Baseball '89 : A Preview : National League Preview : A Few Words About the Padres, the Mets and Best of the Rest

Times Staff Writer

Six reasons to pick the San Diego Padres to win the National League West:

1. Jack Clark. Now he can come back and haunt Tommy Lasorda 18 times a year, even if Tom Niedenfuer is safely in Seattle.

2. Bruce Hurst. The left-handed free-agent pitcher joins Eric Show, Dennis Rasmussen, Ed Whitson and Walt Terrell to form a starting rotation second only to the Mets.

3. Tony Gwynn. A hitting machine, Gwynn was hitting .237 in June and had a badly sprained thumb, then hit .367 in his last 73 games to win his third batting title in five seasons. With Clark hitting behind him, there's no telling what havoc he'll wreak.

4. Mark Davis. The left-handed reliever had 28 saves, established a club record with 27 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings, and struck out more than a batter an inning.

5. Jack McKeon. In addition to his signing coup (Hurst) and trades (Clark and Terrell), Trader Jack also returned to the dugout as manager, replacing Larry Bowa. At the time, the Padres were 16-31 and in last place. After McKeon became manager, the Padres went 67-48.

6. Benito Santiago and Roberto Alomar Jr. Santiago, 24, a catcher, and Alomar, 21, are two of the best young players in the league.

Two reasons not to pick the Padres:

1. A third-base platoon of Randy Ready and Tim Flannery.

2. Lack of a proven right-handed reliever.

Best reason not to like the Padres: This from ex-Padre Keith Moreland, who was traded to the Detroit Tigers last winter:

"I don't want to knock San Diego," he said, "but it wasn't much fun trying to play in the middle of the desert, with 10,000 fans in tank tops and bikinis, who just came off the beach and don't give a damn if you win, lose or draw."

Order of finish behind the Padres: 2, Reds, 3, Dodgers, 4, Giants, 5, Astros, 6, Braves.

Six reasons to pick the New York Mets to win the National League East:

1. Because they're "dudes." That's the term currently in vogue in the Met clubhouse, thanks to Lenny Dykstra, a native of Southern California. Howard Johnson calls his son, "Dude.. His son is 8 months old. Keith Miller, from Michigan, said he almost called his wife the same name. "I got as far as "Du-" and caught myself," he said. Tim Teufel is a holdout. "I try to keep it here in the locker room," he said. "If you say it outside, it sounds ridiculous."

2. Because two of the Met dudes, Keith Hernandez and Darryl Strawberry, kissed and made up after their little shoving match while the team picture was being taken. Strawberry is going to hit 50 home runs one of these days, even if he feels underpaid. A healthy Hernandez, who hit just .276 with 55 RBIs after pulling his hamstring last season, will recover at age 35 to hit close to .300 again.

3. David Cone is finished as a newspaper columnist. The unwitting inspiration to the Dodgers' playoff success last season, Cone will concentrate on winning 20 games again.

4. Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Bob Ojeda, Randy Myers, Roger McDowell. With Cone, they form the best pitching staff in baseball.

5. Gregg Jefferies. He hit .321 in 29 games last season, including one four-hit game, five three-hit games and four two-hit games. He'll start the season at second, may wind up at third, but at either position should be the league's most dynamic rookie.

6. Kevin McReynolds. The left fielder had 27 home runs, 99 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 21 attempts. MVP material.

Two reasons not to pick the Mets:

1. They may kill each other before the season is over.

2. Catcher Gary Carter and first baseman Keith Hernandez may not reverse the decline they experienced last season.

Best reason not to like the Mets: This from Don Zimmer, manager of the Cubs: "Who's the leader of the Mets? Keith Hernandez? He tries to be one, and you all write about it. Because he runs in to talk to the frigging pitcher. Wonderful.

"I know half the pitchers would like to say, 'Get over there and play first base.' Because he's a jerk.

"He's a frigging leader, and he's fighting with Strawberry. Beautiful."

Order of finish behind the Mets: 2. Expos. 3. Pirates. 4. Cardinals. 5. Cubs. 6. Phillies.

Most frightening pitcher in the league: Randy Johnson, Montreal Expos. The rookie is 6-foot-10, the tallest pitcher in baseball history. He also throws a 90 m.p.h. fastball, which is how he struck out 111 batters in 113 innings at minor league Indianapolis last season. He also is wild. He has walked 378 batters in 400 innings in the minors.

--Runner-up: Mitch Williams, Cubs. He also throws 90 miles an hour, and has averaged 7.2 walks per 9 innings in the big leagues.

Best reason why Pedro Guerrero rips Tommy Lasorda at every opportunity: It hurts to find out you're not indispensable, that's why. With Guerrero in the starting lineup, the Dodgers were 29-30. Without Guerrero, they were 65-37.

Biggest cheap shot taken by Pedro Guerrero: After his brother died in a fire in the Dominican Republic, Guerrero left the Cardinal camp. When he returned, he said: "I spent five days, and nobody called my house. It made me feel good. The Dodgers probably would have called the second day and said, 'When are you going to be back?"'

Best reason why the Cardinals are thrilled to have Guerrero: With Guerrero in the lineup, the Cardinals were 25-20. Without him, they were 51-66.

Best bets to be the Reds' manager on May 1: 1. Tommy Helms 2. Tony Perez 3. Pete Rose (25 to 1). 4. Schottzie, the St. Bernard.

