There are those who might really think the Cincinnati Reds have a chance to win the World Series. After all, some pretty crazy things can happen in baseball, right?
Well, no. At least not at this level, not with a team like these Oakland Athletics.Sure, the A's lost to Los Angeles in 1988 in five games. But the Dodgers had Orel Hershiser. Period.
The Reds do not have anyone close to Hershiser. In fact, if the Dodgers had Hershiser this year, Cincinnati might already be home.
Oakland enters its third straight World Series in the strongest shape of any team since the 1984 Detroit Tigers, and we remember how easy it was for them.
The defending champions have power. The A's have overcome Jose Canseco's injury and manager Tony La Russa has had the team focused on only one goal since opening day - winning the World Series.
The Reds, meanwhile, seem awfully excited just to be playing. They should be - after years of scandal and struggle, they became the first National League team to be in first place for all 162 games.
But, Oakland is about to end Cincinnati's hunt for a Reds' October. And it might be nasty, boys.
Pitching usually rules the postseason, and the A's led the majors in that department, only the second time an American League team has done it since the inception of the designated hitter. Oakland showed off in holding Boston to one run per game in its playoff sweep.
The A's outhomered Cincinnati 164-125 during the regular season, but did not hit a home run in the playoffs. They didn't need to, getting 65 runners in four games. They also were nearly flawless in the field, as usual.
A position-by-position look at the teams:
Mark McGwire, A's
Hit 39 homers with 108 RBIs, and is the only major leaguer to hit 30 homers in each of his first four seasons. Batted only .235, but 110 walks gave him a .370 on-base average. Rebounded from 1-for-17 slump in '88 World Series to hit .294 in last year's sweep. Hit .154 in the playoffs. Excellent fielder, and at 6-foot-5 can stretch to catch bad throws that might bounce wildly for others.
Hal Morris, Reds
Became one of baseball's best rookies, hitting .340 with 36 RBIs in 309 at-bats. Hit .417 in the playoffs. Began season with Cincinnati, but sent to minors after getting only 27 at-bats in the first two months. Returned to majors on June 19 and replaced Todd Benzinger as the regular first baseman around the All-Star break. Another of the many fine former New York Yankees prospects in the majors.
Willie Randolph, A's
Acquired from Los Angeles in May and batted .257 in platoon role. Became starter in the playoffs because of an injury to Walt Weiss. Tied for team lead in the playoffs with three RBIs. A step slower at age 36, and that could show on turf. Still turns the double play nicely and was a .982 fielder. Batted .158 in three World Series with the Yankees.
Mariano Duncan, Reds
Contributes more with bat than glove. Hit .306 and his 11 triples were the most by a Reds player since Vada Pinson in 1967. Also had 22 doubles and 10 home runs. Can be flashy and can also make errors; fielded .973. Hit .300 in the playoffs and drove in four runs, tied for team lead. Split time with newcomer Bill Doran in final month, but Doran is out with back trouble.
Mike Gallego, A's
Did not start in last year's World Series and gets chance this time because Weiss is out. Usually a second baseman and played only 38 games at shortstop. A good fielder on grass, although his arm is not as strong as Weiss'.
Barry Larkin, Reds
One of best all-around offensive players in majors. Hit .301 with 67 RBIs and 30 stolen bases. Could be more patient, drawing only 49 walks in 614 at-bats. Hit .261 with three steals in playoffs. Covers a lot of ground and fielded .977, same as Gallego.
Carney Lansford, A's
Always plays well in big games. Batted only .268 during regular season and was successful on just 16 of 30 steal tries. Hit .300 on turf, .263 on grass. Batted .438 in the playoffs and is career .337 hitter in postseason. Reliable fielder at .970, although not exceptionally quick down the line.
Chris Sabo, Reds
Led Cincinnati with 25 home runs, one more than he hit in the last three years combined in the majors and minors. Batted .270 with 71 RBIs, 38 doubles and stole 25 bases. Hit .227 in playoffs. Average fielder at .966.
Rickey Henderson, A's
Batted .325, including .432 on turf. Hit 28 home runs, drew 97 walks, stole 65 bases and led majors with 119 runs. Despite speed, does not bunt. Batted .294 in playoffs and was caught stealing for the first time in 14 career postseason attempts. Hit .474 with three steals in last year's World Series.
