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ROLLER COASTER : Dodgers, Orioles Going Down; Brewers, Pirates Moving Up

October 04, 1987|RICHARD L. SHOOK | United Press International

It is baseball's equivalent of a physics law -- for every team on the way up in the standings there must be one going in the other direction.

Baseball insiders feel the Milwaukee Brewers, on their way to a third-place finish in the tough American League East, can be one of the teams to beat as early as next season with its collection of good young pitching and position players.

The Chicago White Sox finished strong and will bear watching in the AL West, a division where a 20 percent improvement can net a 100 percent jump in the standings.

Two proud franchises in tatters are the Baltimore Orioles and the Dodgers, whose opposite needs have led to suggestions that Eddie Murray is headed to the West Coast and a pitcher is pointed East.

Pittsburgh and San Diego are seen as teams definitely on the way up in the National League while Cincinnati, a team of the future last season, could be headed back down unless everyone in the organization gets their oars in the water at the same time.

Montreal made a miracle renaissance this season. Can the Expos sustain it? Or will the organization run out of the caulk it used to patch and fill so effectively this season?

Having a prospect-laden organization for several seasons is finally beginning to pay off for Milwaukee. The Brewers have Glenn Braggs in place in right, Dale Sveum as a power-hitting shortstop, B.J. Surhoff calling the pitches and Joey "Hulk" Meyer as a first base-DH prospect.

The Brewers have retooled their staff with lefty Dan Plesac as the closer and Teddy Higuera as the ace with Chris Bosio, Bill Wegman, Juan Nieves and Mike Birkbeck lined up behind him.

Boston has revamped its outfield but what the Red Sox need are a shortstop, catching help plus a return to form by Dennis Boyd. Roger Clemens is sound and Bruce Hurst is a good No. 2.

Baltimore needs patience until its farm system starts producing but that's going to be tough to do losing 90 games a year with its high-powered and high-priced offense. Once a team gets into the Orioles bullpen it's like giving a kid $1,000 and turning him loose in a toy store.

Minnesota won the West this season without quality starting pitching but help is a season or two away in the minors. The Twins used to give their prospects away when their farm system was loaded but then it went dry. Now it's gearing back up again and the club may be the power of the division for years.

It's easy to see a Detroit collapse next season -- but that's what we said last winter, too, and look were the Tigers are today. The club strength, pitching, could be better next year.

The Chicago White Sox got a set, solid rotation late in the season but were so far out of it even getting close to sixth was a struggle. They have a decent offense so good pitching will make them tough to beat.

Kansas City has excellent starting pitching but no bullpen and no outfield defense. Seattle could be poised for a leap, Oakland has a great young hitting lineup and will be tough to beat next year if it can keep its staff together, Cleveland looks like it's headed in the right direction after falling back to last again.

Pittsburgh's Syd Thrift did a masterful job this season of holding out until he got the right young price for his higher salaried veterans. Thrift did it right, too, going for solid young pitching help (Mike Dunne, Brian Fisher, Doug Drabek, reliever Jeff Robinson) that has remade the Pirates staff.

Next season could be a consolidation year before the Pirates spring back into contention but it's reasonable to project Pittsburgh among the top four in the NL East next season.

San Diego was the joke of baseball for a time early on, when it appeared the Padres, in the World Series as recently as 1984, would lose 100 games.

But the policy of playing prospects (such as those they got from the Mets for Kevin McReynolds) and a trade with San Francisco that helped both clubs has turned things back around.

San Diego is over .500 since before the All-Star game and has more help from the minors on the way.

Houston dipped this season but made a mid-year correction by benching Jose Cruz, installing Gerald Young in center, and adding Ken Caminiti at third. The Astros are weak, though, in what you'd think is the club's strongest area -- pitching.

Pitching is an area Cincinnati falls short in and unless the Reds give up one of their prize position prospects they are likely to remain that way.

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