Six reasons to pick the San Diego Padres to win the National League West:
1. Jack Clark. Now he can come back and haunt Tommy Lasorda 18 times a year, even if Tom Niedenfuer is safely in Seattle.
2. Bruce Hurst. The left-handed free-agent pitcher joins Eric Show, Dennis Rasmussen, Ed Whitson and Walt Terrell to form a starting rotation second only to the Mets.
3. Tony Gwynn. A hitting machine, Gwynn was hitting .237 in June and had a badly sprained thumb, then hit .367 in his last 73 games to win his third batting title in five seasons. With Clark hitting behind him, there's no telling what havoc he'll wreak.
4. Mark Davis. The left-handed reliever had 28 saves, established a club record with 27 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings, and struck out more than a batter an inning.
5. Jack McKeon. In addition to his signing coup (Hurst) and trades (Clark and Terrell), Trader Jack also returned to the dugout as manager, replacing Larry Bowa. At the time, the Padres were 16-31 and in last place. After McKeon became manager, the Padres went 67-48.
6. Benito Santiago and Roberto Alomar Jr. Santiago, 24, a catcher, and Alomar, 21, are two of the best young players in the league.
Two reasons not to pick the Padres:
1. A third-base platoon of Randy Ready and Tim Flannery.
2. Lack of a proven right-handed reliever.
Best reason not to like the Padres: This from ex-Padre Keith Moreland, who was traded to the Detroit Tigers last winter:
"I don't want to knock San Diego," he said, "but it wasn't much fun trying to play in the middle of the desert, with 10,000 fans in tank tops and bikinis, who just came off the beach and don't give a damn if you win, lose or draw."
Order of finish behind the Padres: 2, Reds, 3, Dodgers, 4, Giants, 5, Astros, 6, Braves.
Six reasons to pick the New York Mets to win the National League East:
1. Because they're "dudes." That's the term currently in vogue in the Met clubhouse, thanks to Lenny Dykstra, a native of Southern California. Howard Johnson calls his son, "Dude.. His son is 8 months old. Keith Miller, from Michigan, said he almost called his wife the same name. "I got as far as "Du-" and caught myself," he said. Tim Teufel is a holdout. "I try to keep it here in the locker room," he said. "If you say it outside, it sounds ridiculous."
2. Because two of the Met dudes, Keith Hernandez and Darryl Strawberry, kissed and made up after their little shoving match while the team picture was being taken. Strawberry is going to hit 50 home runs one of these days, even if he feels underpaid. A healthy Hernandez, who hit just .276 with 55 RBIs after pulling his hamstring last season, will recover at age 35 to hit close to .300 again.
3. David Cone is finished as a newspaper columnist. The unwitting inspiration to the Dodgers' playoff success last season, Cone will concentrate on winning 20 games again.
4. Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Bob Ojeda, Randy Myers, Roger McDowell. With Cone, they form the best pitching staff in baseball.
5. Gregg Jefferies. He hit .321 in 29 games last season, including one four-hit game, five three-hit games and four two-hit games. He'll start the season at second, may wind up at third, but at either position should be the league's most dynamic rookie.
6. Kevin McReynolds. The left fielder had 27 home runs, 99 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 21 attempts. MVP material.
Two reasons not to pick the Mets:
1. They may kill each other before the season is over.
2. Catcher Gary Carter and first baseman Keith Hernandez may not reverse the decline they experienced last season.
Best reason not to like the Mets: This from Don Zimmer, manager of the Cubs: "Who's the leader of the Mets? Keith Hernandez? He tries to be one, and you all write about it. Because he runs in to talk to the frigging pitcher. Wonderful.
"I know half the pitchers would like to say, 'Get over there and play first base.' Because he's a jerk.
"He's a frigging leader, and he's fighting with Strawberry. Beautiful."
Order of finish behind the Mets: 2. Expos. 3. Pirates. 4. Cardinals. 5. Cubs. 6. Phillies.
Most frightening pitcher in the league: Randy Johnson, Montreal Expos. The rookie is 6-foot-10, the tallest pitcher in baseball history. He also throws a 90 m.p.h. fastball, which is how he struck out 111 batters in 113 innings at minor league Indianapolis last season. He also is wild. He has walked 378 batters in 400 innings in the minors.
--Runner-up: Mitch Williams, Cubs. He also throws 90 miles an hour, and has averaged 7.2 walks per 9 innings in the big leagues.
Best reason why Pedro Guerrero rips Tommy Lasorda at every opportunity: It hurts to find out you're not indispensable, that's why. With Guerrero in the starting lineup, the Dodgers were 29-30. Without Guerrero, they were 65-37.