Super Star Baseball Yearbook '80
Super Star Baseball came closer to the rest in picking the eventual winner in the 1980 races. They named three out of the four division winners, and picked the Phillies to come out of the N.L. East. They also selected the Astros out of the N.L. West and the Yankees out of the A.L. East. They did, however, pick the Angels as the winner of the A.L. West, and the Astros to beat the Phillies for the pennant.
How Big League Races Shape Up For 1980
by Bill Shannon, Sports Newswire
Crystal-balling the 1980 baseball races is more difficult than normal since the new pennant races are coming on the heels of the 1979 season when many observers felt that the best teams did not win in many of the races.
A case can be made to that effect for the whole works last year- including the World Series where the team which had the pitching (Baltimore) lost to the one everybody said didn’t have it (Pittsburgh).
Either the Pirates’ hurling was better than everyone thought, Baltimore’s was worse than imagined or, and this is more likely than either of the first two, Pittsburgh just got plain old down-country, shamrock, horseshoe lucky. Baltimore led the American League in team ERA (3.26) and shutouts (12, tied with Milwaukee), so we can discount the idea that the Orioles didn’t have the goods.
In spite of all the superb pitching, there was a real question as to how the Orioles got where they were anyway, surviving in the suicide A.L. East with the team they had, virtually punchless. But Baltimore had all that pitching- and Earl Weaver.
But Pittsburgh countered with the deadly three-man bullpen led by tireless Kent Tekulve. The Pirates also had what seemed to be the antidote for Weaver- Chuck Tanner.
1. Philadelphia Phillies
2. Pittsburgh Pirates
3. Montreal Expose
4. Chicago Cubs
5. St. Louis Cardinals
6. New York Mets
1. Houston Astros
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
3. San Francisco Giants
4. Cincinnati Reds
5. San Diego Padres
6. Atlanta Braves
NL Pennant Winner: Houston Astros
Looking over the National League races, the suspicion is that the West is the stronger of the two divisions in the National League. If that is so, the winner of the N.L. West would have to be favored in the playoffs and, therefore, gets the nod as the N.L. pennant-winner.
From here, the pick is the Houston Astros in the West and for the flag in the N.L. The reasons are the combination of J.R. Richard and Nolan Ryan plus Joe Niekro. Niekro is perhaps the most important part of the equation, coming off a 20-game season and likely to thrive in between (or, in front of) the fireballing combo of Ryan and Richard.
Houston has a basically sound, if not sensational, ballclub and manager Bill Virdon is a solid, experienced, field boss who seldom makes the obvious mistake and never makes the same mistake twice. He, like his team, is not spectacular. But he knows how to get the most out of what he has and, for a change, he may have enough to get the job done in the West.
Primary competition for the Astros should come from Los Angeles and San Francisco. The defending champion Reds look to be getting nothing but old and could slip as far as fourth.
Los Angeles had come to recognize the value of the free agent market. As the old saying goes, “you don’t have to like it, but...” Well, that’s where the Dodgers are coming from these days. They don’t like the free agent situation, but they have reluctantly come to recognize that it is the reality of baseball today.
Don Stanhouse was the biggest catch for the Dodgers in the off-season. With their basic ballclub, Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Davey Lopes, Reggie Smith (if he’s healthy), Don Sutton, Burt Hooten, etc., the L.A. gang should be in the thick of the fight all the way with some bullpen help.
Stanhouse figures to give them that along with Terry Forster, last year’s big free agent signee, if he can stay healthy all year.
San Francisco is another club with plenty of potential. The starting lineup is solid and the four-man starting pitching rotation could be one of the best around if they all achieve something near their potential at the same time. Vida Blue, Ed Halicki, John Montefusco and Bob Knepper are all capable pitchers.
For the Giants, the bullpen is basically a two-man thing with Randy Moffitt backing up Gary Lavelle. But it could be enough to make the Giants a real factor in the West. At this point, however, the inclination is to take the Dodgers for second, the Giants for third and the Reds for fourth.
Cincinnati still had Johnny Bench, Ken Griffey, Tom Seaver and Dave Concepcion plus youngster Ray Knight who was such a surprise last season as the successor to Pete Rose at third. But the pitching is thin and the club is aging.
San Diego and Atlanta, the other two West clubs, simply do not have the muscle to compete in this class although both have absolute game wreckers- the Pads’ Dave Winfield and the Braves’ Bob Horner.
In the East, start from the bottom where the Mets can be safely assigned the basement again. Joe Torre is a competent manager and some of the young talent has promise, but the owners have fouled up the club with less help from the front office professionals than is generally supposed. It is, after all, the owners who control the purse strings and more than one Met executive has been frustrated in his desire to improve things.
Until the New York club is sold, it will remain the disaster area of the National League and, even after a sale, it will take a couple of years to clean up the debris.
