What If…The 1994 MLB Strike Never Happened (NL Edition)

John Lepore | March 29th, 2020

The Strike of 1994 devastated baseball. It was the first time since 1904 that the World Series wasn’t played. It cut short historic seasons, deprived franchises of turning their fortunes around, and cost the game some fans who had grown up on the crack of the bat and the smell of peanuts. But on August 11, 1994, after Randy Johnson struck out Ernie Young, there was no joy in Mudville or any other town where baseball was played.

Check out the AL Edition

It was supposed to be the first season that the Wild Card would be instituted. The MLB split into three divisions so the postseason would include the division winners plus the team with the best record among the non-division winners.

In the National League, the Montreal Expos were leading the pack with the best record in the majors at 74-40. The Cincinnati Reds and Los Angeles Dodgers held the lead in the Central and West while the Atlanta Braves led the Wild Card race at 68-46, 2.5 games ahead of the Houston Astros. The San Francisco Giants were only 3.5 games behind the division-leading Dodgers at 55-60 with the Colorado Rockies only three games behind them.

The Playoff Picture

The Montreal Expos are the class of Major League Baseball. After just missing out in 1993, they finish with the best record in the majors at 103-59. With a balanced attack, the Expos have six players with 15+ HRs and seven with 15+ SBs. Moises Alou and Larry Walker both blast 30 HRs and Marquis Grissom finishes with 52 SBs. Ken Hill wins 22 games and 22-year-old phenom Pedro Martinez wins 17 with 207 Ks and a 3.11 ERA. John Wetteland and Mel Rojas hold down the bullpen combining for 60 saves.

In the Central, the Reds pull away after Houston’s Jeff Bagwell misses the next five weeks with a broken hand. Barry Larkin steals 40 bags and Kevin Mitchell blasts 44 HRs. Jose Rijo and John Smiley anchor the staff with Rijo striking out 222 and Smiley winning 18 games. The Reds also finish with four players batting over .300 in Larkin, Mitchell, Hal Morris, and Bret Boone. They end the season with a record of 94-68.

The Dodgers win the West behind the power of Mike Piazza, Tim Wallach, and Raul Mondesi and the speed of Brett Butler and Delino DeShields. The pitching staff is carried by their workhorse starters as all but two of their games are started by their top five. Ramon Martinez wins 18 games. The Dodgers finish with a record of 84-78, only 3 games ahead of the Giants.

The Wild Card team is the Braves. The left-handed power trio of Fred McGriff, Ryan Klesko, and David Justice combine for 103 HRs with McGriff hitting 47. Greg Maddux has a historic season finishing 23-6 with a 1.45 ERA and 201 Ks. Tom Glavine also wins 20 and the Braves beat out the Bagwell-less Astros by two games for the Wild Card spot.

The Playoffs

Montreal Expos vs Los Angeles Dodgers

Montreal travels to Los Angeles for game one. Ramon Martinez pitches a gem allowing just three hits in eight innings. Piazza jumps on Ken Hill for a first-inning three-run homer, and the Dodgers never look back. They take it 4-0. Game two is a pitcher’s duel as two Pedros, Martinez and Astacio, square off. They trade zeroes until the seventh inning when Marquis Grissom laces a triple to right field and scores on Walker’s sacrifice fly. With the score 1-0 in the ninth, Wetteland gets in a little trouble loading the bases with two outs, but he gets Tim Wallach to pop out to first baseman Cliff Floyd to end the game as the series is tied 1-1.

Game three is in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium and the crowd is packed in, seeing playoff baseball for only the second time in their existence. Jeff Fassero and Tom Candiotti lock up in another great pitcher’s duel and this time Floyd delivers the knockout punch in the sixth with a two-run bomb to put the Expos up 3-1. Karros nails a solo shot in the eighth off Mel Rojas to bring the Dodgers within one but Wetteland shuts the door again. This time with a clean inning. Expos win 3-2 and take a 2-1 series lead. Montreal goes with Butch Henry to start game four. He was great to finish the season after taking over a spot in the rotation full-time in June. The Dodgers counter with Martinez on short rest. Darrin Fletcher is the game’s star as he hits two HRs off the Dodgers ace. Henry, Kirk Rueter, and Wetteland combine to shut down LA once again. Aside from a solo shot off the bat of Piazza, Los Angeles does nothing and loses the game and the series 3-1.

