Count on seeing Braves-Indians sequel

Baseball

March 31, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

It would be more imaginative, more gutsy to pick any teams other than the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians to play in the World Series again. It also would be foolhardy.

Oh, sure, you never know who will get hurt or whether somebody will flop. Once the postseason begins, every team participating is a potential champion, needing only a couple of hot pitchers to win a seven-game series (re: the 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers). But, on paper, the Braves and Indians are far and away the best teams in their respective leagues. There's no getting around it.

The Indians added first baseman Julio Franco and pitcher Jack McDowell to an already dominant team, and the Braves' star pitchers, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, are just turning 30. The best teams should be even better, and the pick here is that Atlanta will play Cleveland in the World Series and win again, this time four games to one.

Some other predictions: The Orioles will win the AL East, edging the Boston Red Sox by a game or two. The New York Yankees, hurt badly by an inconsistent lineup, will be out of the running by the first week in September. First baseman Rafael Palmeiro and pitcher Scott Erickson will have big years for the Orioles.

The Indians will win their division by 20-25 games, running away from the frustrated Chicago White Sox. By mid-August, Milwaukee Brewers ace Ben McDonald will be wishing he had taken the one-year deal with the Orioles instead of a two-year contract to play in an empty County Stadium.

The California Angels will bounce back from their awful disappointment of 1995, but the Seattle Mariners, with Ken Griffey healthy all year, will win the division. The Oakland Athletics, displaced from their home in the first week of the season, will become the game's laughingstock and begin dealing off any and all players earning major money.

The New York Mets will win 82 to 84 games, but be so erratic that they are given a heavy dose of criticism. As usual, Florida right fielder Gary Sheffield will break down, sinking the Marlins' hopes of contending for the NL wild card.

The NL Central will be extremely mediocre, three average teams vying for the title. The Houston Astros will outlast the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds, but it will be ugly. Cubs lose, Cubs lose, Cubs lose.

The Dodgers will dominate the NL West, although the San Diego Padres will be improved. The San Francisco Giants and Colorado Rockies will talk about tearing apart their teams after this season and injecting some youth (and some pitching, for a change).

Bill Clinton will throw an eephus strike tomorrow at Camden Yards, Mike Mussina will get hit around a little but still contain the speedy Kansas City Royals.

Cal Ripken will be at shortstop for the Orioles tomorrow, and Wednesday, and the day after that, with his new sidekick, Roberto Alomar.

Baseball is back.

Rockies prospect falters

John Burke, a former No. 1 pick for the Rockies, seemed to be over his inexplicable and quite sudden inability to throw strikes. But in one of his last outings before being sent to Triple-A, Burke walked all five batters he faced. He asked for and received permission to take some time off and attend to "personal matters" after being demoted.

Speaking of young pitchers having trouble living up to expectations, Chan Ho Park is on his way to the minors, and he's probably heartbroken. Park, who was born in Korea, said the of Japanese pitcher Hideo Nomo has meant added pressure. "It's very difficult," Park said. "The Korean people have high hopes for me. They look at Nomo and say, 'Look how good Nomo is doing.' Everything is Japan, Japan, Japan. Look, Nomo is Japanese, right? I'm Korean. I've got to be like Nomo, or even do more than Nomo. I have to."

Dodgers minor-leaguer Reggie Williams slid hard into Ripken as he tried to break up a double play in Tuesday's exhibition at Fort Lauderdale Stadium. A shocker. "What was he thinking about?" one Orioles player said. "Can you imagine if Cal had gotten hurt in a spring game?" Williams had an explanation: "Hey, I didn't care if it was Cal Ripken or [Dodgers minor-leaguer] Wilton Guerrero out there. I was just looking at the uniform. . . . People have to understand, I'm trying to make the ballclub."

Gooden-Sheffield rift

Dwight Gooden and Sheffield, uncle and nephew, respectively, didn't speak for almost two months this winter. The problems between them began when Sheffield spurred the Marlins' front office to sign Gooden, only to see Gooden sign with the Yankees.

Gooden says his adviser, Ray Negron, told him the Marlins said they couldn't match the Yankees' offer. But Florida GM Dave Dombrowski flatly denied this, saying he called Negron six or seven times to complete the Gooden contract, "but he never called us back."

Gooden is embarrassed by the whole incident. "Shef was mad at he said. "If I find out the Marlins never got the call, my adviser will be fired. It's as simple as that."

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