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BASEBALL 1991/AL East

THE BALTIMORE EVENING SUN

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

* RECORD LAST YEAR: 86-76, second, 2 GB

* PITCHING: The Blue Jays have a solid four-man rotation of Dave Stieb, Jimmy Key, Todd Stottlemyre and David Wells and a canyon-deep bullpen headed by Tom Henke and free agent Ken Dayley. This staff had the fewest complete games in the majors (6) last season but also allowed the fewest walks (445) in the league.

* OFFENSE: The Blue Jays were at or near the top in virtually every team batting category. But to stay there, they must receive production from the leadoff spot and the influx of newcomers. SS Tony Fernandez, 1B Fred McGriff and OF-DH George Bell are gone in the front office's chemistry overhaul. But any attack that starts with 3B Kelly Gruber (31 HR, 118 RBI) and OF Joe Carter (24 HR, 115 RBI in San Diego) has mighty potential. OF Devon White has flourished in Florida batting first, and C Pat Borders, 1B John Olerud and OF Mark Whiten are emerging stars.

* DEFENSE: Outfield problems fueled Toronto's demise, but Carter replacing Bell in left, plus White playing center field, will mean dramatic improvement. Whiten and Glenallen Hill are strong in right. The question is whether Manuel Lee can replace Fernandez's grace at short. Roberto Alomar at second base and Gruber at third are solid.

* OUTLOOK: First. But the Blue Jays have a lot of new pieces, and it may take them a while to find the proper fit. Again the most talented team in the division.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

* RECORD LAST YEAR: 76-85, fifth, 11 1/2 GB

* PITCHING: A lot depends on the return to form of Jeff Ballard and Bob Milacki, who combined for only seven victories last season, down from 32 in 1989. Ben McDonald could be a Hall of Famer before he's finished, and Dave Johnson just continues to baffle hitters. Candidates for the fifth spot include Jose Mesa and Jeff Robinson. The inspiration of the spring, 39-year-old Mike Flanagan, will begin the season in the bullpen, joining closer Gregg Olson and setup man Mark Williamson.

* OFFENSE: Last year the Orioles finished next to last in the league with a .245 batting average and in runners left on base (1,230). They appear to have gotten help in 1B Glenn Davis and veteran OF-DH Dwight Evans. But 3B Craig Worthington must rebound or face replacement by Leo Gomez, SS Cal Ripken has to relax in a firmer lineup, C Chris Hoiles must hit in the big leagues and OF Mike Devereaux or Brady Anderson must produce at the top of the order. Randy Milligan has vowed not to let the shift from first base to left field bother his hitting.

* DEFENSE: This team has been terrific for two seasons (180 errors over that span, a major-league record). SS Ripken set another big-league record with three errors and brother Bill at second base was almost as good. The outfield still has capable )) speed despite the loss of Steve Finley.

* OUTLOOK: Second. This is an up-and-coming team that stayed healthy in 1989 and stunned the baseball world. Avoiding injuries is the key to finishing this high.

BOSTON RED SOX

* RECORD LAST YEAR: 88-74, first

* PITCHING: The Red Sox starters led the league with a 3.32 ERA and 69-48 record and prospered despite a terrible bullpen last year. But Greg Harris, Tom Bolton and Dana Kiecker must come through again behind Roger Clemens (21-6, 1.93 ERA) because Mike Boddicker left for the Kansas City Royals. They are counting on Danny Darwin and erratic left-hander Matt Young to pick up the slack. Closer Jeff Reardon has recovered from back troubles.

* OFFENSE: This is the strength of the Red Sox, although they don't hit homers like they used to and are the slowest team in the league. DH Jack Clark should upgrade the 106-homer total (tied for 11th in the league). Put him fourth in a lineup that includes 3B Wade Boggs, a potential MVP in OF Ellis Burks, OF Tom Brunansky, OF Mike Greenwell, C Tony Pena and a Rookie of the Year candidate in 1B Mo Vaughn, and you have a potent force. If SS Tim Naehring can overcome back problems, they could have league's best lineup.

* DEFENSE: This is an underrated category on the Red Sox, who have strong defenders in Burks, Reed, Boggs, Brunansky and Pena. Greenwell is average, the shortstop (either Naehring or Luis Rivera) can be expected to have an occasional lapse, and Vaughn needs some work at first base.

* OUTLOOK: Third. It may be too much to expect the back-line starting pitchers to produce heavily again. But the Red Sox will hit and probably play a lot of 9-8 games.

