NL WEST

April 03, 1988

Will Jeffrey Leonard go flap up or flap down this year? Will Joaquin Andujar get another chance to throw a tantrum in October? How will Kirk Gibson respond to his first hotfoot? Will the Reds lash out more against their opponents than each other? Can Larry Bowa cool out? Will the Braves find anybody else from the planet Krypton to keep Dale Murphy company? These and other burning questions will be answered in the 1988 National League West campaign. One thing is certain, though. The division race will be much closer than it was last year, when the Giants finished six games ahead of the second-place Reds and 14 in front of the third-place Astros. The Humm Babies still look to be the best team in the West, but not by much.

The SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS certainly acted like champions this spring. In his annual spring pep talk, manager Roger Craig told his players they would win the World Series. And they believed him. Said Will Clark, San Francisco's ebullient first baseman, "If you're good, and you can back it up, you can talk." Well, he talks, and so do most of the Giants. Before the season is over, they will have ruffled a few feathers, and not just with Leonard's flap-down home run trots.

Craig said he had only two decisions to make in spring training: Who will bat second and who will be the fifth starter. All managers should be so lucky. The Giants have finally found themselves a leadoff hitter, Brett Butler, whom they signed as a free agent. Butler, who will be a vast improvement in center over the departed Chili Davis, hit .295 with 91 walks and 33 stolen bases last year for Cleveland. That No. 2 hitter will either be second baseman Robby Thompson, who appears to have recovered from his back problems, or third baseman Kevin Mitchell. If it is Mitchell (22 homers, 70 RBIs in '87), pity the poor pitchers who will have to face, in order, Butler, Mitchell, Clark, Candy Maldonado and Leonard. Shortstop Jose Uribe has also become a dangerous little hitter. On the bench, but promised a lot of playing time, is outfielder-first baseman Mike Aldrete, who merely led the club in hitting last year with a .325 average. The projected first four starters are Dave Dravecky, Mike Krukow, Rick Reuschel and Atlee Hammaker. From the bullpen Craig can call on lefties Craig Lefferts and Joe Price and righties Don Robinson and Scott Garrelts. The Giants came within one game of reaching the World Series, and as Craig told the fans who met the team plane after their loss to St. Louis in the National League Championship Series, "You ain't seen nothing yet." We haven't seen a Bay Area Series yet, and we just might in '88.

The HOUSTON ASTROS are looking more and more like Cardinals South. They've got that strong pitching, of course. They've got those fleet outfielders, the power-hitting first baseman, the second baseman who bats third, the veteran catcher and the aggressive style of play. Any day now Hal Lanier, who learned to manage at the right hand of Whitey Herzog, will put on a few pounds, get a brush cut and open a fantasy fishing camp.

Houston may not have enough firepower to overtake San Francisco, but it does have the best pitching in the division, from start (Mike Scott, Nolan Ryan, Bob Knepper, Andujar, Jim Deshaies) to finish (Dave Smith). Andujar is happy to be back in Houston and reunited with Lanier, who was one of his coaches in St. Louis and is one of three people in the world who actually understand Andujar. Smith was kidding around with Andujar recently, and Andujar said, "Smitty, you always drive me crazy." Replied Smith, "No, Joaquin. You are crazy. I drive you normal." On a more serious note, the Astros are afraid that the constant searching and surveilling of Scuff, er, Scott, is affecting him: The Astros' ace lost his last seven road starts last year.

If new general manager Bill Wood had a wish list, a backup catcher for Alan Ashby would be at the top. Third base could also be a small problem, but Rafael Ramirez, acquired from the Braves, has gotten rave reviews at short. The top of the Houston batting order—Gerald Young, Billy Hatcher and Bill Doran—combined for 110 stolen bases last year, and they should be even more dangerous this season if the balk rule is strictly enforced, as expected. The switch-hitting Young showed rare talent in his 71 games last year, stealing 26 bases and hitting .321 (.390 against lefthanders and .359 in the Astrodome). "He has a good chance to be another Willie McGee," says Wood, invoking those Cardinal virtues once again.

Where did the CINCINNATI REDS and manager Pete Rose go wrong last year? Basically, too many players were thinking of themselves and not of the team. "You can lose, and you can get beaten," says veteran outfielder Dave Collins. "Last year, we lost it." Dave Parker is gone—to Oakland for nothing much—and while the Reds might miss his power, they won't miss his presence. He and Rose clashed, and the players took sides. If Cincinnati can rise above last year's pettiness, it will be a very formidable team.

