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The A's Have It
Peter Gammons
April 05, 1989
IN THIS ONCE-DERIDED, NOW-POTENT DIVISION, POWERHOUSE OAKLAND JUST GETS BIGGER AND BETTER
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April 05, 1989

The A's Have It

IN THIS ONCE-DERIDED, NOW-POTENT DIVISION, POWERHOUSE OAKLAND JUST GETS BIGGER AND BETTER

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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

Oakland Athletics

Oakland's cleanup hitters, primarily Dave Parker and Mark McGwire, hit .238 with a .397 slugging average.

A cleanup hitter with a league average (.267 with a .441 SA) would give the A's two more wins.

65%. The numbers should improve if McGwire bats cleanup full time.

Minnesota Twins (13)

Lefthanded batters hit .282 with power against the Twins, while righties batted .255 (second lowest in AL).

If the Twins pitched as well against lefties as they do against righties, they would win nine more games.

10%. LHP Shane Rawley won't help that much vs. lefties, and righties hit .292 against him in "88.

Kansas City Royals (19�)

Dismal second half from key offensive players such as George Brett (.248 after July 31) and Frank White (.169).

If Brett (.337 through July 31) and White (.272) could stay sharp all year, the Royals would pick up four more wins.

25%. The bench is still weak, but exercise nut Bob Boone (.317 after July 31) could inspire his new teammates.

California Angels (29)

No big bats. DH Tony Armas's .443 slugging average was the lowest in the AL for a team leader.

More slugging—notably from Wally Joyner, who went from 34 HRs in '87 to 13 in '88— would create five more wins.

60%. Joyner will rebound, and Claudell Washington (11 HRs) and Lance Parrish (15) should provide added clout.

Chicago White Sox (32�)

Getting on base. Chicago had the league's worst on-base average (.303).

Someone like Wade Boggs. If the White Sox could combine an on-base average of .324, they would win five more.

10%. In the past five years, the White Sox have had the AL's lowest or next-to-lowest on-base average.

Texas Rangers (33�)

The Rangers' designated hitters batted a puny .195 with only 14 HRs.

An average DH (.252, 19 HRs) would generate four more wins; a Ken Phelps (.263, 24 HRs). eight more.

25%. New DH Buddy Bell (.241, 7 HRs) should help, but he probably won't even hit the league average.

Seattle Mariners (35�)

Mark Langston (15-11) couldn't pitch every day. The Mariners got only 53 wins from the rest of their staff.

An injury-free Scott Bankhead (7-9) and big strides by Mike Campbell (6-10) and Bill Swift (8-12) could turn it around.

5%. Three long-shot starters and the loss of RHP Mike Moore to Oakland could make for a trying season.

Once it was dubbed the American League Least, and unofficial team nicknames included the Twinkies, the Strangers and the Un-Athletics. Well, last season the Oakland Un-Athletics won 15 more games than the Eastern champ Boston Red Sox and swept them in the playoffs. Minnesota fans rued the fact that their Twinkies' 91 wins would have won the East. And in the off-season, the Texas Strangers pulled the trigger on more good deals than any other team in the league. "The division has never been deeper," says Kansas City Royals manager John Wathan. Says Oakland skipper Tony La Russa, "The personality of the division has gone from lethargic to very aggressive. The new managers—all the managers in this division—are aggressive. The fans will get their money's worth."

1 OAKLAND ATHLETICS

With the exception of Jose Canseco and his Jaguar, covering the Athletics this spring has been like covering IBM. "Last year everyone wanted to write about us," says centerfielder Dave Henderson. "Now, everything's Margo and Garvey. I'd just as soon keep out of the news these days. And we do." Says third baseman Carney Lansford, "After what happened in the World Series, we came in with a very businesslike attitude. We're also sick and tired of hearing how the Dodgers figured out what we couldn't, hit. Give us a break. We just didn't hit for a week against good pitching. I think all that stuff has motivated us."

The no-news A's are essentially the same team that won 104 games last year, but, says La Russa, "I really believe we're capable of being better." La Russa's theory is based on, first, the addition of free-agent righthander Mike Moore, who has a 92-mph fastball and gobbles up innings (237 per year over five seasons). Adding Moore to a starting rotation of Dave Stewart, Bob Welch, Storm Davis and Curt Young would edge out last year's surprise, Todd Burns (8-2). Second, La Russa likes the condition of DH Dave Parker. "This is as good as I've felt in years," says Parker. "A lot of people said I'm done. They will be proven wrong."

La Russa will give Luis Polonia the leftfield job, but if Polonia doesn't hit, Felix Jose will come rushing up. Jose is the latest Oakland physical phenom, following Canseco and first baseman Mark McGwire. Jose is a switch-hitting, 6'2", 205-pound outfielder with "all the tools of greatness," says coach Merv Rettenmund. Which is nothing but bad news for the rest of the division.

2 KANSAS CITY ROYALS

A sign in the Royals spring-training clubhouse in Baseball City, Fla., reads LIP SERVICE NEVER WON A PENNANT. It might as well read FAT LIPS NEVER WON A PENNANT. Three times last season, Kansas City players got into fistfights—with each other. "It was as bad as I've ever seen it," says first baseman George Brett. "Everyone was frustrated." Says Wathan, "Now we're getting picked for fourth or fifth by a lot of people who are tagging us Team Turmoil. Those people are in for a big surprise." To bring peace, Wathan has added easygoing John Mayberry to the coaching staff as a buffer and has named Brett and second baseman Frank White the first team captains in the Royals' 20-year history. "I think things are headed in the right direction," says Brett. "And I don't think there's any question about our talent."

One question is whether centerfielder Willie Wilson still has the talent to lead off (.289 on-base percentage, 106 strikeouts last year). The other X factor is outfielder Bo Jackson. " Jackson's got the most power, the most speed and the best arm in the league," says Red Sox manager Joe Morgan. "It's scary to think what he could do someday."

After finishing 19� games behind Oakland last year, the Royals made only one major change, signing 41-year-old free-agent catcher Bob Boone. But he may prove to be an elixir. "He makes pitching more fun and more strategic," says 20-game winner Mark Gubicza. "He thinks right along with us. He's amazing." Gubicza has taken on the mantle of ace. "He's a righthanded pitcher with lefthanded movement—he cannot throw a ball straight," says pitching coach Frank Funk. "The only thing that stands between him and Cooperstown is bases on balls." Gubicza cut his walks per nine innings from 4.5 in 1987 to 2.8 in 1988 and improved his record from 13-18 to 20-8. And he's only 26. Bret Saberhagen is only 24, and the Royals hope Boone can lead him back toward his form in the 1985 World Series, when he seemed destined for greatness. Since then, Saberhagen has been just one game over .500. The other Kansas City starters are veteran lefthanders Charlie Leibrandt and Floyd Bannister. If no one else takes the fifth spot, it will fall to rookie phenom Tom (Flash) Gordon. Wathan would like Gordon to start the season in the bullpen, where he has Steve Farr (20 saves) and little else. But if the only fighting Wathan sees is for a spot in the pen. that in itself will be sweet relief.

3 MINNESOTA TWINS

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