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5 Montreal Expos Some promising arms and the league's best young player, but not a lot more

March 26, 2001
March 26, 2001

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March 26, 2001

Baseball 2001 Preview

5 Montreal Expos Some promising arms and the league's best young player, but not a lot more

Fernando Tatis bounded into the batting cage on his first
morning of spring training wearing a self-wrapped bandage over
his wonky left groin and a pair of black bicycle shorts that one
Montreal exec initially thought was underwear. (Tatis, a former
Cardinal, was shocked by his exile to baseball's
Siberia-on-the-St. Lawrence and didn't bother to contact his new
club all winter, so he might have been unclear on why it's
called the Expos.) Of course, manager Felipe Alou wouldn't have
minded if Tatis had stepped in wearing a strapless Donna Karan
number and stiletto heels as long as he dented the fences with
line drives. "He's a tough clutch hitter who loves to hit with
men on," Alou says. "We really haven't had a third baseman like
him since Tim Wallach left [in 1992]."

This is an article from the March 26, 2001 issue Original Layout

The Expos, baseball's most star-crossed organization, continue
to be trapped in their own bizarre space-time continuum. There's
a past (Montreal constantly invokes touchstones of past success
like Wallach or the 1994 team, which had the major leagues' best
record before the strike), and there's a future (the eternal
fretting over when and where the franchise will relocate), but
there never seems to be a present. With apologies to Gertrude
Stein's scouting report of Oakland: In Montreal there's no now
now.

That's a shame because reveries of the past and fears for the
future obscure the immediate excellence of Vladimir Guerrero,
who--along with Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx and Ted Williams--is
one of four players to reach 30 home runs, 100 RBIs, 100 runs
and a .300 batting average three times before his 25th birthday.
Guerrero's brilliance is understated, speaking loudest in the
distinctive crack the ball makes off his bat and the low hum of
the ball that serves as the sound track of his laser throws from
rightfield. The famously free-swinging Guerrero was formally
introduced to the new strike zone this spring, but he forgot it
instantly, as if it were a stranger's name at a noisy cocktail
party. His strike zone isn't letters-to-knee but sea-to-sea; in
2000 he took a hack at a league-high 59.3% of the pitches thrown
to him. Yet in the past three seasons, he has struck out only
231 times in 1,992 plate appearances.

With the rise of switch-hitting second baseman Jose Vidro, who
jacked up his production from the right side in 2000 and
finished with 200 hits, the lineup is pocked with land mines for
opposing pitchers. "I think everyone knows who those two are,"
first baseman Lee Stevens says of Guerrero and Vidro. "You
better believe the rotations in the National League do, and
that's all that matters."

Whether Montreal significantly improves its paltry offensive
output of last season (4.56 runs per game) depends heavily on
Tatis. Will the Expos wind up with the dangerous slugger who
drove in 104 runs in 1999 and had a 13-game hitting streak
interrupted by a groin injury last April? Or will they get the
sullen, ineffective player who was benched by St. Louis manager
Tony La Russa during last fall's Division Series? Tatis takes
over third base from Michael Barrett, a former gilt-edged
prospect who booted a two-hopper on the first play of Opening
Day in 2000, made five more errors in his first five games and
wound up batting .214 without a whiff of power. Barrett, who has
caught in 90 of his 223 games in the majors, will be used
exclusively behind the plate this season, though he threw out
just three of 17 base runners and had five passed balls in 24
starts at the end of last year.

There are other questions for a team that never quite exists in
the here and now. Will it be back in Montreal in 2002,
especially in the wake of last year's decision by ownership not
to renew its option on land earmarked for a new downtown
ballpark? Blessedly, however, the days of Expos fire sales
appear to be over, as principal owner Jeffrey Loria, the New
York City art dealer who bought the team 15 months ago, has kept
the payroll in the mid-$30 million range despite 2000 losses
estimated at $20 million. But given the Jackson Pollocks such as
Atlanta and New York ahead of them in the National League East,
the Expos still look like Dogs Playing Poker.

--M.F.

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Vidro caught on fast in just his second season as a full-time player, becoming one of only six major leaguers to reach the 200-hit plateau.COLOR PHOTO: CHICAGO SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHERS ARMAS

[ENEMY LINES]
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Expos

"Those three young pitchers Montreal has--Javier Vazquez, Tony
Armas Jr. and Carl Pavano--are every bit as strong as the group
in Florida. Vazquez's fastball and curve are above average, and
he's always around the plate. Armas has a good fastball and the
makings of an above-average slider....Hideki Irabu is in better
shape, but guys don't play well behind him. He runs a lot of
deep counts, works slow, doesn't hold runners well. It's not fun
to watch....Ugueth Urbina looks healthy and seems to have his
velocity back, but if they trade him, Guillermo Mota could take
that role. He's raw, but he has a power arm and closer's
stuff....Milton Bradley is a five-tool package, but he reminds
me of Carl Everett at the same age--an awful lot of talent, but
he has a chip on his shoulder and doesn't take well to people
telling him what to do....Peter Bergeron can run the ball down
as well as anybody. He wasn't swinging the bat well in spring
training and was having trouble protecting himself inside. He
needs to be more patient too....Fernando Tatis has been a model
citizen. I think Felipe Alou will get the maximum out of him.
He's a mystery defensively, but he helps the lineup a lot. If
you're going to throw him a fastball, it better be down and
away.... Tomas De La Rosa is spectacular defensively at
shortstop and is real close to being ready for the big leagues.
For now, Orlando Cabrera is steady, but he needs to be more
selective at the plate. The whole lineup is like that: A lot of
free swingers who get themselves out."

[THE LINEUP]
projected roster with 2000 statistics

2000 record: 67-95 (fourth in NL East)
Manager: Felipe Alou (10th season with Montreal)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

CF Peter Bergeron L-R 231 .245 5 31 11
2B Jose Vidro S-R 31 .330 24 97 5
3B Fernando Tatis[1] R 93 .253 18 64 2
RF Vladimir Guerrero R 7 .345 44 123 9
1B Lee Stevens L 175 .265 22 75 0
LF Milton Bradley S-R 228 .221 2 15 2
SS Orlando Cabrera R 242 .237 13 55 4
C Michael Barrett R 284 .214 1 22 0

BENCH

IF Geoff Blum S-R 278 .283 11 45 1
IF Andy Tracy L-R 291 .260 11 32 1
C Sandy Martinez[1] L-R 351 .222 0 0 0
OF Tim Raines*[1] S-R 378 .215 4 17 4
IF Mike Mordecai R 388 .284 4 16 2

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Javier Vazquez 63 11 9 6.6 1.42 4.05
RH Tony Armas Jr. 98 7 9 5.6 1.31 4.36
RH Carl Pavano 84 8 4 6.5 1.27 3.06
RH Britt Reames[1](R) 110 2 1 5.5 1.30 2.88
RH Hideki Irabu 343 2 5 5.0 1.66 7.24

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Ugueth Urbina 49 0 1 8 1.20 4.05
RH Guillermo Mota 186 1 1 0 1.30 6.00
RH Scott Strickland 179 4 3 9 1.13 3.00
RH Anthony Telford 209 5 4 3 1.26 3.79
LH Chris Peters[1] 227 0 1 1 1.31 2.86
LH Graeme Lloyd* 269 5 3 3 1.26 3.63
RH Mike Thurman 342 4 9 0 1.79 6.42

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 156)
*1999 stats

"Milton Bradley is a five-tool package...but he has a chip on
his shoulder."