Nick Esasky, who has been waiting for an opportunity to play regularly for five years, replaces Parker at first. Jeff Treadway, whom coach Tommy Helms calls "a young George Brett," will platoon at second with Dave Concepcion. Shortstop Barry Larkin will no longer be looking over his shoulder at Kurt Still-well, who was traded to Kansas City. Flanking Eric Davis in the outfield will be Kal Daniels, who some think is the best natural hitter in the league, and Tracy Jones, the Reds' player who is closest in talent and temperament to a young Rose.

Pitching was a Cincinnati shortcoming in '87. For nearly two months the bullpen threw almost as many innings as the starters did. But the arrival of lefthander Danny Jackson in exchange for Stillwell and righty Ted Power gives Cincinnati a ready-made ace. The bullpen is in excellent shape with lefties John Franco and Rob Murphy and righty Frank Williams.

For thE LOS ANGELES DODGERS thE E's will kEEp popping up on thE scorEboard this yEar, but what thE hEy? They weren't that slick in the field even when they were winning six division championships between 1974 and 1985. They could even laugh about it, as they did in a 1984 clubhouse meeting when manager Tommy Lasorda asked third baseman Pedro Guerrero what he thought about with the game on the line in the ninth. "God, please don't let him hit the ball to me," said Guerrero.

"What else do you think about?" asked Lasorda.

"God, please don't let him hit the ball to Sax."

Well, Steve Sax is still at second, and Guerrero has agreed to go back to third after two years and, believe it or not, the defense will be better. Until Guerrero agreed to be the good soldier, L. A. was talking about playing Sax at third, Mariano Duncan at second and Mike Davis in centerfield. So, if you think the defense is bad now....

Ah, but that lineup. Sax, newly acquired shortstop Alfredo Griffin, newly acquired leftfielder Gibson, Guerrero, Mike Marshall, newly acquired right-fielder Davis, John Shelby and Mike Scioscia could make up the most devastating batting order in the league—if everyone stays healthy. That's a big if, considering the medical histories of Marshall (back), Guerrero (knee), Griffin (thumb) and Gibson (ribs, wrist, ankle and knee, not to mention hurt feelings). As for Gibson's state of mind, he seems to have gotten over the eye-black-on-the-hatband caper that caused him to storm off the field before his first Dodger spring training game. The prankster, newly acquired Jesse Orosco, sometimes pitched last year as if he were pulling a practical joke on the Mets. He's still a quality reliever and will probably break the Dodger record of 24 saves in a season.

Bowa, the SAN DIEGO PADRES manager who has been known to throw a tantrum or two, is willing to make two predictions for the '88 season, neither of them startling: "We'll get off to a better start than we did last year" and "We'll put nine men on the field." Getting a better start shouldn't be difficult, because the Padres were 12-39 at the end of May. Bowa's second prognostication might be taken as a concession, because the Padres would probably need 10 men on the field to become a contender. They won't lose 97 games again, but they won't crack .500, either. Steve Gar-vey, bless him, is gone, but on board this time around is Keith Moreland, who went west with his 27 homers in '87 in the trade that sent pitchers Rich Gossage and Ray Hayward to the Cubs. San Diego is counting on Rookie of the Year catcher Benito Santiago to improve on last season's numbers, which will take some doing because he hit .300 with 18 homers and 79 RBIs and stole 21 bases. He also hit safely in 34 straight games, which is the longest such streak ever by a catcher, rookie or Latin American player. First baseman John Kruk is a rising star, having hit .313 with 20 homers and 91 RBIs in '87, only his second season in the majors. Then there's the nonpareil Tony Gwynn, the first National Leaguer to bat .370 or higher (.370 on the nose) and steal 50 or more bases (56). The less said about Padre pitching, the better.

At different times during spring training, the eternally optimistic Chuck Tanner, the manager of the ATLANTA BRAVES, compared Zane Smith with Whitey Ford, Andres Thomas with Dave Concepcion, Tommy Greene with Don Drysdale, Jeff Blauser with Pee Wee Reese, and Tom Glavine with John Tudor. Before this season is half over, however, other people may be comparing the Braves with the '62 Mets.