Cincinnati Reds vs Atlanta Braves

The Reds head to Atlanta for game one and Jose Rijo faces off against Greg Maddux. After a quiet top of the first, the Braves start off with a bang. Roberto Kelly leads off with a triple and Jeff Blauser laces a double down the left field line. That will be the only run scored until the seventh when McGriff drives in Klesko and Kelly with a two-run double. Maddux goes eight and Greg McMichael pitches the ninth to give the Braves the victory 3-1. Game two sees Reds’ lefty John Smiley face off against Tom Glavine. The Braves lefty doesn’t have it and only gets through the second inning as Eddie Taubensee blasts a grand slam and the Reds follow it with five more hits and three more runs before they are done with the second. Smiley pitches efficiently and lasts eight innings as the Reds cruise to a 9-4 win.

For game three, the Reds roll with Pete Schourek to face the Braves John Smoltz. Schourek pitches fairly well, but Smoltz is on his game that day. The Reds only manage four hits, all singles, and can’t push anyone across. Meanwhile, Schourek holds his own the first two times through the lineup but finally, Javy Lopez gets in the action and drives a sixth-inning fastball over the left-field wall for two runs. Those runs hold and Smoltz pitches a complete game shutout. With their backs against the wall, the Reds turn back to Rijo while the Braves go to Steve Avery. This time Rijo is dominant and the Braves lefty runs out of gas in the seventh. Rijo finishes throwing eight innings giving up just two hits and striking out 11. Avery lasts until the seventh but dinks and dunks do him in eventually with Larkin going 3-4 with two SBs. The Reds win 3-0 and even the series 2-2.

Game five is Smiley against Maddux. Both starters won their respective games in the beginning of the series. The pitchers trade zeroes and the offense trades two-run HRs with Hal Morris and Fred McGriff both going deep in the sixth. Hector Carrasco and Johnny Ruffin hold it down on the Reds’ side. Mike Stanton, Mark Wohlers, and Kent Mercker keep Cincinnati scoreless also. When the game goes to the 14th Jeff Brantley comes in for the Reds. He promptly gives up a leadoff double to Klesko and then an RBI single to McGriff. He finally retires the Braves without further damage. Bobby Cox brings in his man McMichael to shut the door. Reggie Sanders leads off the inning with a hard single to left. After retiring the next two batters, Eddie Taubensee comes up to bat. Sanders manages to steal second base to get in scoring position, but it wouldn’t matter. On a 2-2 count, Taubensee launches a two-run homer down the right-field line to end the game and the series as the Reds move on to the NLCS.

National League Championship Series

The Expos host the Reds for the NLCS

Game One: The Expos have the luxury of well-rested aces after dispatching the Dodgers in four games. On the other side, the Reds pitched Rijo and Smiley in games four and five to squeak by the Braves. The first game of the series has Hill starting against Schourek. The young Reds lefty holds his own and is replaced by John Roper in the sixth. Hill manages to get through six scattering eight hits but only allowing a run. With the Expos leading 3-1 in the ninth, they turn to their closer Wetteland. After allowing a one-out double to Kevin Mitchell, he strikes out Reggie Sanders and Bret Boone to finish it.

Game Two: The Reds decide to bring back Rijo on short rest. Montreal counters with their young ace Pedro Martinez. Neither offense can do a thing as the youngster matches the 1990 WS MVP seemingly pitch for pitch. With zeroes on the board in the top of the eighth, Davey Johnson decides to pinch-hit for Rijo with a Boone on second and two outs. It pays off as Lenny Harris rips a single over a leaping Mike Lansing to score Boone. Harris gets thrown out trying to stretch it into a double but the run counts. It turns out to be a great move and the run holds as the Reds tie the series.

Game Three: John Smiley goes for the Reds on full rest as he faces the Expos lefty Jeff Fassero. Larkin goes deep off Fassero in the first inning and again in the third to stake the Reds to a three-run lead. Grissom and Alou both hit solo shots in the fifth to pull the Expos within one, but that’s as close as they will get as it’s the only damage Smiley allows in seven innings. Brantley pitches a perfect ninth and the Reds take the game 4-2.

