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Baseball '89 : A Preview : American League Preview : A's Have Players to Make It a Letter Perfect Copy of '88 Season

April 02, 1989|MIKE PENNER | Times Staff Writer

It's not so tough to repeat.

Interpreters repeat. Photocopiers repeat. VCRs repeat. Re-runs repeat.

The Oakland Athletics repeat.

Never mind that little thing with Jose Canseco's wrist. So he might miss a month. That's kind of like spotting your little sister a couple baskets in a game of one-on-one. It gives the rest of the league a sporting chance.

Trust us on this one. The A's will win the American League West. The A's will win the American League pennant. The A's will win the World Series.

Why?

Because they are driven.

And we're not talking about Canseco's Jaguar XJS.

They are driven to remove the Dodger blue smudge from their place in history, which, over the course of five October games, went from Team o' the Eighties to just another Goliath. They are sick of Orel Hershiser telling them he's going to Disneyland. They are tired of hearing about slingshots and Kirk Gibson and how the Dodger wonder scouts shut down the Bash Brothers.

Oakland won 104 games in 1988, but all anybody wants to talk about are the last four the A's lost.

They were driven enough to add free-agent Mike Moore to what was already the league's the best pitching staff. Moore could be this year's Danny Jackson, a victim of non-support with a lesser team. Last summer with Seattle, Moore went 9-15. This summer, backed by Oakland's explosive lineup, he could easily reverse those numbers.

Obscured by Canseco's 40-40 and Mark McGwire's 32 home runs is the fact that these A's, first and foremost, are founded on pitching. Name another AL staff that can throw a starting rotation of Dave Stewart (21-12 in '88), Bob Welch (17-9), Moore, Storm Davis (16-7) and Curt Young (11-8) at you. Name a deeper bullpen, in either league, than Dennis Eckersley (45 saves) and his supporting cast of Eric Plunk, Greg Cadaret, Gene Nelson and Rick Honeycutt.

With or without Canseco, this type of pitching should enable Oakland to survive the month of April. And while the AL's most valuable player is sidelined, we'll get the opportunity to check out another Oakland Jose--rookie outfielder Felix Jose, a muscular 23-year old who batted .317 with 12 home runs, 83 RBIs and 16 stolen bases for triple-A Tacoma last year.

Through 23 games this spring, Jose was batting .339 with 16 RBIs and had Oakland Manager Tony LaRussa saying such things as "If we get him enough playing time, he could be our fourth straight rookie of the year."

The first three were Canseco, McGwire and Walt Weiss.

Jose should get the time, one way or another. By the time Big Jose is ready to return, Felix should be ready to bump Luis Polonia and his bronze glove out of left field, settling in for a long summer of forearm bashes and another crack at October baseball.

And if you aren't sold on that, here are 13 other reasons why Oakland will repeat:

1. Toronto's manager still has only one m in his first name. No, the Blue Jays didn't fire Jimy Williams last winter. They erected a new stadium, but didn't elect a new manager.

If the Blue Jay players had their way, they'd swap the Sky Dome for Sparky Anderson, even up.

What is it with Jimy One M, anyway? Where did that m go? Maybe it stands for morale, or motivation, or manager-player rapport--for all those were missing in Toronto last year, too.

Williams inherited an AL East championship ballclub when he replaced Bobby Cox in late 1985 and has owned the best personnel in the division for three seasons. All Toronto has to show for it is the Great Collapse of '87 and six months of fighting and feuding in '88.

How can a team with George Bell, Jesse Barfield, Tony Fernandez, Jimmy Key, Dave Stieb, Tom Henke, Fred McGriff and Kelly Gruber not win?

Beter ask Jimy.

2. Frank Viola takes days off. So Allan Anderson won the AL ERA title in 1988. Let's see him do it again. Take away last year's numbers (16-9, 2.45) and Anderson's major league totals read: 4-6, 6.24.

So Shane Rawley won 17 games in 1987. Let's see what he did last year. Oh yes: 8-16, 4.18, 27 home runs allowed.

So Fred Toliver and Les Straker round out Minnesota's starting rotation.

So?

'Tis a shame that an offense stocked with the likes of Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti and Dan Gladden has to get bogged down by a lack of proven pitching behind Viola, the virtuoso who was World Series MVP in 1987 and the league's Cy Young Award winner in 1988. But Viola won't win the AL West in 1989 all by his lonesome.

So sorry.

3. Ted Higuera's back, Dale Sveum's leg, Juan Nieves' rotator cuff, Glenn Braggs' shoulder, Charlie O'Brien's elbow . . . Trendy picks to win the AL East as soon as Bruce Hurst left Boston, the Brewers have since gone from hip to hospitalized.

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