If you continue with the premise that the Pirates were fortunate to win in 1979, then you are stuck with the idea that they won’t repeat in 1980. The Pirates, with Dave Parker, are always a threat and perhaps their pitching is underrated.
But we’re going out on a limb to pick Dallas Green and the Phillies to return to the divisional championship class where they resided for the three years before being unseated by Pittsburgh last season.
Rose is still going at his 200-hit-a-year clip, shortstop Larry Bowa can play the position, Mike Schmidt can provide the power, and Greg Luzinski should rebound from his collapse in 1979. The question mark is pitching. But the staff was wiped out by injury last season and it is just simply too much to expect all of that to repeat in 1980.
Montreal has all the makings and manager Dick Williams is a superb baseball man. But the Expos lack depth, especially on the mound and in the bullpen. Ron LeFlore will help and so will Rusty Staub, but they didn’t win much in Detroit.
1. New York Yankees
2. Boston Red Sox
3. Baltimore Orioles
4. Detroit Tigers
5. Milwaukee Brewers
6. Cleveland Indians
7. Toronto Blue Jays
1. California Angels
2. Kansas City Royals
3. Texas Rangers
4. Minnesota Twins
5. Seattle Mariners
6. Chicago White Sox
7. Oakland A's
AL Pennant Winner: New York Yankees
Here, the West division is admittedly weaker than the East and with the defending champion Angels short of Ryan, it could make a toss-up out of the race.
Texas has perhaps the best talent in the division but there is some suspicion amongst baseball men that Pat Corrales is not the best manager and owner Brad Corbett knows how to make a mess out of the most tranquil scene. It is these factors more than the ability of the players that will hold the Rangers back.
However, until that is proven, the California Angels are the pick here again. The Angels have a known quantity in manager Jim Fregosi, a tough customer, but respected by his players. Also, Rod Carew is a factor.
California should benefit from Carew’s services this season which they really didn’t last year. Carew got hurt, missed over 50 games, and played in plenty of others at half-strength. He didn’t get his stroke back until the season was virtually over.
Don Baylor is a superior clutch hitter and led the A.L. in RBI last year for good reason. He is also a threat on the bases. A healthy Carew will give Baylor even more chances to make mischief for the opposition.
Fregosi should be able to patch together enough pitching to take up the slack created by Ryan’s departure. At least in terms of wins, if not strikeouts, and victories are where the playoffs are.
Kansas City, under new leader Jim Frey, may revive. The basic pitching corps is strong enough and Dennis Leonard might well return to form this season which would help. Also, the trade (with the Angels) brought Willie Mays Aikens who seems to be a genuine power threat at the expense of Al Cowens.
Cowens was perhaps the best all-around player on the Royals but the club needed punch and Aikens should be able to provide it. A sleeper in the deal is Rance Mulliniks who could inherit the shortstop job, a fielding catastrophe for the Royals for years. If he can plug up that defensive hole and form a tough middle defense with Frank White, the Royals will be much improved.
Second is not an unreasonable target for the Royals. They might finish there no matter who wins the division.
Texas has the guns to finish on top, but the pick here is to make them third for reasons relating more to off-field problems than playing talent.
One of the biggest pluses for the Rangers is the bullpen where Jim Kern (29) and Sparky Lyle (13) combined for 42 saves last season and form one of the most powerful relief tandems in the business.
Fourth goes to the Minnesota Twins largely by default- they are the best of the remaining teams in the division and they do have Gene Mauch as a manager.
That brings us to the A.L. East, perhaps the toughest of the divisions in baseball. Teams in this group like Cleveland- would be contenders in some of the other divisions. But, here, they are just cannon fodder for the big boys.
Everybody knows about all of the problems, deaths, injuries and dismissals, that wracked the New York Yankees last season. Under new manager Dick Howser and new general manager Gene Michael, look for things to get better in a hurry.
There will be less squabbling and more playing at Yankee Stadium this season and with the pitchers like Tommy John, Ron Guidry, (one-two in the league in ERA last season) and newcomer Tom Underwood, the Yanks should win it.
Baltimore is the choice for third based partly on the fact that they won last season because the Yankees and Red Sox were overcome by disasters and partly because of the departure of Don Stanhouse to the Dodgers. He saved 21 games for the Orioles last season- far and away the tops on the team.
Boston is the pick for second. Jim Rice and Fred Lynn are as awesome a team of hitters are there is around these days. Lynn may go the free agent route at the end of the season, but he is in Boston now and that means plenty because his lefty power helps all of the righthand hitters in Boston.
Dennis Eckersley is a top-flight pitcher, Mike Torres is above-average and Skip Lockwood, the ex-Met, should help the relief situation. Boston still doesn’t have anybody to match the Yanks’ Goose Gossage and that is the difference.
