OAKLAND, Calif. -- The prevailing sentiment in baseball is that no team can beat the Oakland A's. But according to two top Orioles scouts, the Cincinnati Reds might stand a chance.
Such talk will remain mere speculation unless the Reds finish ofthe Pittsburgh Pirates, but they lead three games to two with the National League playoffs resuming tonight (8:27, Ch. 11).
The Pirates must win the final two games on the road to reacthe World Series, and based on the analysis of Gordon Goldsberry and John Cox, the more appealing matchup is probably Oakland-Cincinnati.
"The Reds are the one club that has the closest ingredients,said Goldsberry, the special assistant to Orioles general manager Roland Hemond who served as Chicago Cubs farm director from 1981 to '87.
"I'm referring to speed, forcing the game, using the hit-and-runYou've got to force the game with Oakland. You can't sit back and let things happen.
"Boston didn't have those kinds of attributes. They play fairlsolid defense, but they don't have the speed. I think Cincinnati matches up pretty well with Oakland, as far as talent at positions."
Goldsberry, a high-level major-league scout, has seen both thReds and A's on several occasions this season. Cox, the Orioles' West Coast supervisor, was Cincinnati scouting director in 1988-89.
"I don't think you're going to out-ability Oakland, but for mCincinnati has an interesting ballclub," Cox said. "I think if they get in this, they've got as good a chance as anybody to do some damage."
Goldsberry and Cox envision a Series in which Oakland'opponent will try desperately to gain the lead in the early innings in order to neutralize the A's vaunted bullpen, led by Dennis Eckersley.
Such a scenario can work only if a team has enough speed tcreate runs on sheer aggression, and only if a team has a bullpen deep enough to thwart Oakland once its lead is secured.
Cincinnati has both, to a greater extent than Pittsburgh.
Barry Bonds stole 52 bases for the Pirates, but Andy Van Slykwas next on the club with 14. The Reds had four player finish with 20 or more steals - Barry Larkin, Bill Hatcher, Eric Davis and Chris Sabo.
As far as bullpens, Pittsburgh gets adequate work from an unknown cast, but Goldsberry believes the Nasty Boys -- Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble , Randy Myers -- give the Reds even more depth than Oakland.
Boston relievers allowed 11 earned runs in their first 6 1/3 innings against Oakland. That matches the total allowed the active members of the Cincinnati bullpen since Sept. 9 -- a span of 63 2/3 innings.
But first things first: Taking the lead.
It wouldn't be easy for the Reds, Cox said.
Every once in a while they can go toe-to-toe," Cox said. "Eric [Davis] can hit the ball as far as [Jose] Canseco when he gets the bat head out. [Paul] O'Neill is capable of hitting balls out. Sabo is capable of hitting balls out.
"The key is, they can't play dumb and beat these guys. Oaklanhas shown they're capable of playing a couple of different brands of baseball. You've got to pull out all the stops and don't stand toe-to-toe.
"That's a sound way of playing the game anyway. I think thehave to be as aggressive as they can be without being dumb. There is a difference. But you really have to go get 'em. If you sit back and try to do it with a three-run homer, you're going to get killed."
Goldsberry said bunting could be a key -- the Reds have severaplayers who possess that skill, and "that might take away from some of Oakland's game" by distracting its pitchers. Hit-and-runs also would be critical, as would moving runners over.
Anything, in other words, to push a run across.
The flaw in the theory, of course, is the A's starting pitchingwhich posted a 1.23 ERA in the four-game sweep of Boston. Dave Stewart and Bob Welch probably could pitch five of the seven games, with Mike Moore and Scott Sanderson working the other two.
The Reds' top two starters, Tom Browning and Jose Rijocombined for 29 wins -- just two more than Welch. But both are highly regarded by Goldsberry and Cox, as is tonight's Game 6 pitcher, lefthander Danny Jackson.
"All of those guys [on Oakland] are low-ball hitters," Goldsberrsaid. "Rijo's a fastball pitcher, and he pitches up quite a bit. He would give them a good run for their money. I feel the same way about Jackson -- hard sliders and fastballs in on righthanded hitters.
"Watch the Oakland club hit," Goldsberry said. "Almost all othem stand on top of the plate. People try to pitch them away. I think you have to pitch them hard inside, and use any soft stuff down in the strike zone."
The problem, as Cox said, is that the A's find so many ways twin. They outscored Boston 20-4 without a home run or major contributions from three of their most dangerous offensive players -- Canseco, Rickey Henderson and Mark McGwire.
On top of all that, they play suffocating defense, thougGoldsberry said they are vulnerable up the middle without shortstop Walt Weiss, who is doubtful because of a strained left knee. Catcher, Goldsberry added, is their weakest overall position. Yet Terry Steinbach led the club with a .455 average against Boston.
Cox said, "Oakland has an aura about them that they can't bbeat." The Reds indeed match up well, he said, and they also play sterling defense. Yet Cox remembered, "What they did not do real well when I was over there was play quality fundamental baseball day in, day out."
That appears to have changed, especially in these playoffs. Bueven if the Reds beat Pittsburgh, they will enter the World Series a decided underdog. It would take a mammoth effort to defeat Oakland, an inspired effort, a flawless effort.
No question, it can be done.
"But man," Goldsberry said, "it's tough."