1978 Montréal Expos
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Managed by Dick Williams
- All-Stars: Ross Grimsley and Steve Rogers
- Player of the Year: Ross Grimsley
- Best Rookie: Dan Schatzeder
- Gold Glove: Ellis Valentine (OF)
- Players of the month:
- Minor League Player of the Year: Tony Bernazard (Denver AAA)
- Minor League Pitcher of the Year: Bob James (West Palm Beach A and Memphis AA)
The 1978 Montreal Expos were poised to reach the .500 mark for the first time in team history after having taken a huge step forward in 1977, but the season would turn out to be one of running in place. The biggest problem area on the previous year's team had been the starting pitching, so General Manager Charlie Fox decided to address this issue aggressively during the off-season. First, he engineered a major trade with the Baltimore Orioles on December 7, 1977, sending them his two best relief pitchers, Don Stanhouse and Joe Kerrigan, as well as young outfielder Gary Roenicke, in return for 18-game winner Rudy May and two pitching prospects, Randy Miller and Bryn Smith. Then, on December 21st, he signed much sought-after free agent pitcher Ross Grimsley, coming off a 14-win season with the same Orioles. He also signed veteran left-handed relief pitcher Darold Knowles from the Texas Rangers. Fox did not feel the need to tinker with his offense, however, as it had been quite productive the previous season.
The Expos started the year with a pitching rotation of ace Steve Rogers, flanked by the best of 1977's mid-season acquisitions, Wayne Twitchell, and May and Grimsley. Rogers was outstanding once again, posting an ERA of 2.47 - the second best in the National League - in 219 innings while being selected to the All-Star Game for a second time in his young career; he was shut down in late August as a precautionary measure, limiting his record to 13-10, but he confirmed his place as one of baseball's best right-handed pitchers that year. Grimsley was absolutely magnificent in his first year with the Expos: he pitched a three-hit shutout in his first start on April 9th against the New York Mets at Shea Stadium (Boxscore), picked up a win in his first five starts, and pitched a complete games in five of his first six starts, then had another string of four consecutive complete game victories from May 25th to June 7th. He joined teammate Rogers at the All-Star Game - for the first time in their history, the Expos were represented by more than one player - and then started the second half of the season by pitching a five-hit shutout against the Houston Astros (Boxscore). He went into the Expos' last game of the season against the St. Louis Cardinals on October 1st [(Boxscore)] with a 19-11 record and a chance to become the team's first ever 20-game winner. He pitched brilliantly for eight innings, but the score was tied 1-1 in the top of the 9th. Manager Dick Williams let him bat for himself with two men on and one out; he stroked a base hit to center to keep the inning alive, the next hitter Dave Cash hit a two-run double, and the Expos gave Grimsley a 5-1 victory to end his season on a high note. His 20-11 record with a 3.05 ERA earned him the team's Player of the Year award, even if he struck out only 84 batters in 263 innings. The other two members of the rotation did not do so well however. Rudy May started the season well enough and was 6-6 at the end of June when he lost three straight decisions and then went on the disabled list not to return until September. He ended the season with a disappointing 8-10 record and a 3.88 ERA. But Wayne Twitchell had one of the ugliest seasons ever by an Expo starter, finishing the year in the bullpen due to a 4-12 record, with a 5.38 ERA and 71 bases on balls allowed in 112 innings.
The bullpen had a lot of difficulty compensating for the loss of Stanhouse and Kerrigan. Manager Williams decided to make veteran starting pitcher Stan Bahnsen his closer, and it worked well enough in the early going as Bahnsen piled up 5 saves by May 12th before getting hurt, But only Knowles was pitching well behind him, posting a 2.38 ERA in 72 innings. The Expos acquired veteran Mike Garman from the Los Angeles Dodgers at the end of May and handed him the closer job. He did pick up 13 saves in 47 outings, but with a 4.43 ERA and 31 bases on balls allowed against only 23 strikeouts in 61 innings - not really a dominating performance. Second-year man Bill Atkinson, who had been very good as a rookie, could not find the same level of success, then hurt himself sliding at home plate in the Pearson Cup exhibition game against the Toronto Blue Jays on June 29th, which put him out of action until September.