Game Four: Davey Johnson sticks with a three-man rotation here and brings back Schourek on short rest. Possibly feeling the pressure, Felipe Alou does the same and matches Hill with Schourek in a rematch of game one. This one sees both offenses wake up as neither Hill or Schourek make it to the fourth inning. John Roper and Butch Henry come in to quiet things down for a few innings but not before the game gets to 10-7 Reds in the fourth. Hal Morris is already 4-6 with two HRs and six RBI when he comes to bat in the eighth. With no one on, he hits a towering drive to right field and becomes only the fifth player to hit three HRs in a playoff game joining Babe Ruth(twice), Bob Robertson, Reggie Jackson, and George Brett. The top of the ninth has the Reds leading 11-8 so Johnson goes to his man Brantley to nail it down. That’s exactly what he does after allowing a couple runs to score. The game ends 11-10 and the Reds are one victory away from the World Series.

Game Five: For those expecting another pitcher’s duel between Rijo and Martinez, they are not disappointed. With the Expos’ season hanging in the balance, the 22-year-old Pedro pitches a complete game gem allowing just two hits and striking out 13, including game-four hero Morris three times. Rijo pitches well also and holds the Expos to just two runs thanks to a Larry Walker HR in the fifth. The series heads back to Montreal with the Reds holding the 3-2 lead.

Game Six: Instead of bringing Fassero back on short rest, Alou opts to give 23-year-old lefty Kirk Rueter the start. Johnson sticks with his three-man rotation and Smiley comes back to try to nail down a World Series appearance for the Reds. The teams trade three-run homers in the fourth inning as Bret Boone and Wil Cordero go deep. Alou has the quick hook and brings in Fassero to throw a few innings. He mows down the Reds in order from the fifth to the seventh. Smiley gets through seven allowing an unearned run when both Sanders, Reggie and Deion, fail to communicate on a flyball.

With score 4-3 heading to the ninth, Alou brings in Wetteland. After getting R. Sanders and Boone to groundout, Tony Fernandez beats out an infield hit on a close play at first. The whole Expos bench erupts and Alou comes jumping out of the dugout as Wetteland runs toward first base umpire Joe West. They are both ejected by West immediately. Bench coach Tim Johnson is now running the team, and he elects to bring in Mel Rojas. On the first pitch, Taubensee launches one over the right field wall. The Olympic Stadium crowd is stunned, and the Reds dugout empties onto the field. The Reds have the lead 5-4. Rojas retires the next batter and the Expos come to bat. After a diving play by Larkin robs Grissom of a base hit, Cliff Floyd walks. Alou laces a double down the left field line. Floyd is held up at third base with one out and Larry Walker coming to bat. After going up in the count 0-2 Brantley uncorks a ball in the dirt that Taubensee can’t handle and Floyd comes barreling into home for the tying run. With Alou now on third, Walker works the count to 2-2 before driving a ball to medium center field. Deion catches it and throws it home, but Alou beats the ball to the plate and gives the Expos the victory.

Game Seven: Hill and Schourek go head to head for a third time this series. The bats start off hot in the first inning for both sides. Hal Morris victimizes Hill again like he did in game four and blasts a two-run HR. The Expos respond with three runs of their own as Cordero rips a two-out bases-clearing double. Hill and Schourek both settle down though and there aren’t any more runs until the sixth. Lenny Harris pinch-hits for Schourek in the top of the inning and promptly doubles in Taubensee. D. Sanders bunts for a base hit before Larkin rips another double to score two. The Reds lead 5-3, and it stays that way until the bottom of the ninth.

With Brantley in, Wil Cordero leads off with a double. He stays there as Lenny Webster and Sean Berry both strike out. The Expos are down to their last out with Mike Lansing coming to the plate. He’s fooled on curve almost in the dirt but winds up blooping it over Morris’s head at first scoring Cordero. With Lansing as the tying run, Alou sends Lou Frazier in to pinch-run and Rondell White to bat for the pitcher. The count goes to 1-2 and Frazier runs. White lays off a ball low, and Taubensee overthrows Boone as the ball sails into center field with Frazier taking third. After a few foul balls, White taps one softly in no man’s land between Brantley, Boone, and Morris. White races down to first and Frazier flies into home with the tying run. The Olympic Stadium crowd is in a frenzy as Marquis Grissom steps to the plate. The Expos center fielder wastes no time and drives one to the right-center field gap. Reggie Sanders plays it off the wall and White rounds third. The relay to Boone is perfect. Boone turns and fires home. The ball short hops Taubensee, who manages to hold on for a moment, but White runs him over and jars the ball loose. As it slowly rolls toward the backstop, White turns and slams his hand on home plate. The Expos are headed to the World Series.

