The World Series is a mismatch.
The San Diego Padres probably will win a game from the Detroit Tigers, maybe two if they're lucky in a Series that begins here Tuesday at 8:35 p.m. Eastern time (WRC-TV-4).
But they can't win. Dead flat can't.
Eight years ago, when the Cincinnati Reds became the first team to sweep all seven postseason games, that looked like a mark that might last a long while. Maybe not. Detroit Manager Sparky Anderson might make it teams in both leagues with which he's pulled the trick.
Everything is stacked against the Padres.
The Tigers, who will start Jack Morris (19-11) against Mark Thurmond (14-8) in the Series opener, are so much better it hurts. The Tigers outscored their foes by 186 runs this season -- the standard of a nearly great team. San Diego's edge was 52 runs -- the margin of a barely good club.
The Tigers won a dozen more games than the Padres this year (104 to 92) while playing in a vastly tougher division in a somewhat better league. San Diego would have had trouble finishing third in the American League East.
When the Tigers needed to play well, they started the season 35-5 and swept the Kansas City Royals in the playoffs, 3-0. The Padres were a .500 team, 28-28, the last third of the season; they needed everything except divine intervention to beat Chicago in a five-game playoff.
Detroit won't need many breaks to win this Series. The Tigers have vastly better starting pitching, better relief pitching, better overall defense, better catching, better hitting, far better power, more depth and almost as much speed. Detroit, whose only known weakness is its fourth and fifth starters, is even better constructed for a short series with off days than for a long haul. You'll wait a long time to get a tender piece of Dave Rozema, Juan Berenguer or Doug Bair in a close game.
No, the Tigers didn't need breaks. But they got them. Lots of them.
The Padres' best outfielder and top home run hitter -- center fielder Kevin McReynolds -- broke his left wrist in Game 4 of the playoffs. His replacement, Bobby Brown, who was released by Seattle and all but retired for the 1983 season, is in over his head.
The San Diego bench was thin before McReynolds was hurt. As a double blow, the Padres must come up with a designated hitter for the World Series. Try not to snicker at Kurt Bevacqua (.200) and Champ Summers (.185), platooning.
While the Tigers, who last played Friday, come in rested and with their rotation of Morris, Dan Petry (18-8) and Milt Wilcox (17-8) in sync, the Padres' pitching is out of whack.
For starters, the Padres' ace -- 15-game winner Eric Show -- was shelled twice by the Cubs and looks like a man not well suited to October pressure. Then, Andy Hawkins, Dave Dravecky, Craig Lefferts and Goose Gossage, the four-man bullpen, all got used back-to-back Saturday and Sunday.
All three Tigers' starters are on streaks. The Padres had only one decent playoff start in five, from Ed Whitson, who will probably work in Game 2. If Show is shellshocked, Tim Lollar looked as if his shoulder still hurt him in his fifth-inning exit Saturday.
Even worse for the Padres, Gossage looked below form in the playoffs. San Diego Manager Dick Williams used Gossage for 4 2/3 innings in a relatively unimportant August game and, according to scouts, Gossage's fast ball has dropped more than five miles per hour since then. Gossage was hit hard Saturday and was not that impressive Sunday when he was helped by shadows.
Interestingly, the Padres' central veteran hitters -- Steve Garvey and Graig Nettles -- have only one home run and nine RBI in 161 career at bats in the World Series. Who's going to carry the Padres' offense without McReynolds? Carmelo Martinez, who has one homer since July?
The Tigers also have psychological edges, as though they needed them. In baseball it is often significant if one team clearly feels it has earned a championship while the other club knows it is lucky just to be there.
That's the case here. The core Tigers really are Tigers, home-grown and marinated in orange-and-blue tradition. Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Wilcox and Lance Parrish are in their seventh full seasons as Tigers. Morris, Petry and Kirk Gibson, MVP in the playoff series against the Royals, are in their sixth years.
The Padres, completely rebuilt by General Manager Jack McKeon, only have one fringe player, Tim Flannery, who wore their uniform as long as four years ago.
A similar analogy exits between Tigers and Padres fans. In Detroit, baseball has been in the bloodstream since the days of Ty Cobb and Harry Heilmann; Tiger Stadium is old and beautiful and the fans who scream there are loyal and sophisticated. They haven't had a postseason game since 1972 or a world title since '68. They aren't Cub hungry but they could use a meal.
San Diego's baseball tradition is four days old. This is the city where, just three years ago on fan appreciation day, only 3,600 people showed up and they booed the prizes. It was only in the playoffs, after this town was maligned nationally -- accused of being too laid back to deserve to beat the cute Cubbies -- that the locals took offense and made a large noise.
The biggest wave here will continue to be inside Jack Murphy Stadium, not at the beach. Even so, Padres fans are fairly easy to take out of a game. Score a couple early; they grow quiet fast. The nice side effect is that the relaxed fans here don't need to be contained by mounted police and dogs after the Padres win; a few lifeguards will do.
San Diegans do make funny slogans. As the Cubs left the park Sunday, fans chanted at them, "Forty More Years."
Finally, the Padres got some underdog sympathy against the Cubs. It's doubtful, however, that the general public would be happy with them as a champion.
Manager Williams is the fellow who was fined $10,000 and suspended 10 days for being the central precipitating figure in an August brawl in Atlanta. Williams admitted he ordered three pitchers to throw at Pascual Perez in four different at bats. That hardheaded belligerence led to two interminable fights in which five fans were arrested. This isn't a year Williams deserves to be canonized.
Only two glimmers of hope glisten for the Padres.
First, the Tigers' only offensive flaw is that they sometimes are not as good against left-handed pitching. The Padres have more of that than any other team in the majors. Lollar, Dravecky, Lefferts and Thurmond all throw with the wrong hand.
Second, the Tigers have even less World Series experience than the Padres. Detroit can't throw up anybody with the battle scars of Garvey, Nettles and Gossage. The Tigers have never been through any back-to-the-wall pressure games like the three the Padres have just survived.
Terminal Tiger overconfidence might also be a possibility. Even Padres playoff hero Garvey said today, "We're playing a great team in the Detroit Tigers, but it should go at least six or seven games." Nice confidence there.
Detroit Manager Anderson is trying to do a balancing act here between humility and pride. "Dick Williams and I met in the '72 Series and he just outmanaged me," Anderson said at a press conference today, recalling Oakland's seven-game success over Cincinnati. "There were six one-run games and that's why we lost."
Then Anderson added, "I've said it other places and I'll say it here in San Diego. The way you determine the best team in baseball is by how many you win over 162 games and that's us. Nobody can take those 104 wins away from my players. If we beat San Diego, or they beat us, it won't prove anything. The playoffs is another season and so is the Series."
This is the juncture at which standard operating procedure requires a quiet proviso about how "any good fan" knows how in a short Series the better team doesn't always win, and it goes without saying the Padres could win, too.
Not gonna happen.
The Tigers in five, maybe four.