Padres get the payoff of being built for the playoffs

ON BASEBALL

October 18, 1998|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- The San Diego Padres don't have the best offensive team in the National League and they don't have the best pitching staff, so what are they doing in the World Series?

That's easy. They were the NL team best configured for the postseason, even if they weren't the team with the most talent.

Perfect postseason profile: Three good starting pitchers. Great bullpen. Scrappy, take-what-comes offense.

The Houston Astros had Randy Johnson and the most explosive lineup, but they fell victim to the curse of the big-swinging team. The Atlanta Braves have the best starting rotation of this generation, but they suffered from the same offensive malady.

Nobody gets to the postseason without some good pitching, and the Padres had more than enough to exploit the all-or-nothing nature of both the Houston and Atlanta batting orders.

The Padres' pitching staff tied Astros sluggers Derek Bell and Jeff Bagwell in knots in the Division Series and turned the upgraded Braves offense into stone, holding key run-producer Andres Galarraga to just two hits in 21 at-bats (.095) and No. 3 hitter Chipper Jones to just one RBI.

The Braves' three part-time left fielders -- Ryan Klesko, Danny Bautista and Gerald Williams -- combined for three singles and one RBI in 30 at-bats. Four of the club's top five hitters, in terms of batting average, were bench players.

That's why the Braves did not get a single NLCS victory from their vaunted starting rotation. Tom Glavine was 0-2 with a 2.31 ERA. Denny Neagle, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz also pitched well enough to win, but did not have enough offensive support to get a positive decision.

Meanwhile, the Padres and their largely anonymous lineup batted a respectable .255 as a team and got big hits from all over the roster. Eight players drove in two runs or more in the series.

Sometimes, bigger isn't always better, as former Orioles manager Davey Johnson proved a year ago with the downsized lineup that chipped away at Randy Johnson in the Division Series.

Sometimes, the bigger they are the harder it is to play in the fall.

Bonilla's nightmare

The Los Angeles Dodgers have been turned down by Montreal Expos manager Felipe Alou and spurned by Dusty Baker and Tom Kelly, which appears to enhance the possibility that Johnson will return from exile soon.

That would be good news for Dodgers fans, considering Johnson's terrific track record, but it wouldn't be a very appealing development for Bobby Bonilla, whose relationship with Johnson was strained in Baltimore.

Bonilla, in fact, said after he left the Orioles that he wouldn't let Johnson "manage my Rotisserie team." Now, there's a real possibility that he'll be spending a lot of time down the bench watching Johnson manage the Dodgers.

Free-agent frenzy nears

This year's free-agent frenzy will get under way next week, though eligible players may negotiate contracts only with their original teams for the first 15 days after the World Series.

This year's crop includes three potential bank-breakers -- Randy Johnson, Mike Piazza and Kevin Brown -- and a solid group of star-quality players that includes Bernie Williams, Rafael Palmeiro, Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar, Ken Caminiti, Robin Ventura, Brian Jordan and Delino DeShields.

Look for the Orioles again to be the subject of constant free-agent speculation, if only because of their already huge payroll, but don't hold your breath waiting for them to overturn the current salary structure to sign Piazza or Johnson. They might make a run at Williams, but are far more likely to sign someone like DeShields, who could replace Alomar at second base and juice up the top of the batting order.

Jordan, the former multi-sport star at Milford Mill High, also would figure to be attractive to the Orioles, but his arrival would precipitate a total outfield realignment.

Indians' shopping list

The team with the most to gain in the free-agent market might be the Cleveland Indians, who managed to get back to the American League Championship Series before some of the fundamental flaws in their roster were exposed.

Manager Mike Hargrove conceded soon after his club was eliminated that the Indians need to shore up their starting rotation and acquire a front-line second baseman. Presumably, they will sign Roberto Alomar and make an attempt to lure Randy Johnson or Brown to Ohio.

The Indians might be in the World Series if they had acquired Johnson from the Seattle Mariners at midseason, so they figure to be involved in the bidding for all of the front-line pitchers that become available next month.

Could Myers return?

Orioles owner Peter Angelos was understandably disappointed in the performance of the bullpen last year and probably will insist that his new GM -- whoever it turns out to be -- acquire a veteran closer to shore up the club in the late innings.

That is one area where the free-agent market is very thin, but there is a well-known veteran guy who will be available at the end of the World Series -- former Oriole Randy Myers.

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