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Remember when the American League used to be boring? When the only exciting events in the "other league" were arguments about the size of Harmon Killebrew's waistline and the proper spelling of "Zoilo Versailles"?
Well, times have changed, and it's the N.L. that's become as exciting as an Oral Roberts rerun. Face it, the National League is boring. Boring as in Astroturf. Boring as in the same four teams in the same two-team races. Boring as in Cubbie and Giant fizzles. Boring as in Pete Rose's haircut. Boring as in Steve Garvey.
Don't be surprised if things stay the same. But then again, the Dodgers and Phils have lost a few seniors to graduation, and it might be the year for a couple of perennial also-rans to make their moves for the top.
1. PITTSBURGH--The Bucs should run away from the overrated Phillies. Their lineup is solid, and the Dave Parker-Omar Moreno-Bill Robinson outfield (with Milner, Lacy and Easler subbing) is awesome.
But pitching may prove the difference. John Candelaria leads a decent bunch of starters, while Kent Tekulve, Enrique Romo and Grant Jackson comprise the best bullpen in the league.
And, besides, you gotta like a team that has big Wilver Stargell and his whirlybird bat.
2. PHILADELPHIA--The team payroll rivals that of Exxon's board of directors, but the mound staff has too many weaknesses for the Phils to win more than 90 games.
Philadelphia fans will turn out in record numbers to see Pete and cheer for their first pennant since 1950. Rose, apparently, has fielding skills akin to those of Philadelphia's long line of horrendous first basemen (who can forget Dick "Dr. Strange-glove" Stuart?).
Sure, there's Bowa, the Bull, Schmidty, Maddox, Bake, Boon, and newcomer Trillo, but a lack of depth and a rotation that is bordering on collapse will hurt the defending division champs. And, anyway, when hasn't a Philadelphia team fizzled in the clutch?
3. MONTREAL--A good mix of veterans and young players could bring the Expos their first divisional title. The outfield of Dawson-Cromartie-Valentine is outstanding, and the rotation of Ross Grimsley, Steve Rogers, Hal Dues and Bill Lee could be the best in the division.
4. CHICAGO--Rick Reuschel, Brue Sutter and a lot of ifs.
5. ST. LOUIS--Ted Simmons and a lot of ifs.
6. NEW YORK--A lot of ifs.
And now for THE WEST:
1. SAN FRANCISCO--How can you pick L.A.? They're disgustingly talented and obnoxiously dull. The Giants, on the other hand, are way cool.
They've got Pony League catching, but the talent of the amazing Jack Clark, Bill Madlock, Darrel Evans and Mike "Poison" Ivie should pull them through.
And if you don't like them apples, how do you like the sound of Vida Blue, Bob Knepper, Ed Halicki and John Montefusco starting? Or Randy Moffitt, John Curtis and Gary Lavelle relieving? It's the best staff anywhere--go bleed some Dodger Blue, Tommy LaSorda.
2. CINCINNATI--The starting pitchers, except for Tom Terrific, pose some problems, but the bullpen is solid. Losing Rose hurts a little, and losing Anderson hurts a lot. But, boy, they still have the best bats in the National League at Riverfront.
3. LOS ANGELES--The party's over in Chavez Ravine (I think). The Dodgers are very good, but not great. The loss of Tommy John, Lee Lacy and Billy North will hurt more than most people think. And overrated shortstop Bill Russell costs this team a lot of games.
Despite their overwhelming--if slightly diminished--talent, it's really hard to warm up to a team of Steve Garvey clones.
4. SAN DIEGO--The Padres, like the Cubs and Expos, could surprise.
5. HOUSTON--J.R. Richard is one great pitcher, but the team has a lot of holes.
6. ATLANTA--If Mike Lum bats .350, they'll win the pennant. Get the picture?
See you around Wrigley Field, sports.
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