Division champs could wind up 0-for-4; Virdon ousted by Expos
In case you haven't noticed, all of last year's division winners (Baltimore and Chicago in the American League, Philadelphia and Los Angeles in the National), have been pushing doors marked pull this season. The biggest disappointment, of course, has been the play of the defending world champion Orioles, whose run production this year has been off approximately 19 percent.
Asked if he could explain the Orioles' faltering flight in the AL East this season, Manager Joe Altobelli replied: ''Last year, when we got hit with a series of injuries, we played through them. This year we let those injuries get to us. Last year almost all of my regulars hit close to or above their career averages. This year we've gotten consistency only from Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken, and no doubt about it, Detroit's fast start put a lot of pressure on us. However, our pitching staff, in my opinion, is just as good as it was in '83.''
The White Sox, who won the AL West last year by 20 games over Kansas City, are also way off their '83 totals in run production. Actually the White Sox didn't explode as a team last year until after the July All-Star Game, when Harold Baines, Greg Luzinski, and Carlton Fisk combined for 52 home runs and 170 RBIs. This year only Baines seems to know which end of the bat is up.
In the NL East, the Phillies have fallen victim to their own complacency plus two hungry young ball clubs - the Chicago Cubs and the New York Mets. Also, Cy Young Award winner John Denny (19-6 in '83) isn't apt to reach even double figures this season. One thing the Phillies did guess right about was that veteran pitcher Jerry Koosman, acquired during the off-season from the White Sox , could still get people out.
If all else failed for the Dodgers, the experts said, pitching would keep them in the thick of the NL West race. But that was before Jerry Reuss and Tom Nieden-fuer went on the disabled list (Niedenfuer for the balance of the season) , and injuries also affected the performances of Bob Welch,Alejandro Pena, Rick Honeycutt, and Fernando Valenzuela. It didn't help the Dodgers either when Pedro Guerrero started the season swinging at anything that moved, first base became a revolving door, and almost every throw by second baseman Steve Sax turned into an adventure. Virdon exits from Expos
Bill Virdon, whose velvet glove approach won division titles with Pittsburgh in 1972 and Houston in 1980, either quit or was fired last week (it depends on whom you talk with) as manager of the Montreal Expos. What probably hastened Virdon's departure is a feeling among baseball people and members of the media that the Expos, who were 14 1/2 games behind the first-place Chicago Cubs when Virdon left, have the best personnel in the NL East.
''I thought we would do well this season and I'm not sure why we haven't,'' explained all-star Montreal catcher Gary Carter. ''Although we've had some injuries, all teams have injuries, and ours haven't been bad enough to take us out of the race.''
Questioned about the leadership of Pete Rose, who has since become the Cincinnati Reds' player-manager, Carter replied: ''Rose is the kind of guy who has to play every day to be at his best, and with us Pete never got that opportunity. That was a management decision, and I'm not in a position to judge its value one way or the other. But I do think you'll see a much better Montreal team next year.''
Jim Fanning, the Expos' vice president in charge of player personnel, has been named to succeed Virdon. Fanning managed the club during part of 1981, when it reached the playoffs and got to within one game of the World Series, and all of 1982.Elsewhere around the majors
* Despite rumors to the contrary, Milwaukee general manager Harry Dalton says it is unlikely that the Brewers will switch all-star shortstop Robin Yount to the outfield next season. However, Milwaukee has talked to Yount about such a move, perhaps as a means of freeing Robin from the back and shoulder problems that he has had to deal with the past two years.
* The Pittsburgh Pirates, whose bats have turned to Silly Putty this year, are probably going to give controversial pitcher John Candelaria his wish during the off-season and trade him for a power hitter. Candelaria has been openly critical of the Pirate organization.
* Del Crandall, who was hired as manager of the Seattle Mariners only 14 months ago, has been fired and replaced by third base coach Chuck Cottier for the balance of the season. There is a good chance that during the winter the Mariners will bring in Chicago Cubs' third base coach Don Zimmer as their manager.