Most disgusting personal habit: Todd Welborn, pitcher in the Mets' minor league system. Welborn doesn't chew tobacco, he dips dirt. "I don't like tobacco because it causes diseases," he said. "Dirt is free and nobody bums it off you."

Biggest mismatch: Vince Coleman of the Cardinals vs. anyone catching for the New York Mets. Coleman is 39 for 39 in stolen-base attempts against the Mets.

Batting champion: 1. Tony Gwynn, Padres. 2. Kal Daniels, Reds. 3. Tim Raines, Expos.

Home run leader: 1. Darryl Strawberry, Mets. 2. Eddie Murray, Dodgers. 3. Glenn Davis, Astros.

Most Valuable Player: 1. Darryl Strawberry, Mets. 2. Jack Clark, Padres. 3. Eddie Murray, Dodgers.

Cy Young Award: 1. Dwight Gooden, Mets. 2. Bruce Hurst, Padres. 3. John Franco, Reds.

Rookie of the Year: 1. Greg Jefferies, Mets. 2. Craig Biggio, Astros. 3. Sandy Alomar Jr., Padres (assuming he's traded and gets a chance to play).

Manager of the Year: Jack McKeon.

Executive of the Year. Jack McKeon.

Worst idea for a gift on a radio postgame show: Montreal Expos. They were giving away a pair of hedge-clippers the day Bobby Ojeda of the Mets was pitching. Last fall, Ojeda sliced off part of his left middle finger with clippers.

New manager you'll hear least about: Art Howe, Astros.

Best pair of broadcasters, one team, single season: Chicago Cubs, 1988. Harry Caray was elected to the Hall of Fame. Dutch Reagan, who worked one game last season, was twice elected President.

All-star player most likely to have a huge season after an off-year: Tim Raines, Expos. Raines, who suffered from hamstring pulls and had surgery on his left shoulder last September, failed to make the top 10 in steals for the first time in his career and failed to hit as high as .298 for the first time since 1982. He's healthy now.

True grit: Bill Doran, Houston. The Astros' second baseman played almost the entire season last year with a torn rotator cuff.

Team most in need of a Joe Weider body-building seminar: Philadelphia. The Phillies were the first team in 27 seasons (not counting the strike year, 1981) without a single player hitting 20 or more home runs. Chris James led the team with 19.

--Runner-up: The Cardinals. They were last in home runs for the sixth time in the last seven seasons.

Best bumper sticker: Steve Garvey is not my Padre.

Biggest bullies: The Dodgers. Against teams with a losing record, the Dodgers were 40-14 last season, a .741 percentage.

Best reasons why Ozzie Smith will not be a Cardinal after this season: 1. The Cardinal shortstop is in the last year of his $2 million-plus contract. 2, He's 34 and Jose Oquendo is waiting his turn.

Most underrated slugger: Tom Brunansky, Cardinals. The St. Louis outfielder is one of only five players to hit 20 or more home runs in each of the last seven seasons.

Best reason to buy a scorecard every season: Roberto Alomar Jr., scheduled to start at second for the Padres, will be the seventh different player in the last seven seasons to start at that position for San Diego on Opening Day. The others: Juan Bonilla, Alan Wiggins, Mario Ramirez, Bip Roberts, Joey Cora, and Randy Ready.

Best Clark in the league: 1, Will Clark, Giants. The first baseman is the first Giant to lead the National League in RBIs since Willie McCovey in 1969. Clark also was walked intentionally 27 times last season. The entire Seattle Mariners team had 24 intentional passes in 1988.

Player most susceptible to the sophomore jinx: Chris Sabo, Reds. Last season's rookie of the year hit .312 before the All-Star break, .216 afterward.

Best reason for Alex Trebek to be a Padres fan: Chub Feeney, the team's ex- president, twice appeared as a contestant on Jeopardy.

Best reason to be fired as club president: Chub Feeney, Padres. On fan appreciation day, Feeney flashed the fans a familiar one-finger salute.

Best personal batting instructor: Gerald Young, Astros. He hired ex-Angel Rod Carew.

Player most in need of a good insurance policy: Glenn Davis, Astros. Houston's only power hitter, Davis was hit by a pitch 11 times last season.

Player most often named in trade rumors: Dale Murphy, Braves. "I can't possibly be any worse than I was last year," Murphy said. He was hitting .170 with 17 strikeouts entering the last week of spring training.

Best player to show up his former team: Andre Dawson, Cubs. The first season Dawson left the Montreal Expos, he won the MVP award. Last season, Dawson hit .567 in Montreal's Olympic Stadium.

Player least afraid of Orel Hershiser: Kal Daniels, Reds. The Cincinnati outfielder hit .500 against Hershiser, with 12 hits in 24 at-bats, including 4 home runs and a double.

Player most afraid of Orel Hershiser: Bruce Benedict, Braves. The Atlanta catcher was 0 for 14 against the Dodger pitcher. Runner-up: Will Clark, Giants. He struck out 12 times in 28 at-bats.

Worst 'Q' factor on TV: Danny Cox, Cardinals. The injured pitcher punched out a TV cameraman in the St. Louis airport.

Player most ill-suited to be a Cub: Mark Grace. The first baseman and rising star hit 7 home runs last season, but none at Wrigley Field.

Biggest fan of Eddie Murray: Sparky Anderson. "He's the best player the Dodgers have acquired in 10 years," the Tiger manager said. What about Kirk Gibson? "Eddie Murray is the best player the Dodgers have acquired in 10 years."

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