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All managers are skippers, and players everywhere "test the free-agent waters." But this division has gone overboard, if you will, with the nautical imagery. Front-office types spent the winter swashbuckling for players. "Every time we fired a shot across someone's bow," says Braves general manager John Schuerholz, "they fired two back across ours." Owners spent money like drunken sailors. Those who didn't, faced mutiny: On a choppy Red Sea, Cincinnati pitcher Jack Armstrong threatened to bob alone in a tuna boat.
In San Diego, the Padres' new caps are navy, and rightfielder Tony Gwynn hopes this season is not an adventure, it's just a job. The Reds, Dodgers and Giants may well set a high-water mark for baseball's best division by becoming the first three teams in the West to win 90 games in the same season. Any one of the three could ride a title wave.
1. CINCINNATI REDS
"Nothing is different," says shortstop Barry Larkin. Indeed, for the champions of the world, the world hasn't changed much. Bookshelves do not buckle beneath the weight of such titles as Schottzie's Book: As Dictated to Barbara Bush or Dibble's Book: As Dictated to Schottzie. The sign on the restaurant off 1-4 in Plant City, Fla.—DENNY'S WELCOMES THE CINCINNATI REDS—was not modified to mention a World Series triumph. Eric Davis, eviscerated by fans and ownership alike last season, found himself being shooed from the batting cage and wondering aloud, "What is this, Abuse Me Day?"
"The atmosphere is the same," says Larkin. "I don't see anybody being content." Cynics say he hasn't seen any teammates being content with their contracts, except Jose Rijo, who signed a three-year, $9 million deal this spring. Others point to general manager Bob Quinn, who was clearly content with the Reds' roster. And why not? "There's no reason the Reds shouldn't be the favorites," says San Francisco G.M. Al Rosen. "They haven't done anything to hurt themselves."
Not hurting themselves was the team's primary concern in training camp. "Don't worry about repeating," manager Lou Piniella told his players when camp opened. "Worry about getting through here healthy." Having done that, the Reds have every reason to feel secure in their chances of becoming the first team to repeat in the NL West since the Dodgers did so in 1978.
Things will only get better. Cincinnati fielded the youngest team in the league in 1990, when its starting lineup averaged 27.8 years. The Reds played .500 ball for the final four months of their championship season and got a career-best year from no player but Larkin, who merely had the best year so far in a career that is climbing.
The Reds do have one hole, but it is hardly gaping. "We need a lefty setup man to replace me," says former Nasty Boy Norm Charlton, who assumes the starting slot vacated by Danny Jackson, a free-agent signee by the Cubs. Piniella's strongest candidate this spring was Gino Minutelli, who at least sounds Nasty but, apparently, not nasty enough to make the team. Even without Charlton, this pen is still mightier than any other in baseball.
"We're not looking over our shoulder," says Larkin. "It's more like looking straight ahead. We're not worried about having to beat the Dodgers. Or whoever."
2. LOS ANGELES DODGERS