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Brewers Are Preparing to Make Their Run at AL East Title in 1988

September 20, 1987|RICHARD L. SHOOK | United Press International

It isn't necessary to sell the Milwaukee Brewers as a rising power to the rest of the American League East.

The Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays know too well how tough Milwaukee is and how strong it figures to be next season.

"It's no secret," Detroit manager Sparky Anderson said. "They got good players."

Milwaukee, which almost won the World Series in 1982 then fell to the bottom just two seasons later, figures to be one of the teams to beat in 1988.

The Brewers are no pushover now. Milwaukee recently won two of three from Toronto and three of four from Detroit. They may nose out the New York Yankees for third place in the AL East, which Anderson predicted nearly a month ago.

"We've played since the All-Star break the way we wanted to play," said Brewers Manager Tom Trebelhorn, whose club has one of baseball's best records since mid-July. "Things are in place to have a good springboard for next year. That's based on the pitching we have here. Plus if we get a couple of pitchers we feel will improve our staff."

Ted Higuera had three straight shutouts between Aug. 28 and Sept. 6 to show he can still lead the staff after an early season slump. Higuera is the kind of pitcher a manager can list for the seventh game of the World Series, then go home and get a good night's sleep.

Milwaukee also has Juan Nieves, whom improvement won't hurt, Bill Wegman and Chris Bosio to build a rotation around. Mike Birkbeck could come back from an injury and Len Barker has shown he can help in some ways.

Chuck and Jay Aldrich have shown long relief capabilities and the key to it all in the bullpen, Dan Plesac, is currently idled with a sore left elbow. It is not believed to be serious.

Pitching is also a key for another of baseball's next young wave, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Everybody laughed when the Pirates went out and got Brian Fisher and Doug Drabek from the New York Yankees for Rick Rhoden. They're still laughing -- but the other way -- as both youngsters anchor the Pirates' strong staff of young hard throwers.

The best young Pirate, though, could be Mike Dunne, whom Pittsburgh insisted upon in another supposedly one-sided trade that has turned out exactly the opposite of what the experts figured. The Pirates dealt Tony Pena to the Cardinals and got Dunne, Mike Lavalliere and Andy Van Slyke in return.

Another young team to watch is San Diego. The Padres were talked of in terms of being one of the worst teams in baseball early in the season when they were on a 100-loss pace but since June have been a threat to shove Los Angeles into the cellar.

All three teams have used their own young players -- or somebody else's -- to shed their doormat image and give their fans hope for the future.

Which does not make it so. A year ago the Texas Rangers were all the rage but their pitching put them into the dumpster.

It took Milwaukee only 13 games to reach the public eye this season. First the Brewers' season-starting winning streak. Then the 12-game losing streak that turned into 18 of 20. Then Paul Molitor's 39-game hitting streak and now the club's excellent late drive.

"Any team has this happen during the course of the year," Trebelhorn said. "We had the same streaks any team has only ours were in a little more dramatic fashion."

But all that notoriety isn't the same as going through it. It's not the same as experiencing the suffocating pressure of being a half-game up or down for the final 25 days of the season.

"It helps prepare you," Trebelhorn said. "What we wanted was to have a decent second half."

Milwaukee is going to give a 250-pound hulk of a first baseman (250 providing he can get his car past the fast food restaurants all winter) named Joey Meyer. The first baseman-designated hitter drove in neqrly 100 runs in half a season before being sidelined with a bad hamstring. His first game back, Meyer pulled the hamstring again.

If the right-handed hitting Meyer can make the team it will be as the DH because he isn't about to dislodge Greg Brock. So if Meyer DHs at least part time, that means Molitor is going to have to find a way to get back on the field.

Molitor, DHing because of right arm and leg muscle problems, might have to move to second base next year to take some of the pressure off his arm. Which means Jim Gantner moves back to third or out of the lineup if Trebelhorn likes Ernest Riles at that position.

Robin Yount in center leaves something to be desired but everybody has one of those in the outfield. Young Glenn Braggs has enormous potential in right and might explode next season.

Left field, a possiblity for Molitor, is Rob Deer's spot. Minor leaguers Steve Stanicek, Steve Kiefer, Billy Ray Bates and Jim Paciorek give Milwaukee trade flexibility. And more hope for the future.

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