Nl West Preview

April 25, 1995|By Buster Olney

SAN DIEGO PADRES

Where they're coming from: They finished in last place with a 47-70 record but had the best record in the NL West after May 22.

Where they're going: The 12-player trade with Houston makes the Padres the divisional front-runners.

Key newcomers: 3B Ken Caminiti (.283), SS Andujar Cedeno (49 RBIs), CF Steve Finley (.276), 2B Jody Reed (.271).

What must go right: The balky left knee of RF Tony Gwynn must hold up. Starters Andy Ashby and Joey Hamilton must pitch as well as they did a year ago. 1B Eddie Williams must produce no fewer than 85 RBIs. Rookie Dustin Hermanson must establish himself as a viable setup man for Trevor Hoffman.

What could go wrong: Williams has a bad knee and could struggle. The bullpen lacks experience and could become the Achilles' heel. The team could get off to bad start, leaving San Diegans uninterested and the Padres financially devastated.

X-factor: Ownership, desperate for a winner in its first year since assuming control of the club, may make a midseason splash and trade for a big-name player as other teams look to cut payroll.Key statistic: Gwynn's 1994 performance was almost surreal. He had a .600 on-base average leading off innings and batted .397 with two strikes, nearly 200 points higher than the major-league average.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Where they're coming from: A strange season. The Dodgers seemed to have overwhelming talent in 1994, but had a very under-whelming year, barely finishing first in this pathetic division with a 58-56 record.

Where they're going: They still have all that talent, with OF Raul Mondesi, C Mike Piazza and 2B Delino DeShields. But there are questions about the rotation, the bullpen, shortstop and third base. They'll finish in second place, behind the Padres.

Key newcomers: SS Dick Schofield, who could challenge Jose Offerman, and rookie OF Todd Hollandsworth (.285 at Triple-A Albuquerque).

What must go right: Closer Todd Worrell must be more consistent. The Dodgers must find a shortstop who can catch the ball. Ramon Martinez and Pedro Astacio must win 12 to 15 games apiece. 1B Eric Karros must provide his usual 20 homers and 80 RBIs. Piazza must stay healthy.

What could go wrong: 3B Tim Wallach had a bad back and if he's lost, opponents would pitch around Piazza. The youngsters in the rotation and in the outfield may fall flat on their faces. Could be internal fallout from manager Tom Lasorda's acceptance of replacement players.

X-factor: Ismael Valdes, who moves from the bullpen to the rotation this year. He has the stuff to be a super pitcher and can easily offset losses of Orel Hershiser and Kevin Gross.

Key statistic: With runners on base, Piazza was awesome. He had a .367 average with runners in scoring position, with 72 RBIs in just 120 at-bats in that situation. But as season wore on, he seemed to wear down, batting .386 in May, .333 in June, .277 in July and .257 in August.

COLORADO ROCKIES

Where they're coming from: They finished third with a 53-64 record.

Where they're going: The Rockies are playing in a new ballpark and acquired some veteran stars. But they're still an unbalanced club.

Key newcomers: RF Larry Walker (.322), Bill Swift (21-8 in 1993).

What must go right: First and foremost, 1B Andres Galarraga must stay healthy. When he got hurt last year, the Rockies fell out of the race. A couple of starters must pitch better -- David Nied, for example -- to make this team a legitimate contender. Closer Bruce Ruffin needs help, and perhaps a replacement.

What could go wrong: An extremely injury-prone team, with Galarraga, Walker, Swift, P Marvin Freeman and OF Ellis Burks. The rotation could crumble. The bullpen could be a mess. Swift could prove once and for all that Denver's elevated air stunts the break of the sinkerball, or any kind of breaking pitch.

X-factor: Rookie Juan Acevedo, who won 17 games in Double-A last year, could move to the big leagues. He's the type of potential impact player the Rockies need.

Key statistic: It has to be the air. The Rockies hit a .298 at home last year and .251 on the road.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

Where they're coming from: Injuries to 2B Robby Thompson, P Bill Swift and P Mark Portugal devastated the Giants last year. They finished a very disappointing 55-60, in second place.

3l Where they're going: Very hard to tell. They lost Swift, John Burkett and Mike Jackson from their pitching staff and added a bunch of retreads. On paper, it looks as if they've regressed, but this is a weak division that won't require much of its champion. The pick here is last place.

Key newcomers: P Terry Mulholland (6.49 ERA), P Jose Bautista (58 games), OF Glenallen Hill (.297).

What must go right: Naturally, OF Barry Bonds and 3B Matt Williams must hit. Manager Dusty Baker must find enough starting pitching to compete. Thompson, trying to come back from a torn rotator cuff, is a big, big question mark. 1B J. R. Phillips must produce runs.

What could go wrong: The pitching staff could be among the worst in baseball by the season's end. Thompson could be finished as an effective major-leaguer. Because of a poor supporting cast, closer Rod Beck may get far more work than his arm can handle.

X-factor: Starting pitcher Salomon Torres, who left the team last year because he was discouraged with his performance. He has loads of ability, and if he gets his act together, the rotation will be much more respectable.

Key statistic: For an impact player, Williams has some quirks; for instance, he can't hit in the third spot. He batted .204 in 98 at-bats there last year, compared with .287 batting cleanup.

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