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NEWHAN

Dodgers Given Nod Over Angels Despite a Mound of Doubts

June 18, 1997|ROSS NEWHAN

Interleague play brought the Angels and Dodgers together for the first time in a meaningful game Tuesday night.

Scouts who chart both teams on a regular basis say the Angels and Dodgers have never been more evenly matched, although the Dodgers retain a significant pitching edge.

"Balance-wise, I'd have to favor the Dodgers because of pitching," a veteran National League scout said.

"If pitching is 75% of the game, the Dodgers should be a better team than the Angels over 162 games."

The should be's, however, have haunted the Dodgers from the start of the season, and the perception lingers that the Dodgers have underachieved while the Angels have aggressively played to their ability, if not more.

"Something's missing," the NL scout said in reference to the Dodgers.

He and fellow scouts were asked their opinion of what that something is. Opinions varied, but these were some of the points:

* "The whole thing comes down to the center field and leadoff situation," said a National League scout. "[Brett] Butler is amazing, but he can't do the job on an everyday basis now and that makes it difficult trying to work Roger Cedeno into any kind of pattern."

* "The Dodgers need someone like [Angel third baseman] Dave Hollins," an American League scout said. "He can be sporadic in the field, and you tend to hold your breath when he throws, but he's a tough competitor, a real spark out there, and I don't see that much on the Dodgers."

* "There are cliques on every club, but the different language and ethnic groups have to create a real problem," the NL scout said. "I think Bill Russell has done a great job, but players spend so much time together traveling and in the clubhouse that any lack of cohesiveness can be harmful."

* "I wonder if [Dodger General Manager] Fred Claire hasn't gotten a little gun-shy about making a trade considering how the Pedro Martinez and Henry Rodriguez deals backfired," the NL scout continued. "Everybody is looking for middle relief pitching and the Dodgers have a surplus. You have to give up something to get something, but the Dodgers keep adding guys like Chip Hale and Wayne Kirby and Eric Anthony [and now infielder Tripp Cromer] instead of getting somebody that can really help them."

Gun-shy? Claire bristled.

"I think the record indicates that I haven't backed away from anything," he said. "If I'm reluctant to trade any of our young talent it has nothing to do with any trade I made previously.

"We traded Pedro Martinez for a position player [second baseman Delino DeShields] who could deliver something that a pitcher couldn't. I'm not going to blame anyone, but DeShields just didn't do the job here, and as good as Pedro has been in Montreal, our pitching has been outstanding as well. We gave Rodriguez plenty of chances here to develop into the power hitter he has since become, and it didn't happen. We needed a center fielder at the time and felt we helped ourselves."

The acquisition of Roberto Kelly for Rodriguez proved as one-sided as that of DeShields for Martinez, but Claire insisted he is still willing to pull the trigger--but not if it means trading a Raul Mondesi, Eric Karros, Mike Piazza or Darren Dreifort, and not if it means parting with a Karim Garcia, and "not if it means giving up a pitcher and weakening our strongest link."

What you see then is what you apparently will continue to get with the Dodgers, although it might not have been that way at third base.

In replacing Mike Blowers and Tim Wallach, Claire said Hollins and Todd Zeile were at the top of his list last winter, but Hollins, who went into Tuesday's game with a .310 average, nine home runs, 37 runs batted in and a league-leading array of dirty uniforms for the Angels, made it clear he wanted to stay in the American League.

"I think it worked out well for both teams," Claire said. "Zeile got off to a slow start, but his home runs and RBIs are right there now. "He has become a very productive hitter."

The Angels will attest to that. Zeile's two homers Tuesday night gave him a club-high 14 and propelled the Dodgers to a 4-3 victory.

The scouts call the rest of it a toss-up.

They give the Dodgers a wide edge at catcher with Piazza, the Angels a wide edge in center field with Jim Edmonds and consider Garret Anderson to be far ahead of the Dodgers' revolving door in left field.

They say Greg Gagne and Gary DiSarcina rate about even at shortstop, with Wilton Guerrero's potential deserving a nod over journeyman Luis Alicea at second.

They give Karros the edge at first base on the basis of power and think Darin Erstad may ultimately prove more valuable in the outfield.

Said an AL scout: "The tough pick is in right field. Tim Salmon is a good player with a great attitude who goes about it the same way if he strikes out three times or gets three hits. However, Mondesi is a great talent who may not be the smartest player at the plate but I'd still have to take him as much as I like Salmon."

It's all conversation and speculation, of course, which is half the fun of interleague. The one certainty, the one critical difference, would seem to be on the mound.

"When you have a No. 5 starter who throws in the high 90s like Chan Ho Park, that tells you all you need to know about Dodger pitching," an NL scout said.

Or should, a familiar word in the Dodger lexicon.

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