Notes:

Jeff Bagwell wins the MVP. Despite missing 5 weeks with a broken hand, the Astros first baseman slashes .370/.470/.744 with 43 HRs, 127 RBI, and 17 SBs.

Greg Maddux wins the CY award unanimously. He finishes 23-6 with a minuscule 1.45 ERA, 0.857 WHIP, and 201 Ks in 272 innings.

Tony Gwynn is batting .3993 (238-596) heading into the final game of the season. The Padres are in Colorado. After going 1-3 against starter Marvin Freeman, Gwynn faces Steve Reed in the eighth inning. The Padres right fielder takes the first three pitches to run the count 2-1. On the fourth pitch of the at-bat, he laces a single through his customary “5.5 hole”. The Rockies win the game, but Gwynn finishes 240-600, exactly .400.

Barry Bonds makes a push in August to catch teammate Matt Williams for the HR title. Heading into September Williams has 49, just two ahead of Bonds. As the month progresses they stay neck and neck. The Giants go into Dodger Stadium for the final weekend series with Williams at 59 and Bonds at 58. Bonds ties Williams on October 1st, but the Dodgers clinch the NL West. Williams regains the lead on October 2nd with a blast off of Kevin Gross. On the final day of the season, Williams takes a first-inning knuckleball off of Tom Candiotti to deep left field for number 61. The total stays that way until the seventh when Roger McDowell hangs a slider and Williams takes it out to dead center for number 62.

With 22 more HRs in 1994 and three more in 1995, Barry Bonds winds up hitting his record-breaking 756th HR off David Wells on September 9th, 2006 in San Diego. Bonds also steals 40 bases.

Fred McGriff winds up his career with 510 HRs thanks to an extra 17 from 1994-95.

Barry Larkin hits two more HRs and steals another 21 bases between 1994-1995 to end up with 200 HRs and 400 SBs.

Leaders

Batting Average Home Runs Runs Batted In
Tony Gwynn .400 Matt Williams 62 Fred McGriff 132
Jeff Bagwell .370 Barry Bonds 59 Mike Piazza 130
Hal Morris .348 Fred McGriff 47 Matt Williams 130
Moises Alou .338 Kevin Mitchell 44 Dante Bichette 128
Gregg Jeffries .333 Jeff Bagwell 43 Jeff Bagwell 127
Runs Stolen Bases OPS
Marquis Grissom 140 Craig Biggio 56 Jeff Bagwell 1.214
Barry Bonds 127 Marquis Grissom 52 Barry Bonds 1.188
Ray Lankford 122 Chuck Carr 52 Fred McGriff 1.142
Moises Alou 120 Darren Lewis 44 Kevin Mitchell 1.097
Fred McGriff 119 Bonds & Larkin 40 Tony Gwynn 1.055
ERA Wins Strikeouts
Greg Maddux 1.45 Greg Maddux 23 Andy Benes 238
Bret Saberhagen 2.64 Ken Hill 22 Jose Rijo 222
Jose Rijo 2.87 Tom Glavine 20 Pedro Martinez 207
Pedro Martinez 3.11 Bret Saberhagen 19 Greg Maddux 201
Jeff Fassero 3.23 R.Martinez & Smiley 18 Bret Saberhagen 198
Saves WHIP Innings Pitched
Rod Beck 47 Greg Maddux 0.857 Greg Maddux 272
John Franco 43 Bret Saberhagen 1.000 Bret Saberhagen 235.1
Doug Jones 39 Pedro Martinez 1.055 Jose Rijo 232.2
Randy Myers 33 Andy Benes 1.124 Andy Benes 218
Trevor Hoffman 33 Doug Drabek 1.161 Danny Jackson 217.1

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