Help came from two unlikely quarters. First, the Expos' farm system started producing a group of talented young starting pitchers who could actually step in and help the major league club. First was Hal Dues, who made the jump from AA to begin the year in the bullpen, and then was inserted in the starting rotation where he posted an outstanding ERA of 2.36 in 99 innings until he was slowed by arm problems which would scuttle the rest of his career. Next was Dan Schatzeder, who had impressed in a cameo the previous September, and then was solid after his recall from the AAA Denver Bears, starting 18 games with a 7-7 record and a 3.06 ERA. Finally, in August, young Scott Sanderson got the call to Montreal and posted a 4-2 record with a 2.50 ERA in 9 starts. The other unexpected source of pitching was 38-year-old lefthander Woodie Fryman; in 1976, he had been the team's Player of the Year before being traded to the Cincinnati Reds. He had fallen out of favor in Cincinnati, and then with the Chicago Cubs before the Expos obtained him from Chicago in a trade for little-used outfielder Jerry White on June 9th. Rejoining his old team, he was rejuvenated: he started 17 games, posting a 3.60 ERA in 95 innings and pitched two absolutely unforgettable games: on July 30th (Boxscore) he shut out the Atlanta Braves while his teammates scored 19 runs on 6 doubles and a team-record 8 home runs, then on August 16th [(Boxscore),] he was locked in a memorable duel with Vida Blue of the San Francisco Giants; Blue only gave up one run on three hits, but Fryman outdid him by pitching a one-hit shutout.
The Expos' offense had been very solid in 1977 and most of the players were retained for 1978. However, no one improved on the previous year's performance, except perhaps third baseman Larry Parrish who returned to the level of his rookie season in 1975 by hitting .277 with 15 home runs and 70 runs batted in. Everyone else, from first baseman Tony Perez to catcher Gary Carter to centerfielder Andre Dawson to left fielder Warren Cromartie to right fielder Ellis Valentine to shortstop Chris Speier either stalled or declined slightly. In the case of second baseman Dave Cash, it was more than slightly: his average went from .289 to .252, his bases on balls from 52 to 37, his slugging percentage from .375 to .315, and his stolen bases from 21 to 12, which meant that he was no longer an asset in the lead-off spot. Plus, Manager Williams played his starters until they dropped: of the eight regulars cited above, Parrish played the fewest games with 144! All of them were solid players, but no one was carrying the team. The bench, little used as it was, was terribly unproductive, with third baseman Wayne Garrett, catchers Ed Herrmann and Bob Reece, and first baseman Del Unser all posting batting averages under .200, and others such as infielder Stan Papi and outfielder Sam Mejias hitting in the low .230's without displaying any power. All of them were gone after the season.
The Expos ended the year at 76-86, gaining one game and one place in the standings from the previous season. For the fans, it was a very disappointing season, because so much was expected of the young players, but the team never was in contention. 1979 was the year those young players would put it all together.
- Gary Belleville: "April 23, 1978: Rogers and Knowles pitch Expos into first place," SABR Baseball Games Project.
- Gary Belleville: "May 9, 1978: Gary Carter's 9th-inning homer lifts Expos to exciting win," SABR Baseball Games Project.
- Alan Cohen: "Expos Visit the Launching Pad; July 30, 1978: Montreal Expos 19, Atlanta Braves 0 At Fulton County Stadium", in Norm King, ed.: Au jeu/Play Ball: The 50 Greatest Games in the History of the Montreal Expos, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2016, pp. 36-38. ISBN 978-1-943816-15-6
- Norm King: "Chris Speier Hits for the Cycle; July 20, 1978: Montreal Expos 7, Atlanta Braves 3 At Olympic Stadium", in Norm King, ed.: Au jeu/Play Ball: The 50 Greatest Games in the History of the Montreal Expos, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2016, pp. 34-35. ISBN 978-1-943816-15-6
- Gregory H. Wolf: "Larry Parrish's Bat, Ellis Valentine's Arm Highlight Expos' Come-from-Behind Victory; June 9, 1978: Montreal Expos 10, Los Angeles Dodgers 9 At Olympic Stadium", in Norm King, ed.: Au jeu/Play Ball: The 50 Greatest Games in the History of the Montreal Expos, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2016, pp. 31-33. ISBN 978-1-943816-15-6
- Gregory H. Wolf: "Twenty Wins for Ross the Boss; Oct 1, 1978: Montreal Expos 5, St. Louis Cardinals 1 At Busch Stadium", in Norm King, ed.: Au jeu/Play Ball: The 50 Greatest Games in the History of the Montreal Expos, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2016, pp. 39-41. ISBN 978-1-943816-15-6