore one of those breast-pocket stickers on the first day of camp that read, "Hi, My Name Is: Jim Deshaies." Only he and pitcher Mike Scott remain from Houston's '86 division championship team.