West

BASEBALL 1991/NL

April 04, 1991|By KENT BAKER

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

* RECORD LAST YEAR: 86-76, second, 5 GB

* PITCHING: Whether the staff stays out of the infirmary will decide how high the Dodgers finish. Orel Hershiser is recovering from reconstructive shoulder surgery and Tim Belcher, the Opening Day starter, has had shoulder trouble. Ramon Martinez (20-6) established a foothold, and the team opened its wallet for Kevin Gross and Bob Ojeda during the winter.

* OFFENSE: With new CF Brett Butler at the top of the order and OF Darryl Strawberry in the center with a rejuvenated 1B Eddie Murray, the possibilities are intriguing. LF Kal Daniels knocked in 94 runs.

* DEFENSE: Mike Scioscia is a rock behind the plate, and Butler will solidify center despite his so-so arm. But Strawberry and Daniels will require plenty of assistance.

* OUTLOOK: First. The Dodgers played well with patchwork pitching last year. If Hershiser and Belcher recover fully, their added sock will pay off.

CINCINNATI REDS

* RECORD LAST YEAR: 91-71, first

* PITCHING: There is no superstar among the starters, but the "Nasty Boys" bullpen can cover a lot of weaknesses. With Rob Dibble and Randy Myers and sometimes Norm Charlton, six innings often is enough out of the rotation. The Reds re-signed Tom Browning. World Series MVP Jose Rijo is a force and Jack Armstrong has talent.

* OFFENSE: OF Eric Davis has mended his post-Series spat with owner Marge Schott and now is ready to resume bending fences. SS Barry Larkin is the most consistent at his position in the league, and 3B Chris Sabo (25 homers) has become a patient hitter.

* DEFENSE: Larkin is the best in the league, and if he's paired with the heady Doran, the Reds will be strong up the middle. Davis will be a plus if his legs can withstand playing center again.

* OUTLOOK: Second. Repeating will be tough, but Lou Piniella proved to George Steinbrenner that he can manage and will have the club in the race.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

* RECORD LAST YEAR: 85-77, third, 6 GB

* PITCHING: The Giants sought depth in the free-agent market and came up with San Francisco native Dave Righetti to join Jeff Brantley in the bullpen and Bud Black to fortify the starting rotation. Needed are injury-free seasons from Don Robinson, Rick Reuschel, Kelly Downs and Mike LaCoss.

* OFFENSE: Only 3 points from the top in team batting, the Giants have a potent lineup with Will Clark, Matt Williams and Kevin Mitchell in the middle.

* DEFENSE: CF Willie McGee will cover more territory than Butler, and RF Kevin Bass is a fine glove man. Williams is becoming a whiz at third base, but C Terry Kennedy has slowed down.

* OUTLOOK: Third. All the expenditures will help this team, but the defense up the middle is suspect and there is no quality leadoff man.

SAN DIEGO PADRES

* RECORD LAST YEAR: 75-87, tied for fourth, 16 GB

* PITCHING: The staff led the league in home runs allowed (147) last year, and the only new pitcher is free agent Larry Andersen. Dennis Rasmussen has shoulder problems. Greg Harris has been shifted to the rotation and should help, as will Ed Whitson, Bruce Hurst and Andy Benes. Andersen and Craig Lefferts anchor the bullpen.

* OFFENSE: 1B Fred McGriff and SS Tony Fernandez replace Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar, but the key is RF Tony Gwynn, who underwent a frustrating 1990 culminated by his feuding with Jack Clark, now with the Red Sox.

* DEFENSE: Santiago has no peer behind the plate, and Fernandez is smooth. Gwynn's glove almost matches his bat, and McGriff will be a plus.

* OUTLOOK: Fourth. The defense and pitching are suspect and the bench thin. GM Joe McIlvaine will need to do much more wheeling and dealing.

ATLANTA BRAVES

* RECORD LAST YEAR: 65-97, 6th, 26 GB

* PITCHING: The Braves had the worst pitching in the league in 1990 with a 4.58 ERA and still are waiting for their phenoms to mature. John Smoltz is the leader. Tom Glavine should benefit from a better defense. Others to watch are Charlie Leibrandt and Paul Marak.

* OFFENSE: This was the club's strong suit, but that is not saying much. C Greg Olson made the All-Star team last year and now has help in Mike Heath. The signings of 1B Sid Bream and 3B Terry Pendleton will give the team more punch, and Rookie of the Year Dave Justice has power.

* DEFENSE: Bream and Pendleton are solid, as is Heath. Jeff Blauser should excel at short, but 2B Jeff Treadway is average. In the outfield, Justice and OF Ron Gant are on the way up.

* OUTLOOK: Fifth. The Braves were supposed to be improving behind the pitching talent in their system. That has been hit-and-miss. At least they've spent some money to try to advance.

HOUSTON ASTROS

* RECORD LAST YEAR: 75-87, tied for fourth, 16 GB

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