DETROIT TIGERS

* RECORD LAST YEAR: 79-83, third, 9 GB

* PITCHING: A staff short of starters, especially since free agent Jack Morris defected to his hometown Minnesota Twins. The Tigers signed Bill Gullickson because he eats up innings. But they still are depending on oldsters Frank Tanana, Dan Petry and Walt Terrell and recycled John Cerutti, who lost his job in Toronto. The saving grace is the workmanlike bullpen headed by Mike Henneman and Jerry Don Gleaton.

* OFFENSE: This team led the league in home runs (172) and was second in scoring (750 runs), thanks primarily to former Japanese league player Cecil Fielder, whose 51 homers were the most in the majors since 1977. Rob Deer (27 homers with the Brewers last year) and Mickey Tettleton (15 homers with the Orioles) add more punch, but those three also combined for nearly 500 strikeouts last year.

* DEFENSE: With 2B Lou Whitaker, 33, slowed a bit, Tony Phillips will play second base often to help the defense, which was below average. CF Milt Cuyler has great range, and Deer is a strong right fielder.

* OUTLOOK: Fourth. Their abundance of power fits Tiger Stadium, but the roster is getting old and the starting pitching could be a disaster area.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

* RECORD LAST YEAR: 74-88, sixth, 14 GB

* PITCHING: This snake-bitten team suffered a major loss when its ace, Teddy Higuera, sustained a torn rotator cuff. He'll be out indefinitely. Even with Higuera, Brewers pitchers were hit hardest in the league last year (.275) and yielded the most runs. His absence will put a heavier load on Ron Robinson, Chris Bosio, Jaime Navarro and Mark Knudson. The bullpen struggled, thanks to an off-year by closer Dan Plesac.

* OFFENSE: The gamble of trading DH Dave Parker, one of the few bright lights, for OF Dante Bichette may pay some long-range dividends. By signing OF Candy Maldonado and 1B-OF Franklin Stubbs to join OF Robin Yount and OF Greg Vaughn, the Brewers added considerable offensive potential. B.J. Surhoff is one of the game's better-hitting catchers, but the key is keeping 1B Paul Molitor healthy.

* DEFENSE: The Brewers were last in the league in fielding last season. Veteran 2B Jim Gantner has lost range, Surhoff doesn't seem to improve and the outfield has no defensive stars.

* OUTLOOK: Fifth. Regarded as a team of the future only two seasons ago, Milwaukee has stumbled badly.

NEW YORK YANKEES

* RECORD LAST YEAR: 67-95, seventh, 21 GB

* PITCHING: The starters won a major-league low 42 games and don't appear much improved. Worse, bullpen ace Dave Righetti went home to San Francisco, leaving another hole, which free agent Steve Farr will try to fill. The lead starters are Mike Witt, who had a 4.47 ERA for New York after being traded by the Angels, and Tim Leary, who lost 19 times. They added Scott Sanderson from Oakland, but winning 17 games will not be as easy in New York. Andy Hawkins, who lost a no-hitter last year, remains. The bullpen could be OK if Lee Guetterman (11-7, 3.39, 2 saves) has another good year.

* OFFENSE: Having 1B Don Mattingly full time won't hurt. Back problems kept him under .300 but allowed the emergence of Kevin Maas, who had one homer every 12.1 at-bats and is slated for the DH role. C Matt Nokes can hit and 2B Steve Sax is a valuable setup man, but at 31 is perhaps on the decline. LF Hensley Meulens needs to prove he has power at the big-league level. RF Jesse Barfield has survived a lot of trade talk and still is productive.

* DEFENSE: There are some strengths, including CF Roberto Kelly and quick, steady SS Alvaro Espinoza.

* OUTLOOK: Sixth. Pitiful last season, there is only one way to go for this storied franchise that, at least, won't have George Steinbrenner interfering.

CLEVELAND INDIANS

* RECORD LAST YEAR: 77-85, fourth, 11 GB

* PITCHING: The Cleveland Stadium fences have been moved back for a staff that is a big question mark. The only sure thing is Doug Jones (5-5, 2.56, 43 saves). Left-hander Greg Swindell has shown no signs of his annual elbow problems. Jesse Orosco, Steve Olin, Shawn Hillegas, Tom Candiotti, and Eric King (12-4, 3.28 in Chicago last season) should be respectable.

* OFFENSE: A lot of the potential is gone with the departures of OF Cory Snyder and OF Candy Maldonado. C Sandy Alomar, AL Rookie of the Year, will only get better, but Brook Jacoby and Jerry Browne are the only proven hitters in the infield. 3B Carlos Baerga has a promising bat, but still is green.

* DEFENSE: Alomar is No. 1 in the league, and SS Felix Fermin is an underrated fielder. But the Indians are vulnerable at the corners, and the young outfielders are quick but green.

* OUTLOOK: Seventh. The Indians made strides last year by finishing second in the league in batting average (.267). But some of that punch is gone, and their pitching looks weak.

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