Yanks -- KC: some pizazz?
Few baseball playoffs in recent years have been more one-sided than that between the New York Yankees, 1980 champions of the American League East, and the Kansas City Royals, champions of the AL West.
All three previous playoffs between these two teams (1976, 1977, and 1978) were won by New York.
What has boosted Kansas City's confidence about this year's playoffs is that the Royals won their regular season series from the Yankees, eight games to four. While this is not something to be ignored, it probably would have more significance for baseball people if New York and KC hadn't last played each other in July.
Anyway, this year's best-of-five AL playoffs are scheduled to begin in Kansas City Wednesday, with games Oct. 8 and 9. The remaining games are set for Yankee Stadium on Oct. 10, 11, 12. there is no travel day, meaning that no starting pitcher gets to work more than twice.
If you're one of those people who believes that being in a tight, hard-fought division race always toughens a team and makes it more immune to mistakes, then you go with New York. And the Baltimore Orioles certainly played parrot to the the Yankees' shoulder during the final two months of the season.
But if you like the confidence that sometimes results when a team tow-ropes its rivals early and, for all intents and purposes, has its division title mentally won by August, then you prefer Kansas City. This also means ignoring the fact that the Royals have not performed with the same killer instinct during July, August, and September that they did early in the campaign.
Based strictly on their won-lost record during the regular season, the Yankees are the best team in baseball. They have a lot of players who fit together; two starting pitchers in Tommy John and Ron Guidry who qualify as stoppers; and one of the best relief pitchers in the game in Rich Gossage. However, Gossage, probably from overwork, has had occasional problems lately.
The Yankee infield hasn't been as strong offensively or defensively without Graig Nettles, who was only recently taken off the team's disabled list and will probably need some time to regain his batting stroke. But they do have a fine double- play combination in second baseman Willie Randolph ans shortstop Bucky Dent, and enough first basemen to start a store.
Mostly rookie NY Manager Dick Howser seems to prefer Bob Watson and Jim Spencer for their power bats, Although several others have also played first.
While Nettles has been out, Howser has platooned Eric Soderholm (super bat and often the team's designated hitter) and Aurelio Rodriguez (super glove) at third base with satisfactory results.
Reggie Jackson, of course, plays right field and always seems to write a new chapter of offensive history in October with his bat. Bobby Brown generally subs for the injured Ruppert Jones in center field, with Oscar Gamble and Lou Piniella taking turns in left.
And there has to be a conspiracy among Howser and his Yankee coaches never to give catcher Rick Cerone a day off. Cerone is a dark-horse American League MVP candidate.
Kansas City's strength is its ability to run an opposing team out of town with its bats and legs. If you are an opposing pitcher, there are no soft spots in the batting lineup and no easy innings. If you should manage to keep willie Wilson (.325 average, 80 steals) or U. L. Washington off the bases, then all that's left are George Brett, Hal McRae, amos Otis, Willie Mays Aikens, Darrell Porter, Frank White, and Clint Hurdle. As a team the Royals have almost 200 stolen bases.
Where the clouds of doubt hang most menacingly is over Kansas City's pitching staff. It has two big winners among its starters in Dennis Leonard and Larry Gura, although Gura has been trying to nail down his 19th victory-since before the Hollywood actors' strike.
Paul Splittorff and Rich Gale have also pitched well on occasion, but the man who has really saved the Royals is Dan Quisenberry, who works out of the bullpen. Quiesenberry, who almost always throws strikes and has a sinkerball that can bring up oil, has saved 33 games for Kansas City this season.
Jim Frey, the Royal's rookie manager, who labored so long as a coach in the Baltimore Orioles' system before getting his chance to pilot, knows how to run a ball game. More important, he also knows exactly when to call on his bullpen.
Relief pitchers have often been the determining factor in playoffs and World Series. What you have to wonder is whether one Quisenberry is equal to starting pitchers the quality of Tommy John and Ron Guidry.