Since last September the team that lost 92 games in '87 also lost starters Doyle Alexander and David Palmer, reliever Gene Garber and infielders Glenn Hubbard and Ramirez. Atlanta's only new major league face—albeit a cute one—belongs to Buddy Biancalana.

The offense will depend a great deal on how well Gerald Perry does, particularly if he bats behind Dale Murphy, whose 29 intentional walks were 10 more than the entire Mariners roster received last year. But scoring runs won't be the Braves' biggest problem; yielding them will be. Last year Atlanta went 22-14 in games in which lefty Zane Smith started and 47-78 in all others. And the ace has a bone spur in his pitching elbow that may eventually require surgery. Following him in the rotation will be Rick Mahler, a pitcher who has kept many a hitter in the National League (1.344 hits allowed in 1,281 career innings). After them, it can be any of a cast of dozens. Behind Tanner's desk in West Palm Beach was a huge chart listing all the pitchers Atlanta had brought to camp. "I like looking up there," said Tanner. "There are some outstanding arms on that chart." Most of the outstanding ones, like those of Greene, Derek Lilliquist and John Smoltz, will be helping the Braves' farm clubs for a while, however. Bruce Sutter's name was also on the chart, and while a comeback by the once great reliever would be nice, Atlanta isn't counting on it. "We'll be competitive for now," says general manager Bobby Cox. "But it's the future I'm excited about. We'll have one of the best staffs in baseball in a few years." Braves fans will probably have to wait 'til the year after next year.

PHOTORONALD C. MODRAToo many players thought of themselves, not of the team. If the Reds can rise above last year's pettiness, they will be very formidable.
THE BLOOM WENT OFF ROSE IN '87
PHOTORICHARD MACKSONThe Padres can't have a worse start than last year's. But they are not likely to finish as strongly.
JOEY CORA HOPES SAN DIEGO'S SLIDE IS OVER
ELEVEN ILLUSTRATIONS

CLOSE ON GIANT HEELS

The Astros could slay the big guys

LF: Los Angeles Dodgers

1. KIRK GIBSON L.A.
2. Jeffrey Leonard S.F.
3. Kal Daniels Cin.
4. Keith Moreland S.D.
5. Billy Hatcher Hou.
6. Ken Griffey Atl.

CF: Cincinnati Reds

1. ERIC DAVIS Cin.
2. Gerald Young Hou.
3. Brett Butler S.F.
4. John Shelby L.A.
5. Stan Jefferson S.D.
6. Dion James Atl.

RF: San Diego Padres

1. TONY GWYNN S.D.
2. Dale Murphy Atl.
3. Kevin Bass Hou.
4. Candy Maldonado S.F:
5. T. Jones—P. O'Neill Cin.6. Mike Davis L.A.

C: San Diego Padres

1. BENITO SANTIAGO S.D
2. Mike Scioscia L.A.
3. Bo Diaz Cin.
4. Alan Ashby Hou.
5. Bob Brenly S.F.
6. Ozzie Virgil Atl.

3B: Cincinnati Reds

1. BUDDY BELL Cin.
2. Pedro Guerrero L.A.
3. Chris Brown S. D.
4. Kevin Mitchell S.F.
5. K. Caminiti-D. Walling Hou.
6. Ken Oberkfell Atl.

SS: Los Angeles Dodgers

1. ALFREDO GRIFFIN L.A
2. Barry Larkin Cin.
3. Jose Uribe S.F.
4. Garry Templeton S.D.
5. Rafael Ramirez Hou.
6. Andres Thomas Atl.

2B: Hoston Astros

1. BILL DORAN Hou.
2. Robby Thompson S.F.
3. Steve Sax L.A.
4. D. Concepcion—J. Treadway Cin.5. Damaso Garcia Atl.
6. Randy Ready S.D.

1B: San Francisco Giants

1. WILL CLARK S.F.
2. Glenn Davis Hou.
3. Mike Marshall L.A.
4. John Kruk S.D.
5. Gerald Perry Atl.
6. Nick Esasky Cin.

STARTERS: Houston Astros

1. HOUSTON
2. SAN FRANCISCO
3. CINCINNATI
4. LOS ANGELES
5. SAN DIEGO
6. ATLANTA

RELIEVERS: Hoston Astros

1. HOUSTON
2. CINCINNATI
3. LOS ANGELES
4. SAN FRANCISCO
5. SAN DIEGO
6. ATLANTA

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)