Eric Davis, Reds
Was batting .224 on Aug. 19, but a late surge raised him to .260 with 24 homers and 86 RBIs. Stole 21 bases and was caught only three times. Went 4-for-23 (.174) in the playoffs and struck out nine times. Moved from center field to left in late August to help rest his ailing knees. Is capable of big plays - and bad ones; made both in the playoffs.
Willie McGee, Dave Henderson, A's
As in the playoffs, both could start, McGee on turf and Henderson at home. McGee won the NL batting title at .335 and is familiar with the Reds. Henderson is one of the best postseason players ever, hitting .306 with seven homers and 20 RBIs in 32 games. McGee is a three-time Gold Glove winner, but La Russa considers Henderson a better fielder.
Billy Hatcher, Reds
Hit .276, including 29 infield hits, with 30 stolen bases during the season. Batted .333 in the playoffs. Came to Cincinnati a week before the season started from Pittsburgh for two minor leaguers. Was scheduled to platoon in left field and took over in center when Davis was injured. Made only one error in 131 games.
Jose Canseco, A's
Missed 31 games because of back problems and is not swinging well now; batted .182 in playoffs. Hit 37 homers with 101 RBIs, but has not homered since Sept. 16. Is an excellent fielder with a powerful arm, if healthy. Which World Series performance will he duplicate - the 1-for-19 of 1988 or the 5-for-14 (.357) from last year?
Paul O'Neill, Reds
Not of Canseco's stature, although he also helps on offense and defense. Batted .270 with 16 home runs and 78 RBIs in the regular season and was the Reds' best hitter in the playoffs at .471 with three doubles, a homer and four RBIs. Had 12 assists - Cincinnati's outfield led the majors with 47, and added more in the playoffs.
Terry Steinbach, Ron Hassey, A's
Steinbach had 57 RBIs in the No. 7 slot this season, hit .455 in the playoffs and batted .296 in last year's World Series. He was the MVP of the 1988 All-Star Game at Riverfront Stadium. Hassey belongs to Bob Welch, catching 67 of his past 69 starts. Hit only .213, lowest since his rookie season.
Joe Oliver and Jeff Reed, Reds
Oliver, a right-hander hitter, batted only .231, but drove in 52 runs in 121 games. Reed, a left-handed batter, hit .251. Neither did much at the plate in the playoffs. Oliver committed 16 passed balls, Reed had three and Reds catchers threw out only 60 of 195 (31 percent) opposing base stealers.
Harold Baines, A's
Hit .284 overall, yet just .266 after being traded by Texas on Aug. 29. Had 16 home runs and 65 RBIs. Also grounded into 17 double plays. Batted .357 in the playoffs. First World Series in 11th season.
Glenn Braggs, Todd Benzinger, Reds
Braggs, a right-handed hitter, batted .299 with 28 RBIs as a platoon outfielder after Cincinnati got him from Milwaukee in June. Benzinger, a left-hander, hit .253 with 46 RBIs and was 3-for-9 in the playoffs. Was 0-for-15 as a pinch hitter this year.
Dave Stewart, Bob Welch,
Mike Moore, A's
Stewart, a 20-game winner for four straight seasons, has emerged as the best big-game pitcher in baseball. Is 7-1 in the postseason, including two impressive victories and the MVP trophy in the playoffs. Was MVP of last year's World Series after two wins. Welch, a 27-game winner, has overcome his reputation of being good in the regular season and bad in the postseason. Moore struggled this year at 13-15, and then justified La Russa's confidence by winning his one game in the playoffs. Was 2-0 in the World Series and doubled for the only hit by AL pitchers in the series in the 1980s. All three starters are right-handed, allowing the Reds to keep their more productive left-handed bats in the lineup.
Jose Rijo, Tom Browning,
Danny Jackson, Reds
Rijo, traded by Oakland to Cincinnati after the '87 season for Dave Parker, was 14-8 and had a 1.27 ERA in nine starts down the stretch. Started twice in the playoffs and was so-so. Browning, an exceptionally fast worker, was 15-9 and 1-1 in the playoffs. Jackson was 6-6 and on the disabled list three times. He pitched well in two starts in the playoffs.
Dennis Eckersley, Rick Honeycutt, Gene Nelson, Todd Burns, Athletics
Oakland's bullpen converted 90 percent of its save opportunities and had a 2.35 ERA this season, and then worked 6 2-3 scoreless innings in the playoffs.
Randy Myers, Rob Dibble, Norm Charlton, Rick Mahler, Reds
Cincinnati relievers converted 79 percent of their save chances and allowed only one earned run in 18 1-3 innings in the playoffs.