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BASEBALL 1993 : Ordinary Cardinals Better Than Rest

April 04, 1993|MARYANN HUDSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The National League East is a division up for grabs, the weakest in baseball and with such parity that the St. Louis Cardinals might win only because of their consistent mediocrity.

The Cardinals have the fewest strengths, but also fewest weaknesses and questions marks and one of the best managers in the game.

Where has all the starting pitching gone? To the West, leaving Montreal, Philadelphia, New York and Chicago with some marquee players, but not enough franchise pitchers--or at least healthy ones.

And if Pittsburgh somehow wins again, Manager Jim Leyland should be given a lifetime pass to Cooperstown.

Who is left? The Florida Marlins, who could be better than an expansion club should be, but still light years from the top.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

* 1992 record: 83-79, 3rd

* Outlook: A combination of youth and experience has the Cardinals set at every position, with prospects waiting in the wings. Ozzie Smith is back at shortstop and Todd Zeile is back from the minors, where he regained his batting stroke, and is ready to retake his position at third base. The Cardinals sent Felix Jose to Kansas City and got Gregg Jefferies, who needs to learn to play first base in a hurry. Geronimo Pena, a switch-hitter with power, is solid at second.

The Cardinals' talented outfield, with Ray Lankford and Bernard Gilkey, gives the team speed and power. And if you can't have Jose Canseco, you might as well take his brother, Ozzie, who is having a solid spring and may start in right field.

Pitching ace Bob Tewksbury was 16-5 with a 2.16 earned-run average in 1992. He walked only 20 batters in 233 innings. Rheal Cormier, Joe Magrane, Donovan Osborne and Omar Olivares round out the rotation. Lee Smith led the league with 43 saves last season. And Tom Pagnozzi, an average hitter, is the best defensive catcher in the National League.

Manager Joe Torre is an added strength.

New faces: Jefferies, left-handed pitcher Rob Murphy.

Must have: The Clydesdales rested up for the National League championship series.

Don't have: They may have a few question marks, but they don't have any holes.

NEW YORK METS

1992 record: 72-90, 5th

Outlook: Injuries put the Mets out of business last season, with Vince Coleman, Bobby Bonilla, Howard Johnson and pitchers Bret Saberhagen and John Franco spending time on the disabled list. But years like that can bring a team together, and some say team chemistry is building.

First baseman Eddie Murray was about the only Met who played to form last season, but they traded for shortstop Tony Fernandez, a .285 lifetime hitter who helps make the top of the order potentially dangerous.

The rotation of Dwight Gooden, Saberhagen and Sid Fernandez sounds scarier than it has been, but it matches well with the rest of the division. The key is closer Franco. The addition of Mike Maddux to the bullpen will help.

New faces: Fernandez and Maddux.

Must have: A healthy Franco and Saberhagen and a productive Bonilla at Shea Stadium, where last season he hit .214 with five home runs and 21 RBIs.

Don't have: Enough appreciation for their medical team.

MONTREAL EXPOS

1992 record: 87-75, 2nd.

Outlook: They could have the best outfield in baseball, with Moises Alou, Marquis Grissom and Larry Walker. But like most of the other teams in this division, once you get past the second or third starting pitcher, the quality in the rest of the rotation declines rapidly.

Dennis Martinez and Ken Hill combined for a 32-20 record last season and Chris Nabholz was 11-12. The bullpen is strong, led by John Wetteland, who had 37 saves. But Wetteland broke his toe when he got angry at himself and kicked the batting cage early in spring training. It's an injury that could cause him problems.

The top of the the order has speed and power, but the infield of young players is a question, with the exception of Delino DeShields at second base.

Manager Felipe Alou has created a good feeling among his players, an important factor in their late-season surge in 1992.

New faces: Catcher Tim Spehr, who was acquired from the Royals for right-hander Mike Gardner, and played triple-A ball last season.

Must have: Extra infield practice.

Don't have: Egos.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

1992 finish: 70-92. 6th

Outlook: The Phillies can match their lineup with anyone in this division, if they can stay healthy. If Lenny Dykstra does his job as the leadoff hitter, the 3-5 spots in the lineup--John Kruk, Dave Hollins and Darren Daulton--could drive him home with their power.

The Phillies finished last in the league in pitching last season and added Danny Jackson, who has regained the velocity on his fastball. Jackson joins a young pitching rotation that has another year of experience and is headed by Terry Mulholland, Curt Shilling and Tommy Greene, who is coming off an injury-plagued year. Mitch Williams is still a wild thing but is still saving games (29 in 1992).

New faces: Outfielders Milt Thompson and Pete Incaviglia, Jackson.

Must have: Jackson needs a change-up and Greene needs a new doctor.

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