Nl West Preview

April 02, 1993|By Jim Henneman

ATLANTA BRAVES

1992 record: 98-64 (first)

Manager: Bobby Cox

Pitching: This is the only team in baseball not looking for a starting pitcher. Their No. 5 guy, Pete Smith, was 7-0 last year. They let a 15-game winner (Charlie Leibrandt) walk, and the first pick in the expansion draft was David Nied, (3-0, 1.17 ERA in the last month of the season). John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Steve Avery and free-agent newcomer Greg Maddux give Cox four potential 20-game winners. They still need a closer, but Mark Wohlers, Mike Stanton and Kent Mercker give the Braves some options.

Hitting: The offense is not intimidating, but it is versatile. Otis Nixon and Deion Sanders make things happen at the top of the lineup, and David Justice, Terry Pendleton, Ron Gant, Brian Harper and Sid Bream are all dangerous. The Braves won't lead the league in home runs or runs scored, but the offense should be sufficient.

Defense: Another area where the Braves don't overwhelm anybody, but there are no glaring weaknesses. The infield should prosper behind the game's best rotation.

Outlook: No reason why the Braves shouldn't win their third straight division and pennant. The big question: Can they go to the next level?

CINCINNATI REDS

1992 record: 90-72 (second)

Manager: Tony Perez

Pitching: Now that Jose Rijo has resolved his contract problems, the Reds have a content staff ace. He has been among the game's best over the past five years. John Smiley and Tim Belcher are solid, but Tom Browning could be the key if he recovers from knee surgery. The fifth spot remains unsettled. In the bullpen, Rob Dibble is clearly the No. 1 closer, and there isn't a harder thrower in the game. With a little more depth in this department, given their offensive strength, the Reds could overtake the Braves.

Hitting: This could be the best overall lineup in baseball, and certainly rank among the best when it comes to a combination of power and speed. If Kevin Mitchell recovers from his dismal year (nine home runs) in Seattle, he could lead the league in RBI. Bip Roberts, Roberto Kelly and Barry Larkin should provide a lot of opportunities for Mitchell, Hal Morris, Chris Sabo, Reggie Sanders and ex-Oriole Randy Milligan.

Defense: Solid on the left side of the infield with Sabo and Larkin, and in center with Kelly.

Outlook: Second. They should be in the race all the way, and could win if the Braves slip.

HOUSTON ASTROS

1992 record: 81-81 (fourth)

Manager: Art Howe

Pitching: Last year's surprising .500 finish left the Astros thinking they could win, so they added free agents Doug Drabek and Greg Swindell. That makes ex-Oriole Pete Harnisch No. 3 instead of No. 1 in the rotation and provides depth. But the jury is out on whether or not Doug Jones can repeat his 36-save season after flopping the year before in Cleveland. Drabek and Swindell should provide the innings needed to take pressure off the bullpen.

Hitting: The Astros won't overpower anybody, but they can manufacture some runs, with ex-Oriole Steve Finley a catalyst at the top of the lineup. Second baseman Craig Biggio, first baseman Jeff Bagwell and outfielder Eric Anthony are the key RBI men. This is a blue-collar offense that functions the old fashioned way -- one or two bases at a time. Phil Nevin, the No. 1 pick in last June's amateur draft, could make the team and supply some power.

Defense: Finley covers a lot of ground in the spacious Astrodome outfield, and the rest of the cast is better than adequate.

Outlook: Third, with a chance of going either way depending on injuries.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

1992 record: 63-99 (sixth)

Manager: Tom Lasorda

Pitching: A lot depends on Orel Hershiser, who has given indications he's close to his old form. Ramon Martinez can be brilliant and is the closest thing the Dodgers have to an ace. Tom Candiotti, Kevin Gross and rookie Pedro Astacio are the other starters. The bullpen was rocky with Roger McDowell last year and needs a comeback by free agent Todd Worrell.

Hitting: Last year, Eric Davis and Darryl Strawberry went bye-bye, and so did the Dodgers. The outfielders are the key to this team's run-scoring potential. They have to be healthy and productive for this team to make a move. First baseman Eric Karros and catcher Mike Piazza are bona fide young hitters. The rest of the cast, for the most part, is ordinary.

Defense: This is where the Dodgers should improve the most. That isn't saying much, because they made 174 errors last year. Jody Reed at second base and Tim Wallach at third base will show the pitchers what they've been missing in recent years.

A5 Outlook: Fourth, with little chance of moving up.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

1992 record: 72-90 (fifth)

Manager: Dusty Baker

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