Having split 12 games during the regular season, the California Angels and the Milwaukee Brewers open the American League playoffs tonight in Anaheim Stadium with the most home runs and runs scored of any teams in major league baseball.
The best-of-five showdown starts in Anaheim with games on Tuesday and Wednesday, breaks for a travel day, then resumes in Milwaukee's County Stadium on Friday. The Angels' 1982 record coming into this series is 93-69, the Brewers' 95-67.
Although neither California or Milwaukee has a 20- game winner among its pitchers, each club was stingy in the earned-run department.
What most baseball people think might make the difference for Milwaukee in this series is if its best relief pitcher, Rollie Fingers (sidelined late in the season with injuries) can come back and work with his usual effectiveness. Fingers still finished the season with 29 saves and can often be devastating over a two- or three-inning period. But there is no guarantee right now that he will even pitch in the series.
Milwaukee, which replaced manager Buck Rodgers with Harvey Kuenn June 2 when the Brewers were struggling , is expected to go with a three-man rotation that has seldom finished what it started during the regular season.That would consist of Pete Vukovich (18-4) Mike Caldwell (17-12) and Don Sutton (17-9).
Sutton, who came over to the Brewers in a late season waiver deal with the Houston Astros, was a life saver for Kuenn down the stretch. Don not only went 4-1 with Milwaukee, but was the winning pitcher when the Brewers beat the Baltimore Orioles, 10-2, on the final day of the season to clinch the East division championship.
California Manager Gene Mauch's three-man rotation is expected to consist of late-season acquisition Tommy John (4-2 with the Angels and 16-14 overall), Bruce Kison (10-5), and Geoff Zahn (18-8).
John, who is a craftsman when it comes to keeping his pitches down, not walking anyone, and getting opposing batters to consistently hit the ball into the ground, was as important down the stretch to the Angels as Sutton was to the Brewers. The Angels also got tremendous mileage out of Zahn, plus some great spot starts from Kison in their march to the West Division title.
What California doesn't have and hasn't had all year is a dependable bullpen. Until about two months ago, Mauch was going first with veteran reliever Doug Corbett even when he hadn't been able to put out the fires his previous time out.
Actually all that this overuse of Doug got Mauch was a lot of criticism with the press; some defeats that might have remained victories in the hands of another reliever; and instructions from the front office to send Corbett temporarily to the minors.
However, for the past month Mauch has been getting some strong late-inning relief work from rookie Luis Sanchez, a product of the Mexican league who thus far has been able to handle the test of pressure but must still pass the test of time.
If, as usually happens, this series is decided by pitching, Milwaukee would seem to have a slight edge in the bullpen. That is, if Fingers can work. But considering the tremendous hitting power available to both managers, the possibility of several high scoring games seems inevitable.
Five Milwaukee regulars have hit 20 or more home runs this year, including outfielder Gorman Thomas, who was tied for the American League lead on the last day of the season by California's Reggie Jackson. Each hit 39. But the Brewers also have first baseman Cecil Cooper with 30; shortstop Robin Yount with 29; plus catcher Ted Simmonsand third baseman Paul Molitor with 20 apiece. Yount, incidentally, is expected to win the American League MVP balloting in a landslide. Besides being one of the game's premier fielders at his position, he nearly won the league batting title, losing out to K. C.'s Willie Wilson by a mere percentage point, and had two homers and a triple in Sunday's division-clinching victory.
While it is possible that the Brewers power can be checked temporarily, keeping all those hitters locked up in an entire series is probably going to be impossible.
California poses virtually the same kind of long ball problems for Milwaukee. Jackson, of course, has had a tremendous offensive year after coming over to the Angels from the Yankees. Then there is third baseman Doug DeCinces with 30 home runs; outfielder Brian Downing with 28; designated hitter Don Baylor with 24; outfielder Fred Lynn with 21; and second baseman Bobby Grich with 19.And if you're looking for consistency, first baseman Rod Carew has just hit over .300 for the 14th consecutive time in his career.
With the first two games of the series being played in California, the Angels cannot afford to lose more than once at home to the Brewers and have much of a chance. Milwaukee was seven games over .500 at County Stadium this year, which translates out to .585 baseball or, if you prefer, World Series credentials. Division Playoff Schedule
(All times Eastern Daylight) Tuesday, Oct.5 AL: Milwaukee at California, 8:25 Wednesday, Oct.6 AL: Milwaukee at California, 8:15 NL: Atlanta at St. Louis, 3: 15 Thursday, Oct. 7 NL: Atlanta at St. Louis, 3:15 Friday, Oct. 8 AL: California at Milwaukee, 3:15 NL: St. Louis at Atlanta, 8:25 Saturday, Oct. 9 (if necessary) AL: California at Milwaukee, 1:00 NL: St. Louis at Atlanta, 8:15 Sunday, Oct. 10 (if necessary) AL: California at Milwaukee, 4:20 NL: St. Louis at Atlanta, 8:15