Detroit is building a strong ballclub with two of the best hitters around- Jason Thompson and Steve Kemp.
Despite his slump last season, Thompson is one of the best potential hitters around. The Tiger defense is excellent with Alan Trammell at short and Lou Whittaker at second. Even though LeFlore is gone, there are several talented youngsters around to play center and Detroit should do no worse than fourth, perhaps better.
Milwaukee may well suffer something of a nose-dive this season through no fault of Manager George Bamburger. The Brewers leaped over the bodies to pass New York and Boston last season and move into second. Milwaukee is simply not the second-best team in this division.
Perhaps they are the best team in other places, but they are not going to finish any higher than fifth in the A.L. East in 1980.
NL East: Philadelphia Phillies
Unlike their basketball brethren in the city of Brotherly Love, the Philadelphia Phillies made no vows to their fans when they failed to win the 1979 championship. Not to mention finishing fourth within the division and only six games over .500 (84-78).
In fact, the Phillies feel somebody owes them one- one healthy season. Running down the injury list on the team that had won the NL East three years in a row until last season would take more time than saying who wasn’t hurt. Anyway, here goes.
Philadelphia might have asked Santa Claus around Christmastime for a healthy Larry Bowa, the pepperpot shortstop who missed just 15 games but was subpar in many he did play. An unhurt Manny Trillo would be nice; the man who was to solve any second base problems the team had was idle for 44 contests.
Catcher Bob Boone, an All-Star, made it to just 119 games. Massive outfielder Greg Luzinski missed 25 games, but he was having such a lousy year he wasn’t missed.
Among the hurlers, Larry Christenson, Randy Lerch, Dick Ruthven and Warren Brusstar were the lame.
If everybody stays in the lineup and the pitching question marks come up as positive answers, the Phils could make a run at the top of the East. But that’s a lot of ifs.
The unknowns begin on the mound, where only Steve Carlton, 18-11 with a 3.62 ERA, 13 complete games and 213 strikeouts is dependable.
Nino Espinosa pitched better than his numbers would indicate (14-12 with a 3.65 ERA) and might be the No. 2 man- except for the fact that the Phillies were trying to trade him all winter.
Ruthven (20 games, 7-5), Christenson (19 games, 5-10), Lerch (10-13) and Brusstar (13 games, 7.07 ERA) all must return to form, as must relievers Ron Reed (13-8 but a 4.15 earned run average and just five saves) and Tug McGraw (4-3, 5.14) for the Phils to improve on their 10th-place finish among league pitching.
Doug Bird, Kevin Saucier, Dickie Noles- on whom the club’s management is very high- Rawly Eastwick and rookies Marty Bystrom and Bob Walk are rated a chance to stick. A return to his game-saving form with the Reds be Eastwick would be welcome, as would Bird’s talents, once exhibited with Kansas City.
Manager Dallas Green smiles when he thinks of first base, third, shortstop and center field, scratches his head and wonders about left and right fields and crosses his fingers and prays about catcher and second base.
The brightest spots in Green’s life are the ageless Pete Rose, who can be counted on for another 200-hit season, some belly-flopping slides and some championship caliber inspiration. In his first year of a four-year, $3.2 million pact, Rose was terrific for the mediocre Phillies- .331, 208 hits, 40 doubles, 59 RBI and only nine errors in his initial year at first base.
At the other end of the diamond is Mike Schmidt, the slugging third baseman and Gold Glover. Schmidt hit .253 with 45 homers, 114 runs batted in and 109 runs scored. He gives, along with Bowa, the left side of the infield a flawless look.
Bowa needs to get his average up from the .241 of 1979 to around .300. His fielding is top notch.
Trillo is a question mark. If he stays healthy, Philly has a dynamite double-play duo. The former Cub standout also can hit; his meager .260 is about 25 points below his capabilities.
Boone has to stay healthy because, with the retirement of Tim McCarver, only Dave Rader is behind him. Boone hit .286 with 58 RBI in his 119-game season.
The outfield can either be wonderful or horrific. In the middle, Garry Maddox offers no problems. He is one of the very best at fielding the position and hits for average each year. The 1979 numbers were .281, with 28 doubles, 13 homers and 61 RBI. Somehow, he managed to actually make two errors.
Flanking Maddox are the trouble spots. Luzinski, the Bull, was more like a lamb last season. Perhaps he can recover from a dismal .252 campaign, with only 18 homers (he did knock in 81 runs). Do the Phillies think so? Well, they also tried to trade Luzinski in the off-season.
In right field is Bake McBride, the No. 1 priority on the trade mart for the Phillies. They couldn’t get rid of him, though, and McBride- a one-time rookie of the year- isn’t so bad. He hit .280 last year but, according to some, can’t take orders.