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Who's The Enemy?
Steve Wulf
April 05, 1989
IF THE NEW YORK METS CAN KEEP FROM TEARING THEMSELVES APART, NO ONE WILL BE ABLE TO STOP THEM
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April 05, 1989

Who's The Enemy?

IF THE NEW YORK METS CAN KEEP FROM TEARING THEMSELVES APART, NO ONE WILL BE ABLE TO STOP THEM

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Vital Statistics

TEAM
In order of '88 finish; games out of first in parentheses

KEY WEAKNESS IN '88

WHAT'S NEEDED IN '89

CHANCE OF IMPROVEMENT

New York Mets

New York had the league's worst hitting with runners in scoring position (.243).

Not to worry. The Mets put so many runners on base last year, they led the NL in runs with 703.

80%. Strawberry will definitely better his .196 average with runners in scoring position.

Pittsburgh Pirates (15)

The Pirates had the least productive 2B-SS combo in the NL: 195 runs produced.

NL average (260) would give Pittsburgh four more wins.

10%. 2B Jose Lind (129) will score runs batting number 2, but what to do with SS Rafael Belliard (39)?

Montreal Expos (20)

Big drop-offs by OF Tim Raines (.270, 33 SBs) and 3B TimWallach (12HRs, 69 RBIs).

Return to career form by Raines (.305. 68 SBs) and Wallach (20 HRs. 85 RBIs) would create five to eight wins.

50%. Bet on a comeback by Raines. Wallach's 123 RBI blitz in '87, however, might have been a fluke.

Chicago Cubs (24)

Worst relief pitching in baseball: 29 saves in 55 opportunities and a 4.40 ERA.

Converting 72% of opportunities (the NL average) instead of 53% would mean seven to nine more wins.

65%. Mitch Williams (69%) should help, but did the Cubs give up too much to get him from the Rangers?

St. Louis Cardinals (25)

Pitchers were worst in the league by day (giving up a .276 BA), though one of the best staffs by night (.240).

If the Cards could be as good during day games as they were at night, they would win seven more games.

15%. St. Louis traded one of its best daytime pitchers: John Tudor (.266 day, .253 night).

Philadelphia Phillies (35½)

Major control problems. The Phils gave up the most walks in the NL (628)—104 more than next-to-worst Atlanta.

By giving up the league average (483), the Phils would win seven more games.

75%. Losing Kevin Gross, the NL leader with 89 walks, and Shane Rawley (78) should cut down the free passes.

Can the New York mets be stopped? Probably not. How can they lose? Well, they could hold a Picture Day every day and.... The Mets are the only team that can beat the Mets. No one else in the division has the Mets' pitching. Or their lineup. Or their depth. Or their collective ego. Vanity, thy name is Mets. But who can blame them for being cocky? Their bench and second-line pitching would probably finish fourth in the National League East.

The St. Louis Cardinals, the one team the Mets truly respect, are hurting for pitchers. The Pittsburgh Pirates, who finished second last year to the Mets, would have to make a quantum leap with basically the same cast of characters. The Montreal Expos would have to pull off a sneak attack. The Chicago Cubs are still in the thick of their 90-Year Plan. And the Philadelphia Phillies? Let's put it this way: If major league baseball were run like British pro soccer, in which the worst First Division teams drop down into the Second Division to make room for the best Second Division clubs, Philadelphia would be in the International League this year, and Tidewater would be in the National League.

1 NEW YORK METS

The rest of the division was momentarily buoyed when rightfielder Darryl Strawberry finally hit his cutoff man, first baseman Keith Hernandez, during the Picture Day session on March 2. But ever since Keith and Darryl literally kissed and made up, the Mets have been going about their business as professionals. "I think it had a cathartic effect," Joe McIlvaine, vice-president, baseball operations, says of the incident. Just in case the catharsis is not complete, manager Davey Johnson can always get on the dugout phone and have the Mets warm up Dr. Alan Lans, the team psychiatrist.

"If I was predicting who'd win the division," says center-fielder Mookie Wilson, "I'd be picking the Mets. But that's only on paper. We still have to play some baseball games." True enough. And to play those games, the Mets have the best pitching in baseball. Their starters are David Cone (20-3), Dwight Gooden (18-9), Ron Darling (17-9), Sid Fernandez (12-10) and Bob Ojeda (10-13, despite a 2.88 ERA). Fernandez has lost 20 pounds, and Ojeda is fine after losing the tip of one of his pitching fingers to hedge clippers last Sept. 21. Ojeda's pitches, in fact, have developed different movements because of the accident, although we would hardly recommend do-it-yourself surgery for pitchers looking for an edge. The Mets' rotation is so good that David West, a lefthander considered by some to be the best pitching prospect in the game, will have to start the season in Tidewater. The bullpen has the leftyrighty combo of Randy Myers and Roger McDowell, and. for good measure, free-agent Don Aase, who saved 34 games for the Orioles in '86 and appears to be throwing with his old zip. As if the Mets needed any help.

The lineup is also an embarrassment of riches, what with Strawberry, leftfielder Kevin McReynolds, the centerfield platoon known as Mookstra (Wilson and Lenny Dykstra). Hernandez, catcher Gary Carter, third baseman Howard Johnson and rookie sensation Gregg Jefferies. The Mets are trying Jefferies at second base, but if he doesn't cut it there, they can move him to third, give Ho Jo more playing time at short and put Keith Miller or Tim Teufel at second. Cocaptains Hernandez, 35, and Carter, 34, are coming off bad years (55 and 46 RBIs, respectively), but both have the incentive of being in the last year of their contracts.

For '89, the 20th anniversary of the Mets' incredible championship season, the club has added a new logo in the shape of the number I and a new slogan: "Excellence. Again and Again." And again.

2 PITTSBURGH PIRATES

You have to like Pittsburgh. A young club blessed with good pitching and great defense, it hung with New York most of last season, pulling to within 3½ games in the middle of August. But then the Mets ran away and hid. The Buccos were only 6-12 against New York, but they were outscored 65-46. If they could somehow reverse that record, the Pirates would be in great shape. But they did nothing in the off-season except name Larry Doughty as a replacement for the fired Syd Thrift, the general manager who engineered the Pirates' rise from last to second in two years. "We have to make up 10 games," says centerfielder Andy Van Slyke. "Without any new personnel, we have to do that by being more consistent, playing good for five months instead of 3½ and by coming up with a surprise package, getting a great year from an unexpected player."

The best candidate for just such a surprise is rightfielder Glenn Wilson, who drove in 102 runs for the '85 Phillies, then inexplicably went south. In 78 games with the Mariners last year, he hit only three homers and drove in just 17 runs. The Pirates think they have discovered the flaw in his stance, and indeed Wilson hit three homers in the first six games of spring training. In the off-season, Wilson purchased an Exxon station in Montgomery, Texas, and named it the Hit and Run. This led to one of the best lines of the spring, from Wilson himself: "I went up to the plate thinking about my mechanics, but that was no good